Recalled: The Historic Moments of Challenge Roth

Roth, Germany has been host to some of triathlon's most iconic performances.

Photo: Getty Images

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With the racing world on pause as the planet continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, Triathlete will dip back into the archives and highlight some of the biggest, most inspiring, and somewhat under-the-radar moments in triathlon. Today, we’re lining up some greatest hits from Challenge Roth, which is traditionally held each July. Upon its cancellation this year, it is set to return on July 4, 2021.

While Kona is arguably the mecca for many triathletes, Roth, Germany is a close second. After all, in a typical year, the Bavarian town transforms into a triathlon-themed carnival each July as it hosts some 3,400 athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators for Challenge Roth, a long-distance race that has been a mainstay since 1984. Not only that, the bike and run course, which ribbons throughout the bucolic countryside and along the Rhine-Main-Danube canal, is mostly flat, offering an ideal set up for some very impressive performances. Here’s a look at some of the event’s finest–and fastest–finishes in Roth’s history.  

1991: First Woman Under Nine Hours

Thea Sybesma of the Netherlands is the first woman to crack the nine-hour barrier in any iron-distance race with an 8:55:29 clocking. Swimming 55:01, biking 4:46, and running 3:14, she beat runner-up Jan Wanklyn of Australia by nine minutes. 

1996: First Man Under Eight Hours

Another major milestone is met, this time on the men’s side with Germany’s Lothar Leder becoming the first to break the eight-hour mark in a long-distance race. Going 7:57:02, he won by over 11 minutes. One year later, Belgium’s Luc Van Lierde lowered the world record even further; his mark of 7:50:27 stood for 15 years.  

2003: Roth’s “Iron War”

After setting a blistering pace on the bike, a young, brash Chris McCormack of Australia and the more experienced (and former champ) Leder ran shoulder-to-shoulder for most of the marathon. They entered the famed finish stadium just seconds apart, with both men sprinting to the line. In the end, Leder took McCormack by a mere three seconds, the closest race to date. 

2009-2011: Wellington Wows Three Years in a Row

Chrissie Wellington on her way to her first Challenge Roth win. Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image

Chrissie Wellington, one of the most dominant long-distance triathletes in history, made her mark in Roth, winning three years in a row between 2009 and 2011. She lowered the world record (for a non-Ironman-branded race) on all three occasions, whittling her time down to 8:18:13 in her final appearance and setting a marathon course record (2:44:35) in the process–a split bested by just one man who happened to be Andreas Raelert, the men’s winner, en route to his own world record. Wellington’s mark remains the gold standard for all women to follow at Roth; the only pro who has come remotely close to the time is Ironman world champ Daniela Ryf, who won the 2016 race in 8:22:04. 

2016: Frodeno’s World Record

Frodeno celebrates his 7:35:39 world record. Photo: Getty Images

In his home country, Jan Frodeno sent jaws dropping when he finished the race in 7:35:39 to set a new world record at the iron distance, eclipsing the 2011 mark set by German Andreas Raelert by nearly six minutes. Buoyed by the boisterous crowd of 260,000 and cooler temperatures, the then-34-year-old, who would go on to win the Ironman World Championship three months later, proclaimed Roth “the greatest race” at the finish line. His record still stands. 

2018: A German Winner for the Women, Finally

Daniela Sämmler collapses after her victory. Photo: Getty Images

After a 14-year drought, Germany finally reclaimed a win at Roth on the women’s side. Twenty-nine-year-old Daniela Sämmler hunted down Great Britain’s Lucy Charles (now Charles-Barclay), then 24, in the final miles of the run to earn the victory by just nine seconds–in a German national record of 8:43:42. In 2019, she returned to Roth, running under her new married name of Bleymehl, and lowered the German record to 8:43:17 to finish third behind Charles-Barclay and Australia’s Sarah Crowley.

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.