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Legendary triathlon coach Brett Sutton offers his thoughts on the 2014 Ironman World Championship pro races. A version of this article originally appeared on trisutto.com
There is an inevitable hysteria that builds up around this time of year about Kona and the Ironman World Championship. Athletes trying to talk themselves into form, coaches trying to give athletes confidence through any means possible, and parents and friends good-naturedly asking their loved ones how they feel every time they see them.
October is triathlon’s crazy month. Each year I’m asked predictions about the Kona field, gossip about my own squad, and just about everything except of course for what really matters: Which athletes are hitting their numbers and who are ready to put in a great performance? Not a win, but a great performance. It’s always been my philosophy that you look after great performances and the wins look after themselves.
With that, as a coach who has had top pros involved in the big show for the last seven years consecutively, I won’t pretend that I’m a totally impartial observer of the Ironman World Championships. Here is my take on Kona 2014:
In the men’s race former Olympic gold medalist, Jan Frodeno, and two-time Olympic medalist Bevan Docherty will both be on the start line and they bring serious athletic class. With solid swims they’ll be at the front of the group, and my pick is that anyone who can run them down from there will be called the winner of the race. To win Kona now you need a solid swim. Last year the Tidal Gods favored the slower swimmers in both the male and female race. If the tides correct themselves I still think the super bikers, such as Marino Vanhoenacker, will struggle during the end of the run. Also, some of the Ironman class acts have had their season interrupted with sickness and injury. Pete Jacobs succumbed to early season fatigue and battled through to qualify, a joke in itself made worse by the fact his efforts were then slammed by WTC CEO Andrew Messick. Sebastian Kienle has had injury woes, James Cunnama is coming back from a big bike crash. So the field is very open once again and ripe for the taking by one of the former short-course boys.
The women’s race is deep and has all the dynamics to be a cracker. If Rinny is in good run form, she will a danger; especially if the swim currents are kind like last year, limiting any break away by the superior swimmers in the race. I have always believed that Xena (Caroline Steffen) would be a two-time winner if outside influences didn’t interfere in her races, and she continues to be a real force. Rachel Joyce is Miss Consistency, tough as teak and rarely puts in a bad performance. Jodie Swallow has shown she is in the best form of her last two years and will no doubt do what Jodie does best—lead from the front and try to improve her position.
My charge, Daniela Ryf, has never been to Kona and in February was quoted in a triathlon magazine as saying, “I’ll never do an Ironman.” Six months sure is a long time in the Sutton squad. As she started to lay down some pretty astounding numbers, we switched her plans from full focus on [Ironman 70.3] Mont-Tremblant and Hy-Vee Triathlon, to throwing her hat in the ring for the big one. Now as the current 70.3 world champion, I’m quietly confident that Ground Hog Day may just break on Kona with a first year Ironman rookie testing everybody’s theories about what you can and can’t do on debut. Regardless, my tip is this is the year to beat her, because next year we are going to see a monster racer of Chrissie Wellington proportions. Yes, she could be that good.
Best of luck to all participants. It’s certainly going to be an interesting race to watch. Game on.