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Recalled: Ironman’s Youngest Champs

With 24-year-old Magnus Ditlev’s win at Challenge Roth last weekend, 20 is the new 30. We look back at other historic long-course finishes from fresh young faces.

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Last weekend, Magnus Ditlev’s dynamic win at Challenge Roth stood out for more than just the fact that he beat reigning champion Patrick Lange. At just 24 years old, the Copenhagen native became the youngest-ever male winner of the storied event. While studies—and results—show that endurance athletes tend to peak around 33 years old, those like Ditlev have bucked that trend and earned major titles in their twenties. Here’s a look at some of the youngest pro Ironman (and iron-distance) champs in the sport’s history.

RELATED: The 16 Greatest Triathletes of All Time


(Photo: Orca)

The triathlete: Philip Graves, Great Britain

The race: 2009 Ironman U.K.

The age: 20

Call it beginner’s luck: In his very first pro race, Graves pulled off a wire-to-wire win, crossing the line in 8:45:52 to become the youngest Ironman champion in history. Graves, who began competing on the junior circuit at 16, qualified for the Ironman World Championships with his win in the U.K., and ended up placing 41st in Kona.

Where is he now? At 33, Graves continues to compete. He acknowledged some ups and downs in his career after that breakout win in 2009, did a stint in draft-legal racing, and has also raced as a pro cyclist.

(Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

The triathlete: Daniel Bækkegård, Denmark

The race: 2019 Ironman Austria

The age: 23

After years of success as a swimmer, Bækkegård burst onto the pro triathlon scene in 2019, ripping off an impressive win in Austria by over ten minutes to become one of the youngest athletes to claim the top step at an Ironman race. Even more impressive? The win in Austria came just one week after he won Ironman 70.3 Finland.

Where is he now? Still winning. Now 26, Bækkegård recently captured the Ironman 70.3 European Championship title in Elsinore, Denmark. Although he has focused on more the 70.3 distance in recent seasons, he was third at Ironman Tulsa last May, finishing behind Germany’s Patrick Lange and Switzerland’s Jan Van Berkel, who are each nearly a decade older than the young Dane.

RELATED: Breakfast with Bob: Daniel Baekkegard

The triathlete: Tim Van Berkel, Australia

The race: 2008 Ironman Western Australia

The age: 24

After briefly competing as an age-grouper (he finished ninth in the 20-24 division in the 2005 Hawaii ITU Age Group Triathlon World Championships), Van Berkel turned pro at 23. In his second season, he won Ironman Western Australia, and followed that up with wins at Ironman Copenhagen in 2010 and 2011—giving him three career Ironman victories by the time he was 27.

Where is he now? At 38, Van Berkel is now one of the oldest athletes on any given starting list, but the wins keep coming: He claimed the Ironman Australia title in May and Challenge Shepparton in March.

(Photo: Lois Schwartz)

The triathlete: Scott Tinley, U.S.A.

The race: 1982 Ironman World Championships

The age: 25

40 years after winning the world title, Tinley remains the youngest-ever to break the tape in Hawaii. The Ironman Hall of Famer went on to win again in 1985 and finish on the podium at the world champs six other times.

Where is he now? Tinley retired from racing in 1999 as one of the most successful athletes in the sport’s history and began a career in academics, teaching sport humanities courses at the university level and writing several books.

RELATED: Recalled: Scott Tinley Wins The 1985 Hawaii Ironman


(Photo: Lois Schwartz)

The triathlete: Kathleen McCartney, U.S.A.

The race: 1982 Ironman World Championships

The age: 22

The young McCartney—then a University of Santa Barbara student with minimal experience in any sport, yet alone triathlon—famously passed an ailing Julie Moss, who had collapsed from heat exhaustion in the very final stretch of the 1982 race, becoming the surprise champion (although Moss’s famous “crawl” became the lasting memory of the day).

Where is she now? McCartney went on to finish six Ironman World Championships between 1982 and 1988, then took 15 years off to raise her family. She returned to competing in Ironman as an age-grouper, and has competed in Kona at least a dozen times.

(Photo: Lois Schwartz)

The triathlete: Sylviane Puntous, Canada

The race: 1983 Ironman World Championships

The age: 22

Sylviane, along with her identical twin sister Patricia, aren’t only among the youngest podium finishers in the history of Ironman: They are also the only set of siblings to finish 1-2 at the world champs. In 1983, Sylviane crossed the line first, to seal her victory at the age of 22, and she did it again the following year. The French-Canadians’ pro triathlon careers were relatively brief, but prolific. With the exception of 1985, a Puntous was on the podium in every single Ironman World Championship race between 1982 and 1989.

Where is she now? After retiring from triathlon, Slyviane as well as Patricia continued to compete in running, most notably crossing the finish line of Rock ‘n’ Roll Montreal 2017 in identical times, tying for first in the 55-59 age category.

RELATED: Recalled: The Puntous Twins Dominate the Early 80s

(Photo: Lois Schwartz)

The triathlete: Paula Newby-Fraser, South Africa

The race: 1986 Ironman World Championships

The age: 24

With her athletic foundation laid in the pool as a competitive swimmer in her native South Africa, Newby-Fraser finished third in her very first Ironman in 1985, which just so happened to be the World Championships. When Newby-Fraser returned to Hawaii at the age of 24 in 1986 for just her second Ironman, she won it, picking up her first of eight titles there.

Where is she now? Newby Fraser remains intrinsically linked to the sport, not only as the sport’s arguable G.O.A.T. and “Queen of Kona,” but also via her role working in pro athlete relations with the Ironman group.

RELATED: Recalled: Paula Newby-Fraser’s First Kona Win

The triathlete: Lucy Charles-Barclay, Great Britain

The race: Challenge Roth, 2019

The age: 26

Charles-Barclay’s precocious ways in triathlon began out of the gates. She won Ironman Lanzarote in 2017 at 23, and later that year, her second-place finish at the Ironman World Championships behind Daniela Ryf made her the youngest female athlete in over 30 years to land on the podium in Kona. Her win at Challenge Roth at the age of 26 (where she was more than a decade younger than runner-up Sarah Crowley), made her the youngest champion there in at least 15 years.

Where is she now? Down, but certainly not out. Charles-Barclay is recovering from a stress fracture in her left hip, which she sustained in late March. Prior to that, the now-28-year-old picked up her first Ironman 70.3 World Championship win in September.

RELATED: Lucy Charles-Barclay is Rewriting the Rules of Ironman Racing