On the latest trip around the sun, triathlon’s passing parade provided thrills and chills, heroic performances and dubious achievements and, inevitably, some unforgettable moments.
PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR
The German who broke Mark Allen’s 27-year-old Kona run record last year faded from the limelight early this season when he suffered a bone marrow edema on the outside of his foot that postponed his training for three months. But once he arrived at the 2017 edition of the Ironman World Championship, he was ready. Lange matched his 2016 swim and run splits and crushed his 2016 bike split with a 4:28:53 clocking. After the bike, Lange was in 11th place, more than 10 minutes behind. But his second straight sub-2:40 run led him a 8:01:40 finish to break Craig Alexander’s 2011 race record by 2:16, signaling that the long dreamed of sub-8 hour finish at Kona is just around the corner.
Good news. The 39-year-old Brit with a 2006 ITU World Championship gold and a bronze medal at 2014 Ironman 70.3 Worlds added another career milestone by breaking the Ironman brand men’s record. His 7:40:23 winning time at Ironman Brazil set him up as a co-favorite at Kona. Bad news. On a training ride a few days before Kona, Don was hit by a car and suffered a fractured C2 vertebra.
Flora Duffy – short course
With U.S. Olympic Triathlon gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen announcing her retirement from triathlon to pursue the marathon, Bermudian Flora Duffy became the dominant short course triathlete in the world. The 2016 WTS World Champion defended her title in style with five regular season WTS wins and a decisive victory in the WTS Grand Final. She also took her third straight XTERRA World Championship and the $60,000 top prize at the Island House Invitational. In 2017, Duffy led all pros with $297,703 in earnings. Her only flaw? A second place by 23 seconds to Ashleigh Gentle at WTS Montreal.
Daniela Ryf – long course
While imperfect, Daniela Ryf once again dominated the most important long course races. Ryf won her record-breaking third Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga and her third straight Ironman World Championship in Kona. But Ryf fell short of earning a second $1 million bonus for the Sheik Nasser Hamad Al Khalifa Triple Crown when she finished 3rd at the Middle East 70.3 Championship at Bahrain. Ryf also fell short at Challenge Roth. She won but she faded near the end and failed to come close to Chrissie Wellington’s Ironman-distance world best.
Mario Mola – short course
Like Flora Duffy, Mola won his second straight WTS World title but he did it in less dominant fashion. Mola won four straight regular season WTS victories which gave him the lead going into the Grand Final where he finished 3rd to wrap up the world title. Bookending those successes were an 8th place at WTS Abu Dhabi, 14th at WTS Montreal and 7th at WTS Stockholm. He started the year with a $50,000 second place finish at Super League Hamilton Island and finished with a disappointing 8th at Super League Jersey.
Lionel Sanders – long course
While the Canadian didn’t win the big one, Sanders had a breakthrough 2nd place at Kona in a very fast time of 8:04:07 – surrendering the lead to Patrick Lange at Mile 23 of the marathon. What he did win was extraordinary – four 70.3 wins and a second to Alistair Brownlee at St. George 70.3. He also won the ITU long distance worlds in Penticton and his third career win at Ironman Arizona, in a time of 7:54:10.
RESPECT THE RACE
After his second Ironman World Championship victory last year Frodeno admitted that he was tempted to drop out of that race. “I wanted to give up three times actually,” he said. “I was thinking: I will make up some excuse. Make it sound good and go home.” This year Frodeno did not have to make up an excuse to quit – he was hit by severe back pain in the first miles of the run. But he did not quit. Frodeno spent time stretching out his back then struggled through the run in 4:01:57 to finish 35th male pro in 9:15:44. No excuses.
Terenzo Bozzone came on strong at the end of 2017 with a victory at Ironman Western Australia, capping a late season streak that includes a 6th place at the Ironman World Championship, a win at Ironman 70.3 Los Cabos, 2nd at the Island House Invitational Triathlon, and a 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Bahrain.
Ben Kanute won $60,000 by 0.4 of a second over runner-up Terenzo Bozzone ($45,000) at the three-day Island House Invitational Triathlon.
At the XTERRA Asia Pacific Championship at Langkawi, Malaysia, the four leading men - Sam Osborne, Kieran McPherson, Ben Allen, and Bradley Weiss - could not find the signage on the final 5k of the mountain bike course. When they regrouped, they agreed to run together and finished in a four-man tie for first. The women pros, however, did not get lost.
After two and a half years fighting Acute Myeloid Leukemia, former pro Amy Marsh started her first race back and won the women’s 40-44 and overall women’s age group title at the Life Time Fitness Cap Tex sprint triathlon in Austin by one second over 16-year-old Rebecca Rivers.
Fernandes, who won a record 20 World Cups, the 2007 ITU World Championship and the 2008 Olympic silver medal, took a break from elite triathlon for health reasons from 2011 through 2015. Fernandes tried a few 70.3 events in 2016 and 2017. This year the Portuguese star overcame an 8:30 deficit after the bike leg to win by 50 seconds at her home country Ironman 70.3 Cascais.
Hauschildt’s vlctory at Ironman Western Australia was her second straight win after a season plagued by painful iliac artery surgeries and several months of recovery. In the second half of the year, Hauschildt began a gradual comeback with a 10th place at Ironman 70.3 Worlds, 9th at ITU Long Distance Worlds, and 14th at the Ironman World Championship before she regained her top form and won the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship and Busselton.
After the birth of her son Archie in 2016, Joyce gradually returned to form in 2017 with a 4th at St George 70.3, a win at Ironman Boulder, and a 4th at Ironman Canada which left her short of Kona qualifying points. Joyce made the Kona field with a clutch win at Ironman Mont Tremblant where she came back from a 13:15 deficit at T2.
In 2017, Wildflower was canceled for the first time since its inception in 1983 due to the effects of the California drought. After winter rains replenished Lake San Antonio, race founder Terry Davis and race director Coleen Bousman announced that the classic Wildflower Triathlon Festival will be back in May 2018.
At 24, Kanute made the 2016 Olympics and was on the 2016 gold medal U.S. team at the Mixed Relay World Championships. But in 2017, he reached a higher level placing 2nd at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and winning the $60,000 top prize at the 3-day Island House Invitational sprint triathlon by a half second margin over Terenzo Bozzone.
At 34, Sarah Crowley had a smashing career breakthrough. She won the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in 8:58:14 and European Ironman Championship at Frankfurt in 8:47:58, took the ITU long distance Worlds, and made the podium in her second crack at Kona in a time of 9:01:38 despite a crash on the bike.
Knibb joined the ranks of the dominating U.S. women with a second place at the WTS Edmonton sprint after a duel with World Champion Flora Duffy. At age 19, Knibb became the youngest woman to make a WTS podium.
Did it again. After breaking Mark Allen’s 27-year-old Kona race run record with a 2:39:45 clocking in 2016, Lange ran to an overall victory this year with a 2:39:59 Kona run.
Sara Dossena of Italy finished sixth at the New York City Marathon in a time of 2:29:39 – just 2:46 behind winner Shalane Flanagan of the U.S. and 11:22 and 8 places better than Gwen Jorgensen in her 2016 NYC Marathon debut.
BEST BIKE SPLITS
The former pro cyclist broke Normann Stadler’s 2006 Kona bike record of 4:18:23 by a resounding margin with a 4:12:54 split that was 1:25 better than Lionel Sanders and 2:03 better than Sebastian Kienle on the day. Stadler, of course, had a better day in 2006 as he went on to win while Wurf faded to 17th. Stadler was on hand to cheer Wurf on the run.
Annett’s performance at Ironman Arizona was notable not only for her sub-9 hour finish but also for her outstanding 4:38:18 Ironman bike split, topped by only a few star female competitors, notably Caroline Steffen’s 4:35:29 at 2012 Ironman Melbourne.
Although Lucy Charles nipped Brandon by 5 seconds - 48:48 to 48:53 - at Kona, Brandon led the way at 2017 Ironman 70.3 Worlds at Chattanooga and posted a women’s-best 48:32 at Ironman Texas. Brandon gets this award on lifetime swim achievement with a 45:43 split at 2016 Ironman Cozumel and 46:00 at 2016 Ironman New Zealand.
The brash Australian scored the fastest swims at Ironman Cairns 47:14 (where he won overall) and for his Kona-best 47:09.
Dan Empfield put it best in a September obituary for the man most responsible for the inclusion of triathlon in the Olympic Games. “The charming, irascible, earth-moving force of nature that was Les McDonald died yesterday according to a statement from the International Triathlon Union (ITU). He was 84 years old. McDonald was a British expatriate to Canada, settling with his wife in Vancouver in 1954.”
“Triathlon lore recounts McDonald’s Road to Damascus experience, when in 1988 he received a phone call from then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch asking him to help bring triathlon onto the Olympic program. It’s doubtful an Olympic triathlon was Samaranch’s idea; McDonald was the engine and the fuel empowering triathlon’s Olympic project. Most of those around to spectate the process will agree: Les McDonald is three-quarters of the reason triathlon is an Olympic sport. Everyone and everything else combined, including the IOC, make up the other fourth.”
McDonald was instrumental in forming the ITU and remained its president for 20 years after receiving the Samaranch phone call. Six years after that phone call - in 1994 - triathlon was officially added to the Olympic program for the 2000 Games at Sydney.
Garth Prowd, known as the ‘Godfather’ of Australian triathlon, fell and was critically injured in a road bike accident while riding near Barcelona on Saturday, July 22 during a family holiday. Prowd was found unconscious and taken to a nearby hospital. He never regained consciousness and remained in a critical care unit for nine days until his life support was turned off. Prowd was 65.
Prowd was managing director of Noosa-based USM Events for 24 years. Starting in 1985, two years after the first Noosa Triathlon, Prowd turned the event into a wildly popular multisport festival that included world class triathletes, road cyclists, swimmers and runners.
Terry Laughlin, the innovative swim technique pioneer whose Total Immersion system taught swimmers of all abilities and ages to swim in a slipperier, more fishlike manner, died October 20 at age 66 of complications related to his two-year fight with metastatic prostate cancer. In his focus on older, previously untutored swimmers, Laughlin’s methods became a key to unlock the sport of triathlon for many age groupers. “We tell triathletes: Our goal is to teach you to swim with more ease, not to teach you to swim faster; more speed should be a byproduct of saved energy, not from trying to go faster. “
German professional triathlete Julia Viellehner died in May in a hospital in Italy after she was hit by a truck during a training ride on a mountainous road a week earlier. This was not the first devastating news for her family. At the end of 2014 her father Johann and brother Raphael disappeared while climbing Mt. Cook in New Zealand. In 1980, her uncle also perished while ascending Mont Blanc. After the deaths of her brother and father, Viellehner won several events including the 2016 Challenge Regensburg.
Two-time Olympic champion and a favorite for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship Alistair Brownlee underwent surgery for a chronic hip problem, forcing withdrawal from that race. “Unfortunately it will take me away from competing for the rest of the year,” he wrote, “but I hope it will enable me to continue doing what I love for many years to come.”
During the 2017 IRONMAN World Championship on Kona American pro triathlete Matt Russell was cycling back from Hawi when he collided with a vehicle which drove through an intersection at Waikoloa Road onto the race course on the Queen Ka’ahumana Highway. Russell crashed into the side of the car and went through the back window, suffering lacerations to the neck and a concussion. He was transported to North Hawaii Community Hospital in serious condition where he was treated for his injuries. The YouCaring organization started a $100,000 find drive to help with extensive medical expenses.
Frederik Van Lierde
Van Lierde, the 2013 Ironman World Champion, was attacked by a group of teenagers in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in March, knocked unconscious and robbed of his phone.
Van Lierde had won the 2015 Standard Bank IRONMAN South Africa and was back in South Africa to compete in this African championship race.
Craig Alexander, age 43, won the men’s title at the Big Husky Triathlon in February. Cameron Brown slipped a little at age 44. He finished second at Taupo.
After the birth of her first child Stanley Lemieux this August, Gwen Jorgensen announced her retirement from triathlon after a 2016 Olympic gold medal, two World Triathlon Series World Championships, and a 13-race win streak. At age 31, it was not a retirement from elite sport. After a 14th place 2:41:01 marathon debut in New York City in 2016 – done on almost no training and no taper – Jorgensen set a daunting goal of winning a major marathon in the next two years and winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic marathon in 2020.
To Jorgensen doubters, poet Robert Browning said it best: “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?”
Saying he would give up professional triathlon to pursue a PhD, Australian Dan Wilson went out in style with 70.3 wins in the Sunshine Coast, Western Australia, and a smashing finale at Western Sydney.
After winning the classic Noosa Triathlon, the ITU mixed relay World Championship, the classic Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, and finishing 23rd at the 2016 Olympic Triathlon, Joe Maloy decided he had fulfilled his dreams in swim-bike-run and it was time for a new chapter in his life.
CANCELED SWIMS – AND ONE RACE
A shark sighting prompted race organizers to cancel the swim at Ironman Western Australia. Heavy rains flooded the Schuylkill River, forcing Philadelphia Escape organizers to reset their event as a duathlon. On June 11, Escape From Alcatraz canceled its swim for the first time in 37 years when high winds and small craft warnings prompted organizers to turn the race into a duathlon. When water temperatures in Lake Michigan dove to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, organizers of the Ironman 70.3 Racine canceled the swim. An unsafe concentration of algae in Lake Nathan Benderson Park led race officials to cancel the men’s swim at the Sarasota World Cup.
$1 MILLION PRIZES SLIP AWAY
Javier Gomez and Daniela Ryf both won the season opening Ironman 70.3 Dubai and the late summer Ironman 70.3 World Championship titles. That gave them the opportunity to earn $1 million for the Sheik Nasser Hamad Al Khalifa Triple Crown if they could win the final jewel at the Ironman 70.3 Middle East Championship at Bahrain.
After her Ironman 70.3 and Ironman World Championship victories, Ryf ran out of gas on the run in Bahrain and had to be satisfied with a $4,500 third place award. Gomez hoped to add a $1 million payday to his already glittering résumé. The Spaniard fell 8:05 behind Terenzo Bozzone's race-best bike split and Gomez’s 1:17:18 run left him in 4th place, $997,000 short of a Triple Crown payday.
Kristen Johnson deflated the tires of a competitor in the Syracuse 70.3 transition area. “I don't know why I did it, and I cannot even believe I did it,” she responded in a Slowtwitch interview. “I am not a horrible person, just someone that made an impulsive, bad decision, and I know that I need some serious help.”
OLD PROS DON’T FADE AWAY, THEY RACE AGE GROUP
Former tri stars battled at the ITU World Championship. Two-time ITU elite Olympic distance World Champion, 2000 Olympic silver medalist and 2006 Ironman World Champion Michellie Jones won the women's 45-49, which put her 10th overall in the women's sprint distance. Rob Barel of Netherlands, 1994 ITU long distance World Champion and 2000 Olympic Triathlon competitor at age 42, won the ITU Age Group Olympic distance World Championship in the men’s 60-64 category in 2:05:03, 10 minutes off his 2000 Olympic time. Former pro Richard Stannard of Great Britain won the men’s 40-44 division in the sprint distance in 1:04:29. In the women's Olympic distance 50-54 contest, 2000 Olympic gold medalist Brigitte McMahon of Switzerland, won in 2:15:32.