The Most Anticipated Ironman Debut Ever?

Javier Gómez Noya, perhaps the greatest triathlete in history, finally makes his Ironman debut in Cairns this Sunday.

Javier Gómez Noya, perhaps the greatest triathlete in history, finally makes his Ironman debut in Cairns this Sunday.

On Sunday we’ll witness one of the most anticipated Ironman debuts in history when eight-time world champion Javier Gómez lines up at the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Cairns, Australia. Even in a field that includes fellow world champs Tim Reed and Terenzo Bozzone, Gómez is the consensus favorite and many have pegged him as the favorite to win in his Kona debut this October (assuming he qualifies, which is an easy assumption to make). It’s a lot of pressure for a man who has yet to finish a full Ironman, but it’s nothing the most decorated triathlete in history can’t handle.

No matter the format—from draft-legal to off-road to 70.3—Gómez is used to others having lofty expectations for him, and he has yet to let them down. Of his eight world titles, five came in ITU, two in Ironman 70.3 and one at the XTERRA World Championship. He’s done everything there is to do in the sport except win a full Ironman, and that has the 35-year-old fired up to start the final chapter of his career.

“It’s exciting to have something new to motivate me,” he says. “I’ve been doing ITU for 12 years and have enjoyed every minute of it, but I like having this new goal and testing myself at a new distance. The training is a bit different and that’s exciting for me after so many years of focusing on short course. I don’t really know what to expect in the race, but so far everything has been going well in training. I think I can do well in Ironman, but it’s still an unknown at this point and I’m excited by that.”

It was never a matter of if Gómez would race Kona, but rather when he would decide to do it. After a devastating fourth-place finish at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and a silver medal at the 2012 Games in London, he was laser-focused on winning gold at Rio 2016 before a bike crash one month from the Olympics resulted in a broken elbow. He returned to ITU racing last year and finished second in the world rankings (behind protégé Mario Mola) and also won his second Ironman 70.3 world title in Chattanooga in September. After that, he decided that the time was right to go longer.

“I’ve always had Kona in the back of my mind throughout my career,” he says. “It was just a matter of finding the right time to do it. 2018 is the right time for me. I can do this for a year and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out, I can always go back to ITU and try to qualify for Tokyo. But if I enjoy Ironman racing, then I’ll stick to long distance.”

At 35, Gómez should have at least five shots at winning in Kona before he’s past his prime. If he can win multiple titles in that window, he’ll leapfrog the likes of Mark Allen and Jan Frodeno in the conversation of the greatest triathlete of all time. But for Gómez, it’s a conversation he’ll let others have while he takes things one race at a time, beginning on Sunday when he races farther than he ever has.

“I just try to go year by year and do the best I can,” he says. “Being talked about as one of the greatest of all-time is just that—talk. At the end of my career, I’ll take the time to look back and see all that I achieved. Right now I’m just trying to do my job the best I can, and if that makes me one of the best to ever do it, that’s great.”