It was a battle of Olympic medalists on Sunday in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa.
Two-time Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno (also the 2008 Olympic gold medalist) outran two other Olympic medalists to earn the second Ironman 70.3 World Championship of his career.
There was plenty of hype heading into the men’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship race in Nelson Mandela Bay, with many excited to see the battle of three Olympic medalists in Jan Frodeno (gold, 2008), Alistair Brownlee (gold, 2012 and 2016), and Javier Gomez (silver, 2012). The trio turned in quite the show and elevated 70.3 racing to the next level with an epic battle on the run. Frodeno took the victory, with Brownlee finishing in second in his debut at the race and Gomez, who’s won this title twice, claiming the third podium spot. All three men posted sub-1:10 half-marathon splits.
While Saturday’s women’s competition featured clear skies, the men were greeted with light rain at the start of the day. The professional men kicked off the day of racing at 7:30 a.m. with a run-in start at Kings Beach. With several strong swimmers in the field, the pace was fiery from the start. American Olympian Ben Kanute was the first athlete out of the water (21:52) with Frodeno (21:53) right on his shoulder. New Zealand’s Braden Currie (21:57), Brownlee (21:57), Australia’s Ryan Fisher (21:57), Australia’s Sam Appleton (21:58), and Great Britain’s Adam Bowden (21:59) made up the front group of eight athletes out of the water. With so many fast athletes in the lead out of T1, it didn’t leave much hope for those who trickled into transition at more than a minute down.
Kanute, who is known for his strength as a cyclist, initially took the lead on the course—but Frodeno was determined to be the pace setter and quickly overtook him. For the first portion of the bike ride, Frodeno led a group of nine. Eventually, Brownlee and Kanute decided to have more control over the pace, with both of them passing Frodeno to try to make a break. Despite multiple surge attempts from Brownlee, he wasn’t able to get away and the front group settled in at six athletes. It was ultimately Appleton who led into T2, with Frodeno, Brownlee, Kanute, Gomez, and Belgium’s Pieter Heemeryck close behind. The next fastest athlete was Currie at nearly five minutes down. With so many world-class runners in that front group, it was clear the podium would be made up of some variation of those six athletes.
The run very quickly became a three-way competition between Brownlee, Frodeno, and Gomez with the front pace being set at just over 5 minutes per mile. By the 10K mark, Frodeno and Gomez had managed to drop Brownlee and it looked like it was setting up to be a sprint to the finish. Frodeno made a surge in the final miles, with Gomez unable to match the pace and slowing to a walk thanks to a side stitch. Brownlee saw the opportunity and overtook Gomez for the second spot. Frodeno was up the road at this point, well on his way to the second Ironman 70.3 World Championship of his career. He closed out his day with a blistering 1:06:33 half-marathon (that’s a 5:05/mile split) to cross the line at 3:36:30—the fastest ever Ironman 70.3 World Championship time ever recorded. Brownlee (who posted a 1:07:40 half-marathon), finished about a minute later. Gomez (who posted a 1:08:16 half-marathon), claimed the final podium spot. Kanute was the top finishing American in fourth.
“I was a little bit angry because Alistair and I did all the work all day on the bike and tried to break away, tried to do anything and nobody came. Ben Kanute came around once, but then I really wanted to hold the flag high in a foot race, which I knew was tough, but somehow today I just had my running legs,” said Frodeno after the race. “One minute Javier was breathing down my neck, the next minute he was gone but I didn’t realize he was gone. I was running for my life breathing so hard I didn’t hear anything myself.”
Brownlee was disappointed not to take the win, but held a realistic view after a year of struggles. “Obviously I want to win, but I gave it everything today and I’m happy with that. To be honest, I’ve had a tough year this year with injuries and a few things and just not been myself, so basically the last three or four weeks is the only training I’ve done really.”
Gomez was frustrated he wasn’t able to feel strong throughout the entire run. “I tried to run with Jan, I just had to stay behind him, try to recover a little bit and plan my tactics, but I just started to feel bad,” he said. “Unfortunately, I had to walk for a bit and then just jog ‘til the finish line. But regardless of that, Jan was the best one today so congratulations to him. He did an impressive race. And well done to Alistair as well.”
2018 Isuzu Ironman 70.3 World Championship
Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa – Sept. 2, 2018
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Jan Frodeno (GER) 3:36:30
2. Alistair Brownlee (GBR) 3:37:41
3. Javier Gomez Noya (ESP) 3:38:26
4. Ben Kanute (USA) 3:42:43
5. Pieter Heemeryck (BEL) 3:43:05