The Hawaiian Ironman has a pair of new champions, Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf. With their wins a new chapter is written in the history of Ironman and its heroes, as each has only raced the Kona classic once before. Frodeno was third in his debut last year, Ryf the runner-up in her first crack at Kona, also last year.
The men's podium consisted of Frodeno in 8:14:40, Andreas Raelert in 8:17:43, and Tim O'Donnell in 8:18:50. Germany continued its hegemony at this race by placing its nationals first and second, the USA continues to slowly claw back into relevance by credibly placing athletes in the third and fourth spots, Andy Potts in the latter slot.
Ryf spanked the field after reigning champ Mirinda Carfrae exited with a sore back halfway through the bike leg. Her 8:57:57 gave her a wide gap to a steady Rachel Joyce, who came home in 9:10:59. Liz Blatchford ran her way into a solid 9:14:52.
Frodeno's nose was in or near the lead all day long, exiting the swim in a group of three alongside American Andy Potts and Kiwi Dylan McNeice. The tall, lean German took the lead on the bike and while others caught and challenged him – American Tim O'Donnell briefly grabbed the lead and scratched out a minute advantage late in the bike – "Frodo" was never in trouble. He was back in front by the bike leg's end.
In the run it was a controlled effort, and a 2:52:22 split gave him the victory.
Notwithstanding Frodeno's grip on the front, it looked early as if it might be Sebastian Kienle's day. Last year's winner had a magnificent swim, exiting in a group less than 2 minutes behind the trio who fought hard for their margin. While Frodeno was the pre-race favorite by most handicappers, had you asked for opinions at the end of the swim in this race, many picking Frodeno would have switched their prediction to Kienle, especially after the latter's run demonstration at the recent 70.3 Worlds in Austria.
Today's race might leave Kienle scratching his head. If Frodeno can win after the best Ironman swim of Kienle's life, what is the plan to beat him?
Frodeno's 8:14:40 will not go down as the fasted race ever in Kona or, indeed, one of the fastest. It was not within 10 minutes of the sub-8:04 of Craig Alexander nor even did it reach the speed of either of the Ironwar's famous duo, Mark Allen and Dave Scott, when they raced 26 years ago in 1989.
But this was a brutal one today: very hot, and no cloud underneath which the competitors could take relief. The men's race was notable for its parity and the degree to which the conditions did not allow a breakout performance. The trio of McNiece, Frodeno and Potts clearly worked the swim, but still were only able to barely dip below 51 minutes – a swim day probably 2 minutes slower than typical, maybe 3 minutes.
Maik Twelsiek's 4:25:11 was the fastest ride of the day and this is the leg probably closest in time and conditions to a typical Kona, that is, the bike rides today were not obviously fast or slow. The top-10 bike splits varied, fastest-to-slowest, by only 3-and-a-half minutes, but were not the result of timidity, rather parity. Frodeno, last year's champion Sebastien Kienle, O'Donnell and others tried to separate the field, they just couldn't.
The run splits showed the brutality of the heat and sun. David McNamee's 2:49:52 was the only run under 2:50, and only 8 of the men conjured up a split under 3 hours.
German Andreas Raelert appeared to struggle during the bike segment despite his 4:30:52 split, but then ran 2:50:02 to capture the runner-up spot.
The women's finish times might cause some to think it a weak field this year, until the times are contrasted with the men's. Ryf's time was only 43 minutes behind the top man, and it's rare that the margin between the top male and female is that close in this race. Ryf's performance, gender-graded, is arguably the best of the day.
It was the Jodie Swallow story for the first third of the race. Part of a strong contingent of British Ironwomen, she poked her head up out of the water more than a minute before the second female, in 55:04. A dozen women followed in a pack a minute adrift and that included Ryf. As with Kienle in the men's race, Ryf's swim was a shot across the bow. The rest of the women's field must have been deflated to see the hard-riding Ryf out of the water this close to the front.
The women's chase pack motored up Swallow within 10 miles, and Ryf took the lead not long thereafter. Nevertheless Swallow is a fighter, and Ryf made the swing at Hawi with Swallow in second, only 12 seconds adrift and it was by no means certain that Ryf could outrun Swallow. But Ryf's pace on the bike was just too much, and Swallow drifted rearward, finishing the bike leg in second but down by 7 minutes.
Ryf was steady, and steadily gained on her main contenders in the run. Swallow hung tough for 10 miles, and was by that time in third, just overtaken by the steady pace of Joyce. But the fight would end in physical insult, as it does for so many here, especially on brutal days like today. The gritty Brit would not finish.
Those who are survivors were left to pick up the pieces. Joyce and Blatchford ran into their podium spots, looking strong throughout the run, Michelle Vesterby in fourth and Ironrookie Heather Jackson running from far down all the way up to fifth.
GoPro Ironman World Championships
Kona, Hawaii / October 10, 2015
2.4m swim / 112m bike / 26.2m run
1. Jan Frodeno (GER) 8:14:40 (50:50 / 4:27:27 / 2:52:21)
2. Andreas Raelert (GER) 8:17:43 (52:24 / 4:30:52 / 2:50:02)
3. Timothy O'Donnell (USA) 8:18:50 (52:24 / 4:26:13 / 2:55:46)
4. Andy Potts (USA) 8:21:25 (50:56 / 4:32:41 / 2:53:45)
5. Tyler Butterfield (BER) 8:23:09 (52:33 / 4:29:53 / 2:56:19)
6. Cyril Viennot (FRA) 8:25:05 (52:35 / 4:34:27 / 2:53:05)
7. Eneko Llanos (ESP) 8:28:10 (52:36 / 4:26:56 / 3:04:10)
8. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 8:29:43 (52:36 / 4:25:53 / 3:06:08)
9. Brent McMahon (CAN) 8:30:13 (52:26 / 4:27:51 / 3:06:02
10. Boris Stein (GER) 8:31:43 (57:27 / 4:30:48 / 2:58:48)
1. Daniela Ryf (SUI) 8:57:57 (56:14 / 4:50:46 / 3:06:37)
2. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 9:10:59 (56:11 / 5:01:29 / 3:08:42)
3. Liz Blatchford (AUS) 9:14:52 (56:13 / 5:07:25 / 3:06:25)
4. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) 9:18:50 (56:11 / 5:00:41 / 3:17:14)
5. Heather Jackson (USA) 9:21:45 (1:04:36 / 5:04:43 / 3:07:53)
6. Susie Cheetham (GBR) 9:23:50 (57:39 / 5:14:33 / 3:06:55)
7. Sarah Piampiano (USA) 9:24:32 (1:10:01 / 5:02:28 / 3:06:33)
8. Camilla Pedersen (DEN) 9:25:41 (56:14 / 4:59:17 / 3:25:23)
9. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 9:27:54 (56:16 / 4:59:17 / 3:15:27)
10. Lucy Gossage (GBR) 9:28:36 (1:05:08 / 5:02:40 / 3:15:51)
All images © Herbert Krabel / slowtwitch.com