In the most exciting Ironman 70.3 World Championship men’s title contest, Jan Frodeno of Germany prevailed in a back-and-forth battle with fellow Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Javier Gomez of Spain.
After a 21:53 swim split, a 2:04:28 bike split and a best-ever 1:06:34 half marathon in a 70.3 event, Frodeno finished in a sizzling fast 3:36:30 time which gave him a 1:11 margin of victory over two-Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain and 1:56 over 3rd place Javier Gomez of Spain.
Frodeno engaged in a day long battle with Brownlee, Gomez and an all-star cast of contenders including Ben Kanute of the U.S. Pieter Heemeryck of Belgium, Sam Appleton of Australia, Adam Bowden of Great Britain and Braden Currie of New Zealand. Frodeno emerged from the swim in Nelson Mandela Bay in a tight pack of 10 men, 1 second behind Kanute, 3 seconds ahead of Gomez and 4 seconds ahead of Brownlee and Braden Currie. Frodeno was a key player in a constantly shuffling pack of leading cyclists in which he shared the lead with Kanute, Brownlee, Appleton, Gomez and Heemeryck before they all arrived in T2 in a tightly bunched pack of six men.
While the prelude was entertaining, the run was the final scene of this nerve-wracking, heart-stopping triathlon shootout. Rushing out of T2, Appleton took a short stint in the lead until Frodeno and Brownlee took over while Gomez started to recover from a slow transition. Next, Brownlee passed Frodeno while Gomez ran up on his heels. The leaders’ deck was repeatedly shuffled until Brownlee faded and Gomez fell back with gastrointestinal woes. At the end, Frodeno’s 1:06:59 run outmatched Brownlee’s 1:07:40 half marathon and Gomez’s hard earned 1:08:16 brought him home 3rd despite walking through to recover from stomach cramps.
The victory gave the 37-year-old Frodeno two Ironman 70.3 titles which ties him with Michael Raelert of Germany (2009, 2010), Craig Alexander of Australia (2006, 2011), Sebastian Kienle of Germany (2012, 2013) and Gomez (2014, 2017).
Frodeno’s 3:36:30 overall time was the second fastest in the 13 years of the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. It was 2:26 slower than Michael Raelert’s time at the 2009 edition of 70.3 Worlds, but holds more luster since the Nelson Mandela Bay course was much tougher than Raelert’s totally flat Clearwater circuit.
On a cloudy day with little wind and small waves, Ben Kanute of the U.S. led the swim with a 21:52 split which gave him a slim margin – same time - over Frodeno, helped by catching a wave near the shore. Next in quick order were Javier Gomez of Spain (+3s), Braden Currie of New Zealand (+4s), Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain (+ 4s), Australians Ryan Fisher and Sam Appleton (+5s) and Adam Bowden of Great Britain (+6s).
Appleton, after a 2:04:21 bike split, led into T2 followed closely by a swarm that included Brownlee, Frodeno, Gomez, Heemeryck and Kanute. Exiting T2, Frodeno, Appleton and Brownlee ran to a quick lead. Within a hundred meters, Brownlee accelerated past Appleton and ran up to and past Frodeno. Appleton faded 40 meters back, soon passed by Gomez.
Frodeno offered a comment through his sponsor Bahrain Endurance that shed light on his frustrations at his inability to break away on the bike: "I was a little bit angry because Alistair and I did all the work all day on the bike and tried to break away, tried to do anything and nobody came. Ben Kanute came around once, but then I really wanted to hold the flag high in a foot race, which I knew was tough, but somehow today I just had my running legs,” said Frodeno.
In the first kilometer, Frodeno and Gomez were running at 3:17 pace while Brownlee was timed at 3:20.
Soon, an overenthusiastic Brownlee opened a 30 meter lead on Frodeno and 60 meters on Gomez who was gradually picking up his pace. After the 1k mark, Frodeno came back and passed Brownlee while Gomez lurked 40 meters further back.
Approaching the 2km mark, Frodeno extended his lead to 40 meters, while Gomez ran up on the heels of Brownlee. Chugging along, Kanute and Appleton ran in close formation in 4th and 5th.
Passing the 2.4 km mark, Brownlee led Frodeno by 2 seconds, Gomez by 9 seconds, Kanute by 25 seconds and Appleton by 28 seconds.
Soon thereafter Frodeno surged to a 35 meters lead on Gomez, who passed Brownlee and led the Englishman by 20 meters.
This duel was enhanced by the pedigrees of the protagonists. The top 3 men have 3 Olympic gold medals (Frodeno and Brownlee) and a silver (Gomez) to their credit. On the Ironman 70.3 World Championship front, Gomez has won twice and Frodeno once.
After 5.2 km, Frodeno led Gomez by 4 seconds and Brownlee by 9 seconds with Appleton and Kanute running together precisely 1 minute arrears and Heemeryck trailing by another 19 seconds in 6th place. In that first 5.2 km, Gomez had the fastest split – 15:52 – at a 3:03 per kilometer pace.
At the 8 km mark, Heemeryck regained energy and passed Kanute and Appleton for 4th place.
At the 10km mark, Frodeno held a 2 meters lead over Gomez, who loomed with an ominously relaxed gait as Brownlee settled into a steady pace 30 seconds behind the leaders.
The fierce battle produced 10-kilometer splits of 31:24 for Gomez and 31:38 for Frodeno.
By 12 kilometers, Frodeno and Gomez ran nose to tail at a 3:05 per kilometer pace. But Brownlee, tapped of energy due to his early redline running, faded to a 44 seconds deficit.
By the 14 kilometer mark, Frodeno called upon the race fitness that gave him a 2:39 marathon at Frankfurt. He hit the afterburners and rocketed to a 60 meter lead and Gomez clutched his stomach due to cramps that left him walking to recover and fell 56 seconds back of the leader.
At tyhe time, Frodeno was puzzled at Gomez's retreat. “One minute Javier was breathing down my neck, the next minute he was gone but I didn’t realize he was gone," Frodeno told his sponsor Bahrain Endurance: "I was running for my life breathing so hard I didn’t hear anything myself.”
Before Brownlee could catch him, Gomez recovered some of his momentum, ready to fight for the runner-up position. But within another kilometer, Brownlee arrived on Gomez’s feet and the fight was on. In the next 200 meters, Brownlee passed Gomez and pulled away.
As Frodeno approached the final two kilometers, he held a 1:12 lead on Brownlee, who was now being chased by a slightly rejuvenated Gomez, who closed to within 20 seconds of the Spaniard.
A few minutes back, Kanute regained energy and passed Heemeryck for 4th place,
As he approached the final chute Frodeno was overcome with joy and shared high fives with virtually every spectator at the barriers and grabbed the finish line banner with ferocity. After an unprecedentedly swift 1:06:32 half marathon, Frodeno crossed the line in 3:36:30 with a 1:11 margin of victory over Brownlee and 1:54 over 3rd place finisher Gomez.
After the injuries that plagued him all year, Brownlee told Bahrain Endurance he was well satisfied with his performance: “Obviously I want to win, but I gave it everything today and I’m happy with that. To be honest, I’ve had a tough year this year with injuries and a few things and just not been myself, so basically the last three or four weeks is the only training I’ve done really.”
Gomez was philosophical about his late run troubles: “I tried to run with Jan, I just had to stay behind him, try to recover a little bit and plan my tactics, but I just started to feel bad," he told the sponsor he shares with Frodeno. "Unfortunately I had to walk for a bit and then just jog ‘til the finish line. But regardless of that, Jan was the best one today so congratulations to him. He did an impressive race. And well done to Alistair as well.”
Last year’s silver medalist Ben Kanute finished 4th in 3:40:12, 25 seconds ahead of 5th place finisher Pieter Heemeryck of Belgium.
Isuzu Ironman 70.3 World Championship
Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa
September 2, 2018
S 1.2 mi. / B 56 mi. / R 13.1 mi.
1. Jan Frodeno (AUS) 3:36:31 S 21:54 B 2:04:29 R 1:06:34
2. Alistair Brownlee (GBR) 3:37:42 S 21:58 B 2:04:30 R 1:07:40
3. Javier Gomez (ESP) 3:38:27 S 21:57 B 2:04:37 R 1:08:16
4. Ben Kanute (USA) 3:42:44 S 21:53 B 2:04:37 R 1:13:38
5. Pieter Heemeryck (BEL) 3:43:06 S 22:23 B 2:04:16 R 1:13:00
6. Sam Appleton (AUS) 3:43:58 S 21:59 B 2:04:22 R 1:13:57
7. Adam Bowden (GBR) 3:48:12 S 22:00 B 2:11:56 R 1:10:15
8. Braden Currie (NZL) 3:49:17 S 21:58 B 2:09:15 R 1:14:06
9. Michael Weiss (AUT) 3:50:39 S 26:55 B 2:08:17 R 1:10:45
10. Rodolphe Von Berg (USA) 3:51:36 S 22:55 B 2:10:59 R 1:14:05