40 Things to Know About the 2018 Ironman World Championship

Ironman is celebrating the 40th anniversary of this iconic race. Here’s a list of helpful facts to know before watching the big show this Saturday, Oct. 13.

Photo: Getty Images for IRONMAN

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  1. This will be the largest field ever at the Ironman World Championship, with approximately 2,500 athletes registered to compete on Saturday.
  2. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Ironman race, which took place on the shores of Oahu on Feb. 18, 1978.
  3. Ironman founder John Collins’ son, Michael, will be competing on Saturday. Michael raced in his first Ironman in 1979, the year after the inaugural race. His parents wouldn’t let him start in 1978 because he had a high school swim meet on race morning.
  4. Approximately 72 percent of participants (1,791) are male, while 28 percent of participants (685) are female.
  5. There’s a relatively low number of former champions competing in the professional fields. Former champions on the men’s side include Patrick Lange (GER), Sebastian Kienle (GER), and Frederik Van Lierde (BEL). For the women, it’s only three-time champions Daniela Ryf (SUI) and Mirinda Carfrae (AUS).
  6. There are 17 professional athletes (10 women and 7 men) from the United States competing. It’s been a long run since the United States had a Kona champion. Tim Deboom (2001 and 2002) was the last for the men, while Karen Smyers (1995) was the last for the women.
  7. Hiromu Inada (Japan) is the oldest participant at 85, while Sydney Gardiner (United Kingdom) is the youngest at 18.
  8. More than 5,000 volunteers will help make the Ironman World Championship a success.
  9. Great Britain’s Tim Don is back to compete in Kona after a serious race-week collision with a car put him in the hospital before last year’s race. It’s been a hard road back for Don, but he was able to squeeze on the starting list as the last athlete to qualify.
  10. The United States’ Matt Russell will also make an emotional return to the race course. During last year’s bike portion, Russell collided with a van that was attempting to cross the course and suffered serious injuries. He narrowly missed the qualification cutoff but was offered a wildcard spot.
  11. The race will welcome the largest international field in its history, with athletes competing from a record 82 countries, regions, and territories.
  12. Regionally, Europe represents 46 percent of the field, while North America closely follows with 34 percent of registered athletes. Asia-Pacific brings eight percent of participants, with South America at seven percent.
  13. Athletes are traveling from 46 U.S. states, with the greatest number coming from California (91), followed by Hawaii (45), Texas (44), Colorado (38), and New York (35).
  14. American Heather Jackson is one to watch. She has finished fifth (2015), third (2016), and fourth (2017) in her Kona appearances. Could she be the next American to take home the Kona title?
  15. American Ben Hoffman was considered one of the United States’ best chances to bring home the crown. He’s been fairly consistent in recent Kona years, and even notched a second-place finish in 2014. He announced right before race week that he would not be able to compete due to a sacral stress fracture.
  16. Germany’s Jan Frodeno, the 2015 and 2016 Ironman world champion, is another big name missing from the start list this year. After impressive victories at July’s Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt and September’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships, many were calling Frodeno the favorite heading to the Big Island. Frodeno announced shortly after his 70.3 World Championship victory that he suffered a stress fracture in his hip and would not be able to compete this year.
  17. The Pease brothers are competing in Kona for the first time. Brent competes while pulling and pushing Kyle, who has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. They’re looking to raise awareness for, motivate, and enable athletes with disabilities.
  18. The United States of America is the most represented nation with 640 registered competitors, followed by Germany (215), Australia (208), and the United Kingdom (130).
  19. The average age of all competitors is 43.
  20. Daniela Ryf (SUI) and Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) each hold three Ironman World Championship titles. If either of them can nab a fourth, they’ll be in exclusive company. Only Paula Newby-Fraser (8), Natascha Badmann (6), and Chrissie Wellington (4) have accomplished the feat.
  21. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) is back to compete in Kona after taking last year off to welcome a baby, Isabelle, to the family. In her last Kona performance (2016), she finished second to Daniela Ryf.
  22. Carfrae is not the only new mom to make the start. Meredith Kessler (USA), Liz Blatchford (AUS) and Beth McKenzie (USA) have all had babies since last competing in Kona.
  23. Great Britain’s Lucy Charles is one to watch in the women’s field. Her swim speed makes her one of the fastest—male or female —out of the water. Last year her swim split (48:48) was less than 90 seconds behind top male swimmer Josh Amberger (47:09).
  24. Perhaps the most anticipated Kona debut in history will take place this weekend. Many have believed five-time ITU world champion Javier Gomez’s strengths are well suited for the lava fields, and this weekend we finally get to see how he fares.
  25. There are also a few former ITU stars on the women’s side taking on Kona for the first time. Sarah True (USA), Anne Haug (GER), and Teresa Adam (NZL) will be sure to mix up the front of the women’s field in their rookie performances.
  26. Past performances mean a lot in Kona, particularly on the men’s side. In 21 of the last 22 years, the men’s champion has finished in the top four the year before.
  27. German athletes have won the last five men’s titles: Sebastian Kienle in 2014, Jan Frodeno in 2015 and 2016, and Patrick Lange in 2017.
  28. This is the last year that the professionals qualified under the Kona Pro Rankings (KPR) system. For the 2019 qualification season and beyond, the system will return to a modified version of what was in play prior to the KPR. Athletes will earn guaranteed spots by winning (or placing well) at Ironman events.
  29. 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.
  30. 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 17 Emmy awards. This year’s broadcast will air Saturday, Nov. 24 at 2:30 p.m. ET.
  31. Sarah Reinertsen, the first above-the-knee amputee to finish the Ironman World Championship (in 2005) and a gold medal winning para-triathlete returns to Kona to celebrate her place in history at Ironman’s 40th anniversary celebration.
  32. 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. Though it was once a midnight cutoff for all, the varying start times now mean different cutoff times. The men will have a cutoff of 12:05 a.m. and the women will have until 12:20 a.m.
  33. The start times have varied a lot in recent years to try to find the solution for proper flow and a fair race out on course. This year the professional men kick off the action at 6:35 a.m. with the pro women following at 6:40 a.m. Age-group men start at 7:05 a.m., with the age-group women concluding the starting action at 7:20 a.m.
  34. 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.
  35. Patrick Lange set a new course record last year, winning in a time of 8:01:40.
  36. Fellow defending champion Daniela Ryf is also the course record holder, establishing a record of 8:46:46 in 2016.
  37. There are several super cyclists in the men’s field who won’t be afraid to ride off the front and make the race interesting. Cameron Wurf (who broke the bike course record in 2017), Sebastian Kienle, Lionel Sanders, Andrew Starykowicz, and Michael Weiss are all capable of putting the hurt on the other athletes. Who to let go and who to keep within striking distance will be something the rest of the field will have to figure out in the bike race.
  38. Returning age-group champions from the 2017 Ironman World Championship on the women’s side include Sione Jongstra (NED), Michaela Rudolf (AUT), Diana Hassel (USA) and Missy LeStrange (USA). On the men’s side, returning age-group champions include Antoine Mechin (FRA), Guillaume Montoisy (BEL), Christophe Lemery (FRA), Rick Simpson (USA), Simon Butterworth (USA) and Fidel Rotondaro (VEN).
  39. Jordan Bethke, a former pro triathlete and current U.S. Navy EOD Officer stationed in Hawaii, will be racing to support Kenton Stacy (#StacyStrong), a fellow EOD Officer critically wounded while serving in Syria.
  40. Tri clubs from around the world will be cheering on their athletes. About 44% of the athletes (1,082) belong to a tri club. Overall, 629 different clubs are represented.

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.