Last year was all about the conditions, 2019 was all about the competition.
We all said that Ironman World Championships 2018 would be the “asterisk year”—the one with records that would never be beat. On top of that, last year’s men’s podium seemed like a strong, safe bet to repeat in 2019. The conditions in 2018 were amazing—a flat swim (record there), a windless bike (another record there), and moderate temperatures on the run meant that we’d probably never see so many people race in Kona so fast. No man had ever gone under eight hours—not even 8:01—and then in 2018 two men went under eight. One went way under eight.
This year, the men’s field was super hyped up. All of the main contenders were present and seemingly healthy. More than perfect weather conditions, this made for perfect competition conditions: Everyone knew everyone else was in shape, ready to race, and looking for the win. There were no crystal clear favorites, and because of that, the field was open for anyone to take it—so everyone believed they could.
The swim was fast, but not super fast. It ended up being more important who was in the front pack (and the chase pack) than how fast they went. Rather than a few podium contenders and a bunch of people who might not crack the top ten, the lead pack in 2019 was chock full of very dangerous triathletes who could ride fast and run fast—names like Frodeno, Brownlee, O’Donnell, Lange, and Currie. There was a huge gap to the second group, but the second pack had their own cast of heavy hitters. No one three minutes down wanted to be even a second down to the fast runners in the lead group. No one in the lead group wanted the “super bikers” to take control of the race.
So they played a game of keep away for 112 miles—the front group working super hard to stay the front group, while the super bikers never succeeded in gapping the chase group, let alone putting time on the leaders. Cam Wurf tried, then tried again. He said a few others (Boris Stein, Sebastian Kienle, for instance) gave tiny little pulls at the front, but at the post-race press conference he took shots at their inability to truly help out. The super bikers never got a foothold, not because they weren’t necessarily riding hard; they never got a foothold because the front group never laid off the gas.
Out on the run, the runners ran, just like they should, and with a few exceptions (Ben Hoffman and Braden Currie, for example), no one really ran up into the front because the front was still moving fast, even after one heck of a bike.
There were no swim course records broken today, there were no bike records broken today, there were no run course records broken today, and yet Jan Frodeno broke an “unbreakable record” and Tim O’Donnell did something that had never been done before 2018. Yes, last year had record-breaking performances in individual legs because of the weather, but 2019 will mark the year where we saw super triathletes instead of just super swimmers or super bikers or super runners. With this as the new standard, the sky’s the limit.