39 Things To Know Before The 2015 Ironman World Championship

A list of 39 helpful facts to know before watching the 39th running of the 2015 Ironman World Championship on Saturday, Oct. 10.

Photo: John David Becker

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A list of 39 helpful facts to know before watching the 39th running of the 2015 Ironman World Championship on Saturday, Oct. 10.

1. In 2014, Mirinda Carfrae set not only the run course record (again) with a time of 2:50:26, besting her 2013 marathon by 12 seconds, but she also overcame an incredible deficit off the bike—more than 14 minutes—to pass Daniela Ryf and defend her Kona crown.

2. The average age of 2015 age-groupers is 43.2, well above the age average of professional triathletes at 33.7. The overall average age is 42.8.

3. After recent research determined that covering the shoulders and armpits helped to reduce drag, many pro athletes—both men and women—have raced with covered shoulders from sleeved pullovers on the bike the last two years.

4. It will take more than 5,000 volunteers to make Saturday’s race happen.

5. 2012 Ironman world champion Pete Jacobs has had a tough couple of years since earning the world title. After the start lists were announced, the Australian withdrew from the race because an illness has prevented him from properly training for the race. After his win, he finished as the 32nd male pro in 2013 and DNF’ed last year.

6. Combined, the nations of Great Britain and Australia have produced the women’s Ironman World Championship winner the last nine years, starting with Australia’s Michellie Jones (2006), and including Brit Chrissie Wellington (’07, ’08, ’09, ’11), defending champ Mirinda Carfrae of Australia (’10, ’13, ’14) and Great Britain’s Leanda Cave (’12). The last non-Brit and non-Aussie to win the women’s crown was Switzerland’s Natascha Badmann. Switzerland may regain the title this year with top contender Daniela Ryf.

7. Now in his second year of Ironman racing, German Jan Frodeno has had better luck this year than last. He overcame mechanical problems to finish third in his two 2014 Ironmans, but the 2008 Olympic champion put together a solid performance in his victory over fellow German Sebastian Kienle in Frankfurt at the Ironman European Championship this summer. Many are predicting a German showdown between Kienle and Frodeno on the Big Island, and if Frodeno wins, he’ll be the first athlete to win both the Olympic gold medal and the Kona title.

8. This will be the first year since 2006 we won’t see Craig “Crowie” Alexander on the start line in Kona. Racing (and finishing) every year since 2007, Crowie earned three victories and one runner-up finish in his illustrious career.

9. There are 21 American pros in the professional field, eight men and 13 women.

10. Past performance seems to mean a lot on the Big Island. In 18 of the last 19 years the men’s winner was a top-four finisher the year before. (For example, Sebastian Kienle finished third in 2013 before winning in 2014.)

11. The newest triathlon power couple, Luke McKenzie and Beth Gerdes, will both be racing in Kona this year. McKenzie was the 2013 runner-up and this will be Gerdes’ first Kona as a pro and since giving birth to their daughter, Wynne, in 2014. Gerdes earned her first Ironman title in Switzerland this year.

12. We’re surprised to see Belgian Marino Vanhoenacker on the start list this year after frustrating experiences in his last two races on the Big Island including a meltdown in the Energy Lab in 2012 and a 34th-place finish after a run-walk marathon last year. He told Triathlete.com after the race, “I’m done with this race. I don’t want to go through this again.”

RELATED – 2015 Ironman World Championship Preview: Men’s Pro Race

13. We’re still looking for another American who could win Kona (the last
was Tim DeBoom in 2002). It’s finally looking promising, though, as there were two American men—Ben Hoffman and Andy Potts—in the Kona top four last year.

14. For the second time, the race will feature separate age-group starts from the Kona pier. This year the age groupers have been pushed back even further from the pros and from each other. The male professionals will start at 6:25 a.m., the female pros at 6:30 a.m., then the male age-groupers at 6:55 a.m. and female age-groupers at 7:10 a.m. The change is intended to help have a fair race and prevent drafting on the bike.

15. Last year’s runner-up finish in Kona for Swiss pro Daniela Ryf has been her only non-win the last two years. Coached by Brett Sutton, Ryf has been dominant in every race she enters, including her recent defense of her Ironman 70.3 World Championship title in Austria.

16. There will be 62 countries represented on the start line this year.

17. 2013 Ironman world champ Frederik Van Lierde, who’s considered a top contender this year, was only the second Belgian to ever win the Ironman World Championship. The first was Luc Van Lierde, who won the race in 1996 and 1999, and who has no relation to Frederik except as his coach.

18. Internationally, Australia has the most athletes competing with 250, followed by Germany (175), Great Britain (148), Canada (114) and Brazil (98). Countries including Portugal, Singapore, Norway, Estonia and Brazil experienced the largest percent growth in athlete representation since 2014.

19. Fans of “Rudy,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Goonies” will be excited to see actor Sean Astin racing in Kona this year on behalf of Run3rd. He finished Ironman 70.3 Vineman this summer in a time of 7:25.

20. There are only four past Ironman world champions on the pro start list this year. On the men’s side, Frederik Van Lierde (2013) and Sebastian Kienle (2014), and on the women’s side only Mirinda Carfrae (2010, 2013, 2014) and Leanda Cave (2012). Last year there were seven, including Pete Jacobs, Faris Al-Sultan, Craig Alexander and Natascha Badmann, all of whom have either now retired from Ironman racing or were unable to race this year.

RELATED – 2015 Ironman World Championship Preview – Women’s Pro Race

21. Male athletes make up 72 percent of participants (1,717 athletes), while 28 percent (664 athletes) are female. That marks the largest female field ever at the Ironman World Championship—topping last year’s total number of women by 39.

22. Until the last couple of years, Australia had been dominant in the men’s field, with six consecutive titles captured by Aussies Chris McCormack, Craig Alexander or Pete Jacobs. It now appears that we’re entering an era of European domination, as Frederik Van Lierde from Belgium and Sebastian Kienle from Germany have won the last two titles. Germans Jan Frodeno and Keinle are considered the heavy favorites this year.

23. The United States is the most represented country with 768 competitors, accounting for nearly 32 percent of registrants this year. Athletes from 48 U.S. states are represented, with the greatest number coming from California (138), Colorado (54) Hawaii (49), Texas (44) and New York (44).

24. Renowned TV chef Gordon Ramsay will be returning to Kona this year after his 2013 finish in a time of 14:04:48. He planned to race last year, but a severe tear of his Achilles tendon prevented him from competing in 2014.

25. At 85 years old, Lew Hollander is looking for his 24th Kona finish. He holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest man to finish the Ironman World Championship (which he did at 82), and he qualified for this year at the shortened Ironman Florida. He’ll be the first to pioneer the 85-89 age group.

26. There has been a huge push from both organized groups and passionate individuals for equality for the professionals on the Ironman World Championship start line. This year 58 men and 42 women were offered the opportunity to register for the race.

27. Weather will play to the strengths—and expose the weaknesses—of each athlete and can have a big impact on how the race plays out. Varying levels of chop on the swim, potentially heavy tradewinds on the bike and heat and humidity on the run can all make or break race day. Of all of the possible condition variants, the notorious “Mumuku Winds” have the biggest potential to shake up the outcome. Within a matter of seconds, a light breeze on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway can shift and create unwieldy headwinds and dangerous crosswinds that have been known to knock athletes off of their bikes. In recent years, race day has yielded relatively mild winds but many pros know what the island is capable of producing. You can bet the strongest cyclists—such as Sebastian Kienle for the men and Daniela Ryf for the women—will be hoping for some tougher conditions to break up the field.

28. There are several Kona rookies on the pro start list this year, but there are specifically three Canadians who are especially capable of shaking up the top 10 and maybe even the podium. Brent McMahon posted the fastest Ironman debut ever (7:55:48) at the 2014 Ironman Arizona triathlon, Jeff Symonds beat a tough field at March’s Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship to earn his Kona slot and fan favorite Lionel Sanders won last year’s shortened Ironman Florida in 6:58:46, posting a 2:44:12 marathon in the process.

29. This was the first year that Ironman offered automatic qualifying opportunities for professionals at the five championship-level races. Athletes who won the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne (Jeff Symonds and Melissa Hauschildt), the Ironman African Championships in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa (Frederik Van Lierde and Jodie Swallow), the Ironman North American Championships in Texas (Matt Hanson and Angela Naeth), the Ironman Latin American Championships in Florianopolis, Brazil (Marino Vanhoenacker and Ariane Monticeli) and the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt (Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf) all earned automatic Kona slots and did not need to worry about their Kona Pro Ranking.

30. Professionals are competing for a total of $650,000 in prize money, with each winner taking home $120,000. The majority of the athletes also likely have lucrative bonuses from sponsors available if they do well.

31. After a dominant season on the Ironman circuit in 2012 and a fifth-place finish in Kona, many placed Mary Beth Ellis as the United States’ best hope for bringing the title back home. Ellis was having the ideal build-up to the 2013 Ironman World Championship when she suffered a devastating crash on her bike while training in Cozumel. She went on to start the race, but the effect of the injuries was too much and she was forced to pull out on the run. Ellis came back and competed in last year’s race under the guidance of coach Siri Lindley, ultimately finishing in ninth. After a disappointing race at the 70.3 North American Championships in St. George, Ellis says that she “either needed to retire or make a change” and returned to Europe to train under her former coach Brett Sutton. She’s back in Kona now with some promising results, including the ITU Long Course World Championship, and will be one to watch on race day.

32. It’s a unique year in that many are choosing two athletes who did not win last year’s Kona race as the favorites to take the title. Jan Frodeno (GER) and Daniela Ryf (SUI) both made the podium in their rookie attempts last year in Kona and will be heavily targeted by their competition on race day. They each won the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in August and will be looking for the rare world championship double. The only two athletes to win both the 70.3 and Ironman world titles in the same year are Craig Alexander (2011) and Leanda Cave (2012).

33. While race day is a thrill to follow, it’s actually the NBC broadcast of the event (which airs several weeks later) that garners the most mainstream attention. It features both the pro races and inspiring age-grouper stories and has won several Emmy awards. This year’s broadcast will air Saturday, Nov. 14, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. ET.

34. While Mirinda Carfrae has broken the women’s run course record several times (see No. 1), the men have struggled to come close. Despite deeper pro fields and constant advancements in bike and run technology, the men are still chasing after the elusive run record on the Big Island—a record that has stood for 25 years (and counting). Mark Allen’s 2:40:04 marathon from the 1989 “Iron War” race has not been touched.

35. This will be the last year for the foreseeable future that we will see Kona lottery participants. For $50, an athlete could enter the lottery. If selected, he or she paid an additional $850 to register for the race, the standard entry fee. In March, Ironman announced the 100 lottery winners for the 2015 race, ranging in age from 20 to 74 and representing 16 countries. Back in May the Department of Justice announced that the lottery program had been deemed as not compliant with government lottery and gambling laws. This year’s lottery athletes will be allowed to compete, but Ironman has discontinued the program going forward and was forced to pay $2,761,910 to the government.

36. For the first time since 2005, the start list will not include American Linsey Corbin. The five-time Ironman winner, who is known for finishing with her signature cowboy hat, has had a tough year full of illness and injury and will be watching from the sidelines.

37. This has been Danish pro Camilla Pedersen’s first full season of racing since suffering a serious crash in late 2013 that left her in a medically induced coma for almost a month. Doctors told her she wouldn’t walk again, but she’s defied the odds and come back to win the 2014 ITU Long Distance World Championship as well as several other long-course races in 2015. She’s on the start list and is considered a top contender.

38. The final hour at the Ironman World Championship has long been considered one of the most magical parts of the sport of triathlon. Hundreds of spectators and race finishers, as well as local musicians and dancers, gather at the finish line to welcome the race’s final finishers. For the first time last year, male and female age-groupers had different cut-off times at the finish line because of the change in start times (see No. 14). The men will have a cutoff of 11:45 p.m. and the women will have until 12 a.m.

39. U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema will be the first sitting member of Congress to participate in the Ironman World Championship.

More coverage from Kona.

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.