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Ironman

Kienle, Carfrae Comebacks Were Biggest In Kona History

Both Sebastian Kienle and Mirinda Carfrae overcame significant deficits to claim the Ironman World Championship titles.

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Both Sebastian Kienle and Mirinda Carfrae overcame significant deficits to claim the Ironman World Championship titles.

Carfrae’s Comeback Off of the Bike

Recently crowned Ironman 70.3 world champion Daniela Ryf (SUI) made Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) question her ability to win another Ironman World Championship. The Kona rookie stomped the bike course and started the marathon 14:30 ahead of the defending champion. Even for the run course record holder, this seemed like an insurmountable deficit. As you already know, Carfrae caught and passed Ryf to earn her third Ironman world title with the fastest run in the race’s history (2:50:26). But just how improbable was Carfrae’s comeback? To answer that question, we compiled the biggest comebacks after the bike in the Ironman World Championship since 1986 when Dave Scott brought the race into the modern era by breaking 8:30. History shows that Carfrae’s charge to the front was as rare as it seemed.

Year Eventual winner Time Back
2014 Mirinda Carfrae 14:30
2013 Mirinda Carfrae 7:30
2012 Leanda Cave 4:30
2011 Chrissie Wellington 10:30
2010 Mirinda Carfrae 11:30
2009 Chrissie Wellington LOB
2008 Chrissie Wellington LOB
2007 Chrissie Wellington LOB
2006 Michellie Jones LOB
2005 Natascha Badmann 6:00
2004 Natascha Badmann LOB
2003 Lori Bowden 7:00
2002 Natascha Badmann LOB
2001 Natascha Badmann LOB
2000 Natascha Badmann LOB
1999 Lori Bowden 2:00
1998 Natascha Badmann LOB
1997 Heather Fuhr 8:30
1996 Paula Newby-Fraser 3:00
1995 Karen Smyers 11:00
1994 Paula Newby-Fraser LOB
1993 Paula Newby-Fraser 3:00
1992 Paula Newby-Fraser LOB
1991 Paula Newby-Fraser LOB
1990 Erin Baker LOB
1989 Paula Newby-Fraser LOB
1988 Paula Newby-Fraser LOB
1987 Erin Baker 4:00
1986 Paula Newby-Fraser 5:30
LOB=Led off the bike
All times approximate

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Carfrae’s comeback was by far the biggest in the history of the race. The marathon course record holder closed on Ryf at an average of 40 seconds per mile until making the pass at mile 22. Prior to this year, Carfrae’s first Ironman world title in 2010 was the biggest post-bike deficit that had ever been overcome, regaining 11:30 on her close friend Julie Dibens. Watching Carfrae run into the lead was familiar, but the magnitude of her run dominance was greater this year than any other athlete in the modern history of the Ironman World Championships.

RELATED – Mirinda Carfrae: Something Told Me To Be Patient

Kienle’s Comeback After the Swim

Losing ground in the swim in the men’s race means so much more than the time difference at the start of the ride. Athletes who come out of the water behind the large front pack are forced to face the Queen K alone while a slew of other great athletes are able to benefit from riding (at a legal distance) in the front group. Winning Ironman Hawaii is difficult enough with an even playing field, and a poor swim makes the task that much more physically and mentally challenging. To win after a poor swim, that person needs to perform so dominantly on the bike and run that the rest of the planet’s top Ironman pros can’t overcome him even with a big advantage. Since 2004, every men’s champion made the front pack; this year Kienle won after surrendering 3:45 to the lead pack. This chart shows the deficits following the swim faced by the eventual champions.

Year Eventual winner Time Back
2014 Sebastian Kienle 3:45
2013 Frederik Van Lierde LOS
2012 Pete Jacobs LOS
2011 Craig Alexander 0:20
2010 Chris McCormack 0:20
2009 Craig Alexander 0:07
2008 Craig Alexander LOS
2007 Chris McCormack 0:10
2006 Normann Stadler 0:17
2005 Faris Al Sultan LOS
2004 Normann Stadler 3:45
2003 Peter Reid LOS
2002 Tim DeBoom LOS
2001 Tim DeBoom LOS
2000 Peter Reid 1:15
1999 Luc Van Lierde 1:45
1998 Peter Reid 3:15
1997 Thomas Hellreigel 1:00
1996 Luc Van Lierde 0:15
1995 Mark Allen LOS
1994 Greg Welch LOS
1993 Mark Allen 1:50
1992 Mark Allen 3:10
1991 Mark Allen 2:10
1990 Mark Allen LOS
1989 Mark Allen 3:00
1988 Scott Molina 0:10
1987 Dave Scott LOS
1986 Dave Scott LOS
LOS= Led out of the swim
All times approximate

lessthan
Less than four minutes might not seem like a make-or-break margin in an eight-hour race, but it is. No one has ever won the Ironman World Championship after losing more time in the swim than Kienle did this year. Normann Stadler equaled the feat in 2004 on a famously windy day that shattered many of the best runners in the field. To truly appreciate what he accomplished, consider that six of the other seven top finishers had the benefit of starting the ride in the lead pack. Like Carfrae’s run to the world title, Kienle’s victory was a historically great comeback.

RELATED – Sebastian Kienle: I’m Happy I Had Enough In The Tank

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