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Last Weekend Now: Year in Review Edition

Columnist Brad Culp recaps the tri moments that had us all talking in 2021.

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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.)

Just like the rest of us, professional triathletes have stopped working for the year. There are no more races to be run or prizes to be won, so we’ll have to wait until the calendar turns to 2022 to watch the Norwegian men and British (and Bermudian) women dominate the sport once again.

Let’s take a look back at some of the biggest races and performances from 2021, and a look ahead at who to watch in 2022.

Kicking it off with Challenge (now Clash) Miami

Stimpson makes her way to the finish line at Challenge Miami. (Photo provided by Challenge North America)

The 2021 pro tri season kicked off in earnest in South Florida, at the event formerly known as Challenge Miami (now Clash Miami). It would be the only time we’d get to see the Jan Frodeno race on U.S. soil this season, and one of only four times he raced at all in 2021. (He won all four races.) The GOAT finished more than two-and-a-half minutes ahead of Lionel Sanders in Miami, making us think that we were in for just another year of “Frodo” dominating long-course triathlon.

Jodie Stimpson turned in a huge performance to begin an otherwise forgettable season. After dusting Lucy Charles-Barclay and Jackie Hering in Miami, Stimpson was sidelined with injuries for the entire summer. She finally returned to racing two weeks ago in Daytona, finishing fourth.

RELATED: Jodie Stimpson Shares the Sessions She Used in the Lead-Up to Challenge Miami

An epic duel at Ironman 70.3 St. George

Lionel Sanders reaches the finish line just ahead of Sam Long at Ironman St. George 70.3 on May 2. (Photo: FinisherPix)

Lionel Sanders and Sam Long gave us one of the most thrilling long-course races of 2021 on the course that would ultimately decide the 70.3 world title. Sanders got the best of his protégé in May to take the first of three 70.3 victories for the year.

St. George also marked a return to racing on U.S. soil for the other GOAT, Daniela Ryf, who won five races in 2021 but had a “quiet” year by her ridiculous standards. She’ll finish the year ranked #2 in the PTO World Rankings, behind Charles-Barclay, who won three races. Whatever.

RELATED: Why the Lionel Sanders and Sam Long Rivalry is So Good for Triathlon

Tri perfection at the Tokyo Olympics

Flora Duffy of Team Bermuda celebrates winning the gold medal during the Women’s individual triathlon race at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July 2021. (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The most flawless race of 2021 has to go to Flora Duffy, whose perfect performance in Tokyo finally earned her gold in her fourth Olympic Games. She’d go on to win her third World Triathlon Series title and sixth—yes, sixth—XTERRA world title.

Norway’s conquest of triathlon began with Kristian Blummenfelt powering his way to gold. Like Duffy, Blummenfelt went on to add the WTS title to his list of 2021 accolades, but opted for Ironman instead of XTERRA to end his incredible season.

The biggest winner from Tokyo (and perhaps 2021) was the Mixed Relay, which made a thrilling Olympic debut, even without many spectators on the streets. Britain’s dream team proved untouchable, and the U.S. out-dueled France on the final leg to claim silver.

RELATED: Kristian Blummenfelt’s Coach Reveals His Gold-Medal Workouts

The Collins Cup (finally) happened

Taylor Knibb, a female triathlete, runs through the swim exit at the Collins Cup.
(Taylor Knibb exits the swim at the Collins Cup. Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image)

2021 will forever be remembered as the year the Collins Cup finally took place. Was it a success? Maybe. Allegedly a ton of people watched it, which is great, because it was a breakout long-course performance for Taylor Knibb, another athlete showing you can be great at multiple distances at the same time.

Since triathlon is the ultimate team sport, the real race was the one for the team victory, which was easily won by Team Europe, thanks to dominant performances from the likes of Frodeno, Ryf, and Gustav Iden. We didn’t need this whole dog and pony show to tell us that a team comprised of Brits, Norwegians, and Germans would beat a team not comprised of Brits, Norwegians, and Germans, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Collins Cup evolves in the years to come.

RELATED: U.S. Olympian and Collins Cup Star Taylor Knibb’s Workouts

The year of Super League

(Photo: Super League Triathlon)

Another big winner from this season was Super League, with a four-week season in September that stopped in London, Munich, Jersey (UK), and Malibu. Figuring out the scoring is even more confusing than trying to figure out the PTO rankings, but after four weeks and, like, 12 separate races, Brit’s Alex Yee and Georgia Taylor-Brown ended the season on top.

The 2022 Super League season has yet to be announced, but expect to see a few weekends of “Arena Games” racing in the spring and another four-week season in the fall.

RELATED: What is Super League Triathlon, Anyway?

Charles-Barclay and Iden dominate at 70.3 World Champs

After a number of second-place finishes at world championships, Lucy Charles-Barclay was thrilled to take her first world title. (Photo: Nils Nilsen)

Charles-Barclay’s remarkable season continued in St. George, Ironman’s epicenter for the time being. She finally added the title of “world champion” to her resume, and she catapulted herself to #1 in the PTO world rankings, which means she’ll get a nice $100K bonus check right around the holidays.

Also cashing in from his St. George performance was Iden, who will finish the year ranked #1. I just checked Norwegian real estate prices and you can buy entire cattle farms—with cows—for $600,000. So he’s well on his way to a more sensible lifestyle if he decides triathlon is too easy for him.

RELATED: Lucy Charles-Barclay’s Pedal Power Trainer Session

Iden-mania continues at Ironman Florida

(Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

After a bomb cyclone forced the cancelation of Ironman Sacramento and the much-anticipated duel between Iden and Frodeno, Iden opted to make his Ironman debut in world-class Panama City Beach. For two whole weeks we thought Iden might be the greatest Ironman athlete on earth, but it turns out he’s not even the best in his own country (more on that below). While swim course variations make comparing times trifling, Iden’s 2:34 marathon means it’s probably going to take a sub-2:35 run to win either Ironman world championship in 2022, and sub-2:30 no longer seems out of reach.

RELATED: How Fast Can the Fastest Pros Run in Ironman?

Blummenfelt makes history at Ironman Cozumel

(Photo: Facebook: Kristian Blummenfelt)

Last and certainly not least we have even more Norwegian dominance. With Kona on hold for a second straight year, Blummenfelt decided to make his Ironman debut in Cozumel in November. While his overall time might have been faster thanks to a current-assisted swim that wasn’t measured very well, his 2:35 marathon means his friend and countryman won’t be running away when they finally do race each other (and Frodo) at this distance in St. George next May.

With the emergence of two Norwegian men, as well as Charles-Barclay as perhaps the big cheese among long-course women, 2022 could mark an end to German/Swiss dominance at Ironman. At least we won’t have to wait until the end of the season for the biggest race, with the St. George edition of the Ironman World Championship in May and questions always lingering about the Kona edition at its regularly scheduled time in October.

RELATED: Triathlete’s Best of 2021 Awards

Video: 4X World Champion Mirinda Carfrae Makes Her Picks for 70.3 Chattanooga

Carfrae and former pro Patrick Mckeon break down the iconic course in Chattanooga, who looks good for the pro women's race, and their predictions for how the day will play out.