Culture

Where Are Kona Champions Now? (Second Edition)

These athletes have all been crowned Ironman world champions, some of them several times, but what are they doing now—and what do they think Kona will be like next year?

This is our second time checking in with former Ironman world champions! Read about what Chrissie Wellington, Tim DeBoom, Karen Smyers, Leanda Cave, Peter Reid, and Faris Al Sultan are up to here.

Mirinda Carfrae, Australia, three-time champion: 2010, 2013, 2014

Left: Mirinda Carfrae wins the 2014 Ironman World Championship. Photo: John David Becker
Right: Mirinda Carfrae, husband Tim, and daughter Izzy before the 2017 Ironman World Championship. Photo: Oliver Baker

The three-time Ironman world champion and Kona run course record holder is making the most of the COVID-enforced break from racing to have her second baby with husband Tim O’Donnell. The couple, who already have a three-year-old daughter, Izzy, are due on New Year’s Eve. 

Carfrae said: “My Kona victories are special memories for sure, and have really enabled me to live the life I dreamed of for so long. I have so much gratitude for all the wonderful people who played a part in shaping my career so far.”

She is continuing to train during her pregnancy, adding: “I am hoping and planning to continue where I left off with racing in the spring/summer of next year. Hopefully Kona next year will feel exactly the same with minimal changes. After this year, the intensity of emotion and energy on the island will be off the charts. I can’t wait!” 

Mark Allen, USA, six-time champion: 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995

Left: Mark Allen running in the famous Iron War of 1989. Photo: Lois Schwartz
Right: Mark Allen poses with world champions Daniela Ryf and Patrick Lange at the 2017 Ironman World Championship. Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image

After dominating on the Big Island in the early ‘90s, Mark Allen has gone on to build a successful coaching company, Mark Allen Coaching, and is also involved in a number of other projects, including motivational speaking, teaching, and consulting and coaching work for Ironman and Tonal, the in-home strength training device. He still remains incredibly active, working out every day, sometimes twice daily, whether it’s surfing, running, or strength and conditioning work.

He said: “My focus is not on performance but on life health. I’ve been working on some concepts and methods to help push that health curve up as you age. This is something I’ve focused on since I turned 50 about 12 years ago (I’m now almost 63), and I finally feel like I have the template down of how to win the ultimate race, the race of life.”   

He added: “My six Kona victories have been a springboard into everything I have done since competition. There were so many lessons learned and opportunities created through my 15-year racing career that I continue to build on. The challenge of trying again and again and then finally finding victory was a very long journey. And the years after that with the wins were no cakewalk! That whole journey shaped me as an adult and have led me to meeting the greatest people in my life.

And when it comes to Kona next year, Allen believes it will be “extremely important and special,” saying: “It will be the biggest reunion the sport has ever seen. There will be no other year like it. The race next year will also be something that symbolizes that we have figured out how to carry on and keep living even with ripples and ramifications of our world situation. No one will take the Ironman world championship race for granted in 2021.”

You can catch Mark Allen on our Triathlete Live show at 1 p.m. MT/3 p.m. ET tomorrow. Sign up here.

Greg Welch, Australia, 1994 champion

Left: Greg Welch on his way to the Ironman world title. Photo: Lois Schwartz
Right: Greg Welch at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image

Australian Greg Welch was the first non-American to win the Kona crown back in 1994, breaking the five-year winning streak of Mark Allen. Well known for his lively and charismatic personality, Welch has remained a constant in the sport and now works for Oakley as a sports marketing manager in addition to doing some commentary work for Ironman. 

“My involvement in the sport is still huge,” he said. “I am back to working out more these days and swim five times a week, bike twice a week, and walk every other day. My passion is paddling, pickleball, and surfing with my two daughters, one who is a college student and the other a high school senior—both girls are beautiful young ladies.” 

Welch acknowledges that his Ironman world title “really did shape the rest of my life,” saying: “It meant the world to me.”

He believes next year’s race will see many new names “marching forwards,” especially in the women’s field with the likes of Imogen Simmonds and Holly Lawrence coming through. “It’s always the race of the year; I can’t wait,” he said.

Heather Fuhr, Canada, 1997 champion

Left: Heather Fuhr wins the world title. Photo: Lois Schwartz
Right: Heather Fuhr at the 2011 Endurance LIVE Awards. Photo: Nils Nilsen

Heather Fuhr has worked for Ironman for the last 13 years and is currently based out of their Kona office where she works as the world championship VIP and pro athlete services manager. Keeping fit and active remains important to her and she still runs and cycles a few times a week, although she has replaced swimming with paddleboarding. “I have not competed in a triathlon for many years,” she said. “I still try to stay in shape, but I definitely don’t call what I do training anymore!”

She said: “Winning the Ironman world championship was obviously one of the highlights of my career. As an athlete it is something you dream of, and, more than anything it provided a level of validation to my career as a professional triathlete. As we all know it is not an easy career path, so I feel fortunate that I was able to have a long career and create long-lasting memories. I have also been provided the opportunity to work with Ironman for the past 13 years and no doubt this can also be attributed to my ties with racing the Ironman world championship.”

Being based in Kona, Fuhr knows only too well how it feels for there to be no race this year: “It is a much different feel here in Kona this year. The town is very quiet and almost somber. I can only imagine that 2021 is going to be a race like no other and a huge celebration. I cannot wait!” 

Craig Alexander, Australia, three-time champion: 2008, 2009, 2011

Left: Craig Alexander wins the 2009 Ironman World Championship. Photo: Larry Rosa
Right: Craig Alexander at the 2017 Ironman World Championship. Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image

For Craig “Crowie” Alexander, triathlon is still a major part of his life, although he admits his priorities are now different: “I am still heavily involved in triathlon. I try to train everyday—staying fit is and always will be a part of my life and routine—but training is not my daily priority like it used to be. I still race competitively even at 47 years of age, winning three 70.3s last year, but the racing these days has to fit in with the rest of my life, not the other way around.”

He works as a brand ambassador for 12 companies, doing promotional work and assisting with product R&D. He’s also co-founded a training and lifestyle company, Sansego. 

He said: “We have a great team of world-class endurance coaches and experts. My role is to interact with our community and host training experiences, which we have held in Colorado, Mallorca, Kona and Columbia to name a few.”

Based in Sydney, Australia, with his wife Neri, a full-time ER nurse, and their three children (Lucy, 15, Austin, 11, and Lani, 7), Alexander said he still travels a lot (“at least I did pre-pandemic”), but his trips are typically shorter these days: “Our days of chasing the sun and going from summer to summer for training and racing, and being away for months at a time, are now a thing of the past. Our kids are all very active and I like to get involved in all of their activities, helping to coach their teams.”

He still reflects on his three Kona victories with great satisfaction, saying: “I think every athlete thrives when they get that validation that they can perform at the highest level and they belong in that company. For me, particularly after my first win in Kona, I took a lot of joy out of seeing what those victories meant to those close to me who had contributed so much to my career. There were so many people, starting with family, who helped me so much and I loved seeing what it meant to them and being able to share it with them. 

“I don’t think my Kona victories changed me at all as a person, but of course it does impact and change your life. There is a big financial windfall that comes with great performances in Kona and a flow-on effect with sponsorship and credibility that enables you to have a longevity in the sport after your racing days are over.” 

He added: “I feel so bad for the athletes who won’t get to strut their stuff in Hawaii this year. They train so hard for so long and it must be incredibly disappointing not being able to race. I like to think positively, though, and look forward with hope. No doubt when we all finally get back to Kona, it will be amazing to have the whole sport and industry together again to celebrate the sport we love.”