KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- Both Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington wrote new chapters illuminating their greatness and elevating their stature in the history of Ironman Saturday as they won historic victories at Ironman Hawaii.
Both Alexander and Wellington ended up in virtually equal collapses after their all-out, virtuoso efforts that led to one race record and another near record. In Alexander's case, the unexpected heroic effort came on the bike which set up his usual devastating run.
In Wellington's case, her recent bike crash left her sore with acres of road rash and the evidence was a super-slow-for-her 1:01:03 swim and a decent-but-substandard 4:56:53 bike split which surrendered 12 minutes to race-record splits by Julie Dibens and Karin Thuerig and six minutes to the dangerous Caroline Steffen. Once the run began, Wellington and last year's champion Mirinda Carfrae, who started the run a few minutes back of Wellington, both wrung out the last full measure of sporting devotion with race-record marathons of 2:52:41 for Wellington and 2:52:09 for Carfrae that cleared off all of their rivals and left the two giants of women's Ironman 2:49 apart at the finish.
Alexander combined a 51:56 swim, a shockingly impressive second-best 4:24:05 bike split and a second-best 2:44:03 marathon to hit the tape in 8:03:56 with a 5:15 margin over surprise runner-up and fellow Australian Pete Jacobs and a lucky 7:11 over pre-race favorite Andreas Raelert of Germany, last year's runner-up in an epic duel with Chris McCormack. Alexander also broke by 12 seconds the 15-year-old race record of 8:04:08 set by Luc Van Lierde in a similarly epochal fast year of 1996. The win follows Alexander's surprise victory at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship last month in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The surprises of the men's race included Alexander breaking away from Raelert on the bike as the German's 4:26:52 split lost 2:47 to the winner. On the run, Raelert's 2:47:48 not only surrendered even more time to Alexander, it opened the door for Pete Jacob's race-best 2:42:29 marathon to bring the Australian back from his 4:31:03 bike to the runner-up slot.
For her part, Wellington's fourth Kona victory came with great drama as she came off the bike leg roughly 23 minutes down to leader Julie Dibens and 9 minutes back of last year's runner-up Caroline Steffen of Switzerland and a few minutes behind Leanda Cave of Great Britain. The drama was set up by Wellington's bike crash two weeks prior to the big race which left her gashed and scarred by road rash and forced to take a regimen of antibiotics which typically wreak havoc with the body's natural systems.
In the final miles, Wellington pushed to her limits to stay in front of the onrushing Carfrae, who slightly faster ran approximately half a mile behind her.
At the finish, Carfrae topped both her winning time of 8:58:36 last year by 39 seconds and her race-record run of 2:53:32 by 51 seconds. The Wellington-Carfrae duel also brought Kona the first ever time two women broke the long-elusive 9-hour barrier. The relatively close finish and tough duel also underlined the fact that Wellington now has steady company at the top of her sport
After an encouraging 10th place finish here last year, Great Britain's Leanda Cave gave coach Siri Lindley, whom she shares with Carfrae, a 2-3 finish with a third-place finish in 9:03:29. Cave combined a 53:54 swim, a 4:58:41 bike and a 3:06:35 run for her Kona breakthrough. Fourth went to Great Britain's Rachel Joyce, who finished in 9:06:57, 35 seconds ahead of the fading Caroline Steffen, who closed with an off-form 3:15:17 run.
The man his friends call Crowie and his opponents must now call Alexander the Great won his third title at Kona in five tries, putting him past two-time men's winners Scott Tinley, Luc Van Lierde, Tim DeBoom and Normann Stadler and equal to the great Peter Reid.
The two men who stand above all in Kona wins with six apiece - Dave Scott and Mark Allen -- were there at the finish line to shake Alexander's hand not just for his third win but for breaking Luc Van Lierde's 1996 course record by 12 seconds with his 8:03:56 finish.
For Alexander, the win had meaning on many more levels than the $110,000 top prize. To those who suspected that after his fall from two-time defending champion to 4th place last year, he might be past his prime at age 38 -- one year older than Mark Allen's final victory at Kona -- the win made good on Alexander's boast that 38 was "just a number." To those who dissed Alexander's bike prowess had to eat their words as Alexander's 4:24:05 bike split was second only to Chris Lieto's race-lading blitzkrieg. That swift bike reversed Crowie's old strategy of coming off the bike 8 minutes down and relying on his low-2:40 runs. That bike put Crowie into the bike-to-run transition third, just 4:27 back of the soon-to-fade Lieto and 5 seconds behind hard-charging Luke McKenzie of Australia. More important, that bike slotted Alexander ahead of certified bike studs with win-capable runs such as Marino Vanhoenacker, Dirk Bockel, Andreas Raelert, Raynard Tissink and Faris Al-Sultan.
Throughout the day, Alexander held a confident smile and a look of comfortable smoothness on swim, bike and his closing 2:44:03 run which was just fast enough to close the door on the field. But at the finish, the act was revealed as a put on to mask a desperate exhaustion and Alexander looked shell shocked with a thousand yard stare as he tried for minutes to gather himself to say a few words to the cheering crowd.
"There are no words to tell how hard those last few miles were," said Alexander. "But I found the strength from the incredible support from my friends and my family. I did this for them,."
Ford Ironman World Championship
October 8, 2011
S 2.4 mi. / B 112 mi. / R 26.2 mi.
1. Craig Alexander (AUS) 8:03:56
2. Pete Jacobs (AUS) 8:09:11
3. Andreas Raelert (GER) 8:11:07
4. Dirk Bockel (LUX) 8:12:58
5. Timo Bracht (GER) 8:20:12
6. Mike Aigroz (SUI) 8:21:07
7. Raynard Tissink (RSA) 8:22:15
8. Andi Bocherer (GER) 8:23:19
9. Luke McKenzie (AUS) 8:25:42
10. Faris Al-Sultan (GER) 8:27:18
11. Tom Lowe (GBR) 8:29:02
12. Daniel Fontana (ITA) 8:31:20
13. Marko Albert (EST) 8:35:18
14. Rasmus Henning (DEN) 8:35:53
15. Cyril Viennot (FRA) 8:37:00
1. Chrissie Wellington (GBR) 8:55:08
2. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 8:57:57
3. Leanda Cave (GBR) 9:03:29
4. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 9:06:57
5. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 9:07:32
6. Karin Thuerig (SUI) 9:15:00
7. Sonja Tajsich (GER) 9:15:17
8. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 9:17:56
9. Caitlin Snow (USA) 9:18:11
10. Virginia Berasategui (ESP) 9:19:52
11. Catriona Morrison (GBR) 9:22:07
12. Tine Deckers (BEL) 9:28:21
13. Kelly Williamson (USA) 9:29:08
14. Natascha Badmann (SUI) 9:31:21
15. Mary Beth Ellis (USA) 9:34:06