Can an American finally top the podium in Kona?
A total of 21 athletes from the U.S. will journey to the Big Island for the Ironman World Championship. It has been 17 years since an American man won the coveted title and 24 years since an American woman took the honors. Is there a U.S. athlete who can change that this year? We take a look at the Americans to watch in Kona come October 12.
Of the 12 American women on the start line this year, only one—Heather Jackson—knows what it takes to reach the podium at Kona. Her third place finish in 2016 (behind Daniela Ryf and Mirinda Carfrae) will surely be one she’s looking to match or better this time around. Her dominating performance at Ironman Vitoria-Gasteiz in July showed she is in fine form this season—and that was before she began her Kona prep with friend and training partner Linsey Corbin. Corbin finished inside the top 10 last year and her recent win at Ironman Wisconsin (with a 3:00.06 run split) was evidence enough that her typically strong bike-run combo is right where she’d want it at this time of year.
By her own admission, Sarah True has had a challenging year, collapsing at Ironman Cairns and again at Ironman Frankfurt (when she was just a kilometer from the finish line and Kona qualification). This could have thwarted lesser athletes, but True is in a class of her own when it comes to grit and guts, proving it with the way she rallied to take the win—and stamp her ticket to Kona—at Ironman Mont Tremblant. Don’t forget that True finished fourth last year on her Big Island debut and this year she arrives at the start line with the benefit of an extra season’s long course training and racing experience.
Very few pro women can outswim Lauren Brandon and you can certainly expect to see her near the pointy end of the race from the moment the gun goes. Her bike prowess means she will likely still be near the front of the race when she reaches T2.
There are some fleet-footed American women on this year’s Kona start list—all of whom will be looking to unleash their fastest 26.2 miles on the most important day of the year. On their best days, Jocelyn McCauley, Sarah Piampiano, Lesley Smith, and Skye Moench are all capable of running at or under the three-hour mark. Kona first-timer Moench has been in devastating form this season, hitting the podium at almost every race she has entered, so as long as she can cope with everything Madame Pele throws at her, she could well be the dark horse from the American stable.
Of the nine American men racing in Kona this year, you can expect to see super swimmer Andy Potts emerge from the water near the front of the race, although Tim O’Donnell—who finished fourth last year—is likely to be not too far back.
Although it’s typically the European men who pack the greatest horsepower on the Hawaiian bike course, this year’s collection of U.S. athletes could well counter that. Andrew “Starky” Starykowicz and Kona first-timer Kennett Peterson are definitely capable of dropping watt bombs that few can match, but the age-old question always remains: Will they be able to run off the bike well enough to remain in the race?
The American men who are willing and able to run well off the bike include Matt Hanson, Kona rookie Chris Leiferman, and Matt Russell (sixth last year after making an epic comeback from a near-fatal crash in the 2017 race). In previous years, Hanson has never quite been able to put together the Ironman World Championship race he knows he is capable of, so he will certainly be looking to change that this time around.
Many pro men (and pro women) have discovered that a new addition to their family—AKA “baby doping”—can prove to be quite the performance enhancer, so don’t be surprised to see new dad Ben Hoffman—who finished second in 2014—at the business end of the race when it matters most.