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UPDATED: May 6, 2022
Jan Frodeno is out. Patrick Lange is out. Tim O’Donnell is still gradually returning to racing after his heart attack and won’t be on the start line. Mid-April two more athletes pulled out with COVID: Olympic silver medalist Javier Gomez and British run specialist Joe Skipper—plus there’s the travel complication factor. And now, at the last minute, both the two-time 70.3 world champion Gustav Iden pulled out, citing a lack of recovery from a respiratory infection, and gold medalist Alistair Brownlee posted to his Instagram stories he’d be DNSing because he’s feeling “really rough today with a sickness that’s been in my system.” Getting to the start healthy, fit, and ready to race has turned out to be the toughest part of the 2021 Ironman World Championship.
And then they’ll tackle one of the toughest courses an Ironman world title has ever been contested over.
While all the eyes are on the new faces to the game and the highly anticipated Norwegian world championship debut, don’t count out the vets. Along with our picks below, Bart Aernouts and David McNamee have both been on the podium in Kona. Andy Potts will be starting his 12th Ironman world title race. And Cam Wurf has officially decided he’ll take a break from his pro cycling schedule to make a world championship appearance—with the goal of breaking things up on the bike.
We’ll keep updating the DNS list as things change and you can see the full start list at the bottom, but these are seven athletes to keep your eyes on.
Ironman World Championship, St. George: Men’s Race Preview
Why he could win: Blummenfelt is the current Ironman world record holder with a 7:21 from his debut in Cozumel. While there was a strong current in the swim—and a fast day overall—it still catapulted him to the front of the line of long-course stars. Add that to his World Triathlon and Olympic titles last year and it seems like there’s nothing he can’t do.
Why he might not: It’s rare to be at the front of short- and long-course racing at the same time. In fact, winning both world titles in a year has never been done. Nothing Blummenfelt has planned for 2022 has been done before—with a schedule of four Ironmans before he hopes to return to Olympic racing, plus a sub-7-hour attempt thrown in there for fun. To many, it sounds impossible. We won’t know until he tries.
UPDATE: The day before the race Iden announced he wouldn’t be starting due to an ongoing respiratory infection.
Why he could win: Iden is part of the Nordic squad taking over triathlon and, with two 70.3 world titles (one in St. George already), has firmly established himself as one of the best middle-distance triathletes in the world. While his countrymate can outswim him at the shorter distance, long course might ultimately be where he’ll really shine. He clocked 7:42 on his debut at Ironman Florida on a slow day—and looked like he had more in the tank.
Why he might not: Iden has done just one Ironman. Yes, it went well (very well!), but that doesn’t always mean all the kinks have been worked out. He’ll have to work hard on the bike and run to make up the time he’s sure to lose in the swim.
Why he could win: Although he was overshadowed in both races, Sanders still went 7:43 at the Battle Royale against Frodeno and 7:48 at Ironman Florida against Iden. Those are some fast times. Plus, he won a to-the-line duel against Sam Long at 70.3 St. George a year ago and showed that sprint form again at 70.3 Oceanside this month. He knows what it takes to win and is willing to turn himself inside out to get there.
Why he might not: Sanders can be hit-or-miss: amazing when he’s on, blowing a gasket when he’s off. He walked at Ironman Coeur d’Alene last summer, struggling with G.I. issues in the heat. Managing hot temperatures won’t be as much of a factor in Utah as it is in Hawaii, but he’s come in a disappointing 22nd and 28th on his last two attempts at the Big Island.
Why he might win: With Lange and Frodeno out, Kienle is the only former Ironman world champion in the race—having taken the title in 2014. If you won before, you know how to win again. And the hilly bike and run courses should suit his strengths. He’s not done yet.
Why he might not: Kienle announced he will retire at the end of 2023. While he was third at the last Big Dance and has shown stellar run speed in recent years, he’s also had a kid since then, an injury, and a few more birthdays. A second at Ironman South Africa at the end of 2021 suggested he may be returning to form, but is he ready (and hungry enough) to battle with the young guns?
Why he might win: You probably didn’t know that Hoffman is the reigning Ironman St. George champion from the last full-distance event here in 2012 (with a time of 9:07:04; it’s a hard course). Hoffman has also been as high as second in Kona—and when you’ve been that close, you want to take the last step.
Why he might not: He was fourth at the last Ironman World Championship, but hasn’t found that form during the last few pandemic years. He was 13th at 70.3 Oceanside earlier this month. And he’ll be coming into St. George off of Ironman Texas two weeks earlier. Of course, this could all just be training for the big day in May.
UPDATE: The day before the race Brownlee announced he wouldn’t be starting due to an illness.
Country: Great Britain
Why he might win: He’s Alistair Brownlee and the two-time Olympic gold medalist doesn’t show up to races he doesn’t think he can win. Although a foot injury stopped him from making his third Olympic team last year, he’s recovered now and coming back to form.
Why he might not: He was 21st at his only appearance in Kona in 2019. He moved into long-course the last few years, but has only done three full Ironmans and the two he won were against lower-caliber fields. It’ll come down to whether he’s worked out the nutrition and pacing when competing against a world championship-level field. He’s also the other male athlete who’s planning to tackle a sub-7-hour attempt a month later. It might be too much for someone who had surgery last year.
Wildcard: Sam Long
Why he could win: Long has been making a name for himself, most notably with his win at Clash Miami in March, plus wins at Ironman Coeur d’Alene last year and an impressive second-place finish at 70.3 Worlds last year in St. George. He’s also said he’s skipping Kona this year to focus on this race (and long-term development).
Why he might not: He’s still got some improvements to make, especially on the swim.
Ironman World Championship Men’s Pro Start list
|Mario De Elias||ARG|
|Jan van Berkel||SUI|
From March/April 2022