In long-course triathlon, there are two pro races that matter the most: 70.3 World Championships and Ironman World Championships. It’s tough to win one and nearly impossible to win both. In fact, only two women have ever accomplished the feat, and only one has done it twice: Daniela Ryf. While Ryf’s dominance also extended to the third most important event on the pro long-course calendar—Challenge Roth—this year was not marked by strong, easy wins, but by internal struggle and personal challenge. In both Roth and in Kona, despite winning by a strong margin, Ryf admitted to fighting through dark times. “I didn’t walk, I just ran really slowly,” she said of her run in Roth. “My legs were so heavy and I tried to lift them but they didn’t work smoothly. Sometimes you get a race where you can push it through and today was not easy and I really had to fight for it.” Kona was a similar story: “I woke up not feeling so great,” Ryf said after her third straight win on the big island. “It was not a perfect day, but I made the best of it.” In 2017, Ryf proved that being the best isn’t always easy.
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Ironman
Long-Distance Male of the Year: Patrick Lange
We all knew the German had the best run in the biz, after he smashed Mark Allen’s 27-year-old Kona run course record of 2:40:04 with a 2:39:45 in 2016—at his first Ironman World Championship, no less. Then he came back this year smarter and stronger, prepped to sacrifice some of his run legs to ensure he stuck close enough to the leaders on the bike.
At first, his plan looked iffy—he came off the bike in 11th at 10:23 back from the leaders. But by mile 13, he’d already moved up to third, only 6:28 back from the lead. 23 miles into the marathon, he passed Lionel Sanders to take first place, setting a new course record of 8:01:40. (The previous record was 8:03:56, established in 2011 by Australia’s Craig Alexander.) And after all that, his marathon this year was only 14 seconds off of his record—setting run from last year. All hail the King of Long Distance Racing.
Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images for Ironman
Short-Course Female of the Year: Flora Duffy
This was a massive year for 30-year-old Bermudan Flora Duffy. After a slightly disappointing eighth-place finish in Rio in 2016, Duffy went on a WTS winning streak that stretched from the 2016 Grand Final in Cozumel to the 2017 Grand Final in Rotterdam in September with only a “hiccup” of a second place at WTS Montreal in August. After taking her second-straight ITU World Championship title, Duffy then went on to claim her fourth consecutive XTERRA World Championship crown in October. Roughly a month after winning the star-studded Island House Invitational Triathlon in November, Duffy married South African fiance (and former XTERRA pro) Dan Hugo near Cape Town on December 16. This year also saw everything come full circle for Duffy: She had a swim center in her hometown renamed after her and had no small hand in welcoming the first WTS event to Bermuda in 2018. “The course being along Front Street [in Hamilton] is very special for me,” said Duffy, in a press release about the inaugural WTS in her home country. “This is where I started, in the Front Street Mile at nine-years-old, and I was inspired to compete internationally. To be competing as the world champion on home soil, is a feeling that’s hard to express.”
Photo: Wagner Araujo/Triathlon.org
Short-Course Male of the Year: Mario Mola
Keeping the world title for the nation of Spain for the fifth year in a row, a third-place finish at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Rotterdam was enough to grant Mario Mola a back-to-back ITU World Triathlon Championship crown in a season-best performance. With the repeat title, Mola became only the second man in ITU history since the inception of the WTS to ever win two-straight world titles.
Mola said of how it sounds to be a two-time world champion: “It sounds great. I can’t describe it with words. You are always nervous before a race, no matter what the situation or where you are, I am sure you are going to have those nerves in order to perform well. I knew I was in a good situation, I wish I could race every year with these kinds of points going into the Grand Final and this type of situation, but I knew I had to race very well or else it was not going to be easy. But it was the title, so that is what I tried to do.”
Photo: Wagner Araujo/Triathlon.org
Legend Award: Gwen Jorgensen
It says a lot about an athlete when she can be placed in the “legend” category at only 31 years of age. In fact, it only took Gwen Jorgensen six years to do more than most top pro triathletes have done in careers that span decades. Since starting the sport as an adult in 2010, Jorgensen won 25 ITU events and stood on the podium in over 60 percent of the races she started. In fact, she was only outside of the top ten at an ITU event 12 times in 65 starts—including only three DNFs in her entire ITU career. She is the only woman to win a world championship after a perfect WTS season, and between May 2014 and April 2016 she didn’t lose a single individual ITU race, which included a dominant gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The stats and records are almost too staggering to comprehend, so to boil it down to a simple visual, watching Jorgensen run through a world-class WTS field was like watching someone quickly ride a skateboard past recreational runners out on their early morning jogs. 2017 year marked two new chapters in Jorgensen’s life, motherhood—with the birth of her son Stanley—and retirement from triathlon to pursue her Olympic dream (again) in the marathon. “I’ve set some pretty crazy goals in the past,” said Jorgensen about her latest intentions to become the first woman to win gold in two different summer Olympic sports. “For me it’s just something I’ve wanted to try since I had the first thoughts about doing it a few years ago. I know I’m going to have to take some big risks, but I really believe I’m capable of doing it.”
Photo: Delly Carr/Triathlon.org
Breakthrough Female: Sarah Crowley
This Aussie and former ITU racer has been in the sport for a decade with notable performances at every distance. But 2017 was truly Crowley’s breakout year, with wins at the Australian Long Course Championship, and both the Asia Pacific Ironman Championships and the European Ironman Championships. Then she topped those off with a podium finish in Kona—third place in her second go at the race. “Start unknown, finish unforgettable,” is the motto on her website. We’d say she did exactly that.
Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images for Ironman
Breakthrough Male: Ben Kanute
American Ben Kanute achieved a career highlight last year by making his first Olympic team, but the best was yet to come. The 25-year-old has quietly had a stellar season and has established himself as one of (if not the) top American male triathletes. The former club collegiate champion had a mediocre ITU season (finishing 76th in the rankings), but had impressive success in other formats—especially in the back half of the season. Kanute had a stellar performance at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships, finishing in the runner-up spot behind tri legend Javier Gomez. Despite the 70.3 success, Kanute was quick to point out that he has goals on the ITU circuit and that will remain his focus. “I would love to move over to 70.3, but I still feel I have some unfinished business in the ITU series, and with the mixed team relay coming into play in 2020 [at the Tokyo Olympics], I think that’s the future of the sport,” he told Triathlete after 70.3 Worlds. “It will be interesting to balance both disciplines and I think the half-iron training has actually helped in some ways my ITU racing in just being stronger. I am excited for the future because I am racing the races I want to race, which is important because it keeps the fire lit.” Kanute then went on to beat a stellar field at the Island House Invitational Triathlon—establishing his position as one of the best triathletes in the world.
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Ironman
Team of the Year: Arizona State University Sun Devils
After winning a national title in the team’s first year of existence in 2016, year two was a chance for the Sun Devils to prove and further establish themselves on top of the collegiate triathlon world.
The team, led by head coach Cliff English, not only repeated their USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship in 2017, but did so in dominating fashion, going one-two-three atop the leaderboard with their first individual national champion in Hannah Henry.
The year was capped not only with the second consecutive national title, but also with a trip to the White House (pictured) to honor the 2016 championship team.
Best Record-Breaking Moment: Patrick Lange's Kona Record
8:01:40. That’s the closest anyone’s ever come to breaking eight hours at Kona. Lange bested Craig Alexander’s 8:03:56 from 2011 to earn the title of fastest IM World Champ ever. He nabbed the record by running the second-fastest run in Kona ever at 2:39:59. (He set the run record last year at 2:39:45.) Kona records often stand for years because they need a magic combination of human ability and ideal conditions to achieve. But Lange seems like he’s just getting started.
Photo: Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images for Ironman
Coolest Milestone: Women Get Their Own Day of Racing at 70.3 Worlds
In the greatest move for women’s equality WTC has ever made, 70.3 Worlds was split into two days this year—women raced on Saturday, men on Sunday—and it was a smash success. The move eliminated any complaints of fast women drafting off the men, and, most importantly, let racers on each day have their own stories covered in all their glory. No more qualifiers necessary; winners on each day were declared the race’s winner. Period. It was a special weekend for the sport, and one that proved the women’s race can stand alone, just as compelling and exciting as the men’s.
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Best Comeback: Wildflower
The Wildflower Triathlon Festival disappeared from the race calendar in 2017 for the first time since it debuted in 1983, a move forced by the California drought. Then organizers announced in September it’ll be back and better than ever in 2018, with SUP events, yoga, and 5 and 10K run options, in addition to the Long Course, off-road sprint, and Olympic distance events that made it famous. Picture this: Thousands of triathletes camping out in the wilderness, pulling shenanigans, and tackling a legit tough course. It’s the stuff tri dreams are made of.
Photo: Nils NIlsen
Best Clutch Performance: Rachel Joyce at Ironman Mont-Tremblant
Rachel Joyce had been a mainstay on the Kona podium from 2013 to 2015 (second, third, and second, respectively). But in 2016, Joyce took a year off to have her first child and fell off the Kona Points List. She slowly eased her way back into long-course racing with a few 70.3s in early 2017, but Kona became a possibility only after a win at Ironman Boulder in June. After just falling off the podium at Ironman Canada in July and missing the first Kona cut, Joyce immediately registered for Ironman Mont-Tremblant, less than a month away. Mont-Tremblant was the final Ironman in the Kona qualification window and Joyce’s only chance to secure a coveted spot. “If I qualify for Kona, this will be four Ironmans in five months which definitely wasn’t my plan,” she told Bob Babbitt in an interview pre-IMMT. “I think what I’m doing is the exact reason I hadn’t put Kona on the radar. Because it’s so difficult to qualify for Kona if you’ve taken a year off to have a baby because you’re starting from zero.” Like any true clutch performer, Joyce took the lead late in the marathon in Mont-Tremblant, held on for the win, and nabbed her hard-fought Kona slot. “Chasing and being chased pretty much sums up my day – great close racing,” she wrote in an Instagram post after the win. ”Next up…Kona baby.”
Photo: Courtesy of Ironman Mont-Tremblant
Biggest Dark Horse Win: Bradley Weiss wins XTERRA World Championships
Heading into this year’s XTERRA World Championships, the men’s top picks were sewn up. Three-time XTERRA world champ Ruben Ruzafa, defending champ Mauricio Mendez, and 2015 world champion Josiah Middaugh were all in Maui looking to capitalize on their successful past wins. But if XTERRA teaches you anything, it’s that resumes don’t mean much in Maui. After a shockingly good swim (and an ocean wave from the Hawaiian gods), South Africa’s Bradley Weiss found himself in an unfamiliar position in the lead and rode the momentum to his first world championship—previously, he hadn’t even cracked the top ten. “I had raced in Maui three times before this year but never performed to my ability,” Weiss said. “So I didn’t come into the race with a lot of confidence. I was shocked when I found myself in the lead. When you’re winning, sometimes you can get a little manic and do silly things, and I managed to stay calm and handled it really well. I’m proud of that.”
Best Insta Moment: Lionel Sanders Post-Kona
Sanders was having the race of his life in Kona when, despite his grit and determination, Patrick Lange overtook him at mile 23 for the crown. A month later, he posted this video to Instagram of him running on the treadmill while looking at the moment Lange passed him up. #motivation #roadtokona #2018. We suggest one more hashtag: #beast.
Best Battle: Ben Kanute and Terenzo Bozzone at Island House
Ben Kanute scored the Island House Invitational Triathlon victory in a dramatic sprint finish with New Zealand’s Terenzo Bozzone. After two days of close battles, the two were separated by just 11 seconds on the overall leaderboard as they began the third and final stage, a sprint distance triathlon. The unique pursuit format of the race saw Kanute diving into the crystal blue waters of Xuma Beach on Highbourne Cay in the Bahamas for the 750-meter two-lap swim. Bozzone started the swim at his deficit of 11 seconds. Kanute retained a 20-second lead starting the run, but Bozzone exited transition on a mission. Bozzone used his prior race experience on the island to claw his way back to Kanute’s shoulder by the halfway mark on the run. The pair ran together along the beach and back to the finish line to set up for a sprint finish with about 200 meters to go. Kanute narrowly edged ahead of Bozzone in the final meters and broke the tape to take the win. Bozzone had to settle for second place.
Photo: Tommy Zaferes/Island House Invitational Triathlon
Most Endearing Performance: Jan Frodeno Walks in Kona
In the pre-race hype of Kona this year, there were two names on everyone’s lips: Daniela Ryf and Jan Frodeno. The rest of the pro choices were mostly dark horse picks aimed at hedging bets against disaster out on the Queen K or fan favorites meant to keep things exciting in the face of two returning champions. What pundits couldn’t have known was that the latter of the Euro stars would find himself nursing a back injury in the early miles of the run. Before long, Frodeno was reduced to walking, and course spotters even (incorrectly) announced he had withdrawn. It wasn’t an unreasonable observation, however: At one point, the two-time IM world champion lay on the ground, grimacing in pain, trying to stretch out a back that didn’t care about his previous palmares. But instead of dropping out, Frodeno put on a master’s course in class and finished the race with a 4:01 run and 35th pro. “Not sure if a nerve got some pressure or I need a spoon full of cement to harden up, but this was one of the more painful experiences I’ve had,” Frodeno wrote on his Instagram that very same day. “But I guess that makes me one of many out there today who just had to honor this race and their fellow competitors by bringing it home. Until next time…”
Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image
Best PR Performance: Tim Don Breaks Ironman Record at Ironman Brazil
Great Britain’s Tim Don posted a 7:40:23 at the Ironman South American Championship in Florianopolis, Brazil on May 28 to become the fastest athlete to ever finish an Ironman-branded race. The former ITU star put together a 44:16 swim, a 4:06:56 bike and a 2:44:46 marathon to post the incredible 7:40:23 finishing time and break Canadian Lionel Sanders’ record of 7:44:29, which was just set at the 2016 Ironman Arizona triathlon. Because of the record, Don went in as one to watch at the Ironman World Championship. His season saw a tough ending when he was hit by a car while training before the race in Kona—suffering a fracture in his C2 vertebrae.
Photo: Wagner Aruajo
Age-Grouper of the Year: Dr. Tricia DeLaMora
On July 29, 2017 at Ironman Santa Rosa, Dr. Tricia DeLaMora put her 11th Ironman race on pause during the bike portion to give CPR to a fellow athlete who had collapsed and needed assistance. She saved the athlete’s life AND finished her race. As recognition for her selfless act, Ironman awarded Dr. DeLaMora—who was close to being an Ironman Legacy athlete—with a slot to the 2017 Ironman World Championship.
Age-Group Record-Breaker of the Year: Mike Mendoza
Marine Mike Mendoza established the Guinness World Record for the most long-distance triathlons completed in a single year (and the most Ironman 70.3 triathlons in a year). Mendoza broke the non-branded race record at Ironman 70.3 Miami and the official 70.3 race record at Ironman 70.3 Austin. As part of his record-breaking attempt, he raised $39,504 for the Semper Fi Fund. He raced his final half-iron of the year in November at Ironman 70.3 Los Cabos—putting the overall record at 26.
Mendoza is already dreaming up next year’s epic triathlon challenge. “I want to see how many 70.3s I can complete while pulling someone who doesn’t have the ability to swim, bike, and run,” he says. Mendoza also hopes to serve as a guide for a blind athlete—another example of his unflinching instinct to support and serve others.
A look at the performances, moments, and headlines that stood out in 2017.
Erin Beresini, Chris Foster, and Liz Hichens contributed to this article.