Last Weekend Now: More Duffy Dominance, Iden Owns Ironman Florida
Columnist Brad Culp recaps a weekend of racing around the world.
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Last Weekend Now is your Monday rundown of what’s happening in pro triathlon, brought to you with commentary by Brad Culp. (Ed note: So yell at him if you don’t like the comments.)
One of the last major weekends of triathlon racing for 2021 has come and gone, and with it we saw some very familiar faces on the podium from the Persian Gulf to the Florida Panhandle. Here’s how the pro races went down at round two of the 2022 World Triathlon Championship Series in Abu Dhabi and Ironman Florida, which has officially been renamed Ironman Iden.
Geens makes a comeback, Duffy continues to dominate
The race for the 2022 World Triathlon championship is going to be a long one. Athletes began scoring points at WTCS Hamburg in September, and the world champions won’t be crowned until next year’s Grand Final, which takes place a year from last weekend right back in Abu Dhabi.
Friday’s races gave us a preview of what to expect at next year’s Grand Final, even though it was held over the sprint distance for reasons unknown to me or any of the athletes competing. Not that it made a difference in the results, particularly on the women’s side of things. Olympic champion Flora Duffy took a break from being the most famous person in Bermuda to pick up right where she left off by finishing one spot better than Olympic silver medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown.
Duffy only finished 12 seconds ahead this time, but the win was never really in doubt throughout the 5K run around the Formula 1 track at Yas Island. Behind Duffy came a slew of British women. Led by Taylor-Brown in second, seven Brits finished in the top 12, including Sophie Coldwell and Jessica Learmonth in third and fourth, respectively. Even long-course specialist Lucy Charles-Barclay snuck in to 12th. It’s a gentle reminder that, even though USA Triathlon and FF Tri (France) have made huge leaps in recent years, British Triathlon is still far and away the most successful federation at the professional level. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon with so many talented women and Brownlee version 2.0 on the men’s side.
Taylor Knibb was the top American in fifth, and she looks to be USAT’s best shot at a world title in 2022, even though it’s now Summer Rappaport who sits atop the world rankings after two races. Rappaport finished 17th in Abu Dhabi, but her third place finish from Hamburg is enough to make her number one in the world for the foreseeable future. The next chance to score points isn’t until next May in Yokohama.
In the men’s race, 2020 world champ Vincent Luis wasn’t ready for this Jelle, as Belgian Jelle Geens made a decisive move in the final kilometer to take the second WTCS win of his career. It’s a bright ending to what has otherwise been a forgettable season for Geens. He tested positive for COVID upon arrival at the Tokyo Olympics and was forced to sit out of the individual race, and recently finished a very disappointing 47th at the European championship.
Hungarian Bence Bicsak and his awesome name finished third, just three seconds behind Luis. Bicsak was one of three Hungarian men in the top 11, which is a big result for a country that is starting to hold its own among the triathlon heavyweights. The swim-crazed country has had an elite triathlon development program for as long as any country, and the fruits of that program are starting to pay off at the highest level of the sport. Bicsak finished seventh at the Tokyo Olympics and is only 26, so Hungary should have a true medal contender at Paris 2024.
All Jetze Plat does is win
Abu Dhabi also hosted the paratriathlon world championship alongside the event, with a number of the medalist from the Tokyo Paralympics taking part. Dutchman Jetze Plat led start to finish in the PTWC category to add yet another title to his resume that includes two Paralympic golds. He has now gone six years without losing a race. The man with perhaps the most impressive arms on earth has now cemented his legacy as the greatest paratriathlete of all time, and it may be another six years before he’s beaten.
In the women’s PTWC race, Aussie Lauren Parker redeemed herself after losing gold in Tokyo in one of the most dramatic sprint finishes in triathlon history. There would be no sprint needed in Abu Dhabi, as Parker won her second consecutive world title by nearly four minutes.
Spain’s Susana Rodriguez (PTVI) and Alexis Hanquinquant of France (PTS4) also added a World Title to their respective Paralympic golds, and Great Britian’s Dave Ellis (PTVI) had his perfect comeback race after crashing out at the Tokyo Paralympics. In all, 12 world champions were crowned.
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The Gustav Iden and Heather Jackson Show
I buried the lede here. No doubt the biggest story of the weekend was that Gustav Iden is even better than we previously thought Gustav Iden was, and we thought Gustav Iden was pretty damn good. I’ve spent years saying it’s impossible to win Kona on your first try and I’ll keep saying that until someone proves me wrong. I’m very confident Iden will prove me wrong next year, and he may very well win three Ironman world titles next season.
In case you missed it, Iden extirpated the course record in his Ironman debut, and he did it on a day when currents made for one of the slowest swims in Ironman history. Nearly every pro swam 10 minutes slower than expected. The two-time 70.3 world champ dueled side by side with Lionel Sanders for most of the first 17 miles of the marathon before Iden’s pace proved to be too much. While his 2:34:51 marathon is certainly eye-popping, it looked like he could have run quite a bit faster. He stepped off the gas as soon as he had the win in hand, which really makes you wonder what could have been if he had been able to race Jan Frodeno at Ironman California.
It caps off a huge 12 months for Iden, which saw him win the PTO Championship at Challenge Daytona last December, win his second 70.3 world title two months ago in St. George, and now set a course record in his first go at 140.6. In the middle of all that he managed to finish eighth at the Olympics and led Team Europe to the win the inaugural Collins Cup. We are entering the age of Iden.
Sanders got his bodily woes in order enough to hang on to second, finishing six minutes down after an impressive 2:40:43 marathon of his own. In a testament to just how hard the two pushed each other, they had to wait another 20 minutes at the finish for Sweden’s Robert Kallin to round out the podium.
Heather Jackson now has the dubious honor of saying she won an Ironman after taking more than 70 minutes to finish the swim. She was more than 10 minutes behind the leaders at T1 and then spent the next eight hours tracking down her rivals one by one. Her deficit was down to six minutes at T2 after the fastest bike of the day, and she made it to the front of the race 16 miles into the marathon. She was the only woman to run under three hours and it propelled her to her first win since Ironman Vitoria-Gasteiz in 2019. At 37, Jackson may be in the twilight of her career but she’s still getting faster on the run and should have another few cracks at the Kona podium if it ever returns before she’s 40.
Four minutes down in second was Skye Moench, who entered the weekend ranked eighth in the PTO World Rankings. Like everyone else on earth, I have no idea how the rankings actually work, so I can’t tell you if finishing second in Florida will move her up at all, but Moench stands to make a pretty nice bonus if she can creep up a couple more spots before December 31st. Germany’s Laura Zimmerman finished 12 minutes behind Moench for the final podium spot. If you’re wondering how rough the water conditions were, Zimmerman swam 13 minutes slower in Florida than she did at her Ironman Hamburg win in August. She’s currently ranked 62nd, and from my very limited understanding of the rankings, this result should give her a significant boost.