Elite triathlon kicks off in April with a bang as Ironman 70.3s in Oceanside and Galveston and the Commonwealth Games triathlon offer world class fields, including legendary World Champions and Olympians having at it in classic venues in the U.S. and Australia.
When the start gun fires at Ironman 70.3 California on Saturday, a long-awaited duel between two-time Ironman World Champion Jan Frodeno of Germany and rising Canadian star Lionel Sanders – hopefully meeting for the first time when both are healthy and on top of their games – will be on. In the women’s field, former Oceanside 70.3 winners Holly Lawrence of Great Britain, the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Champion, and Heather Jackson of Bend, Oregon (three-time Wildflower champ, 2013 70.3 Worlds runner-up and Kona podium finisher) will duke it out. Both favorites will be battling strong contenders with World Championship credentials.
Ironman 70.3 Texas, centered in Galveston, pits two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion and 2014 Ironman World Champion Sebastian Kienle of Germany against rising young star Ben Kanute of the U.S. Kanute is coming off two 2017 breakthroughs – second to 5-time ITU World Champion Javier Gomez of Spain at 70.3 Worlds and a $60,000 split second winner at the Island House Invitational. The women’s race offers a highly anticipated return to competition by 3-time Kona winner and 2007 70.3 World Champion Mirinda Carfrae, coming off a yearlong hiatus for the birth of her first child. Carfrae will be meeting two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion Melissa Hauschildt who is returning to form after a long road to recovery from surgeries to correct a kink in her iliac artery. Neither duelist is a cinch to prevail as other highly ranked contenders will be on the start line.
The Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast of Australia will be leading off on Thursday as the best triathletes from countries which comprised the old British Empire will be battling for pride and medals. On the men’s side, the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medalist Alistair Brownlee, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist, would be a shoo-in but his recent hip surgery that shut down his season last summer – and his focus on long course – leaves a question mark. Jonathan Brownlee, who finished second to his brother at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and countless other times in their careers, might be the favorite but he has fallen a few pegs off his best last year and took 7th at the recent WTS Abu Dhabi.
On the women’s side, two-time WTS World Champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda doth bestride the Olympic distance like a colossus after the retirement of Gwen Jorgensen. She will face a gauntlet of challengers including 2017 WTS World Championship runner-up Ashleigh Gentle of Australia, New Zealand veteran Andrea Hewitt (gold at the 2011 WTS Grand Final and 2nd at the 2011 WTS World Championship), 2013 WTS World Champion Non Stanford of Wales, who started strong this year with a 2nd at the Cape Town World Cup, and Vicky Holland of Great Britain, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist.
Jan Frodeno is coming back and hopefully fully recovered from a back problem that afflicted him on the run at Kona last year. Frodeno beat Andy Potts and Sebastian Kienle to take the win at Oceanside in 2014, and beat Potts and Sanders at this race in 2015. In 2016, Frodo did not race Oceanside and Sanders scored his first win at the event. A highly anticipated rematch last year had a promising start until Frodeno suffered tech issues on the bike and pulled out. Sanders is coming off a breakthrough 2nd place at Kona and a recent win at Pucon 70.3. Hoping to break up the favorites will be David McNamee, coming off a breakthrough 3rd at Kona, Tim Reed of Australia, the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Champion and 2nd at Campeche 70.3 last month, Sam Appleton of Australia, coming off a recent win at Geelong 70.3 and five 70.3 victories last year, 6-time Wildflower winner Jesse Thomas (recent 3rd place finisher at Challenge Wanaka), and Joe Gambles of Australia, who was 3rd at the ITU long distance Worlds, 2nd at the Asia Pacific Ironman Championship and 8th at Oceanside.
After a detour with a DNF at 2017 70.3 Worlds last year, Holly Lawrence returned to form with 3rd places at Island House and Dubai 70.3, and so is the favorite to defend her 2017 Oceanside 70.3 title. Next in line is Heather Jackson, 3-time Wildflower winner, silver medalist at the 2013 70.3 Worlds, 3rd place at 2016 Kona and 2015 Oceanside 70.3 winner. Best shot at upset is Anne Haug, a long time WTS contender who has evolved into a stellar 70.3 contender with a win at 2018 Dubai 70.3, a 2nd at 2017 Bahrain 70.3, and a win at Lanzarote 70.3 . Sarah True of the U.S., 4th place finisher at the 2012 Olympics, has come into her own at the 70.3 distance with recent 70.3 wins at Augusta and Austin and a 4th at 70.3 Worlds. Jeanni Seymour of South Africa has five 70.3 and half Ironman wins last year in addition to a 2nd at St. George 70.3.
Ironman 70.3 Texas
Two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion and 2014 Kona winner Sebastian Kienle, at age 34, is still in the prime of his career and ended 2017 strong with a win at Ironman Cozumel. As such, he is the odds-on favorite. But Kienle must contend with young Ben Kanute, who shocked the field at 70.3 Worlds by leading Javier Gomez through 15 kilometers of the run at 70.3 Worlds and held on for second place. After that, Kanute edged Terenzo Bozzone by 0.4 of a second to take the $60,000 top prize at Island House. Uber-cyclist Andrew Starykowicz, who recovered from serious injuries suffered when hit by a van in August 2016, has wins at Steelhead 70.3 and Ironman Louisville last year to indicate he has returned to top form .
Matt Hanson was hot last year with a 7:52:44 win at Ironman North America and a win at Coeur d’Alene 70.3. So far this year he was 5th at Campeche 70.3 and needs to be still on the improving curve. Best news is that Matt Russell, seriously injured in a collision with an errant car at Kona, is signed up for Galveston, where he finished 2nd last year. Michael Weiss of Austria, a strong cyclist, is racing well with a 2nd at Ironman Cozumel last year and a 2nd at Campeche 70.3 last month.
Seven months after the birth of her child, Mirinda Carfrae returns to competition at Ironman 70.3 California – and it won’t be an easy hit out. Awaiting Carfrae will be 2-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion Melissa Hauschildt of Australia, who has returned to top form after most of a season lost to iliac artery surgeries. While Carfrae’s conditioning is a bit of a mystery, Hauschildt is already back on form after wins at Ironman Western Australia and the Asia Pacific 70.3 championships late last year and a strong win at the Port of Tauranga half early in 2018. Also on form is Canadian star Heather Wurtele, the 2016 Oceanside 70.3 champion and 3rd place finisher at Oceanside last year. Wurtele finished 3rd at 70.3 Worlds in 2014, 2nd in 2015, and 3rd in 2016, and is a 21-time 70.3 winner. In addition, Wurtele has momentum after a win at 2018 Campeche 70.3. Also in the hunt will be Canadian Angela Naeth, who was third at Campeche 70.3 this year and second at Los Cabos and Miami 70.3s late last year. After illness and injuries in 2015, Linsey Corbin took big strides back with a win at 2017 Ironman Canada, a 2nd at Santa Cruz 70.3 and a 4th place at Campeche 70.3 last month.
2018 Commonwealth Games triathlons
Hard to argue with Flora Duffy of Bermuda. In 2016 , she won her first WTS race at Stockholm, then the WTS Grand Final and the WTS World Championship. Now slowing down, she 2nd at Island House, and won XTERRA Worlds and ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship. The only shadow on her year was an 8th at the Rio Olympics. In 2017, Duffy won 4 straight WTS races and the WTS Grand Final, won XTERRA Worlds and the $60,000 Island House top prize. Short of an accident, an unforeseen illness or injury, she is in charge.
Chasing after her will be Ashleigh Gentle of Australia, coming off a 2nd place at the WTS series World Championship, a win at WTS Montreal and WTS second places at Hamburg and Gold Coast. Also in the hunt will be Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand who has a win at the 2011 WTS Grand Final, 7th at the Rio Olympics, and 2017 WTS wins at Gold Coast and Abu Dhabi. Coming on strong is Jessica Learmonth of Great Britain with a 2nd at 2017 WTS Stockholm, a 3rd at the 2017 WTS Grand Final, and a 2nd at 2018 WTS Abu Dhabi. Non Stanford, the 2013 WTS World Champion and 4th place finisher at the Rio Olympics, will be competing for Wales. She missed the 2014 Commonwealth Games due to an ankle injury but is now building a strong recent record - a win at the 2017 Chengdu World Cup and a 2nd at the 2018 Cape Town World Cup. Good friend and fellow Brit Vicky Holland, who pipped Stanford by a few seconds for the bronze at the Rio Olympics, had an encouraging win at the recent Cape Town World Cup.
On the men’s side there is a chance that the 2014 Commonwealth triathlon medalists will repeat – Alistair Brownlee gold, Jonathan Brownlee silver, and South African Richard Murray bronze. But 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and WTS Grand final winner Henri Schoeman of South Africa and several Aussie and British longshots have the firepower to upset.
There are a few questions, too, about Richard Murray, who was 6th at the 2017 WTS Grand Final while taking podiums at WTS races at Montreal, Edmonton and Gold Coast. Wins at the Mooloolaba and Cape Town World Cups augur well for Murray. This leaves 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medalist and winner of the 2016 WTS Grand Final Henri Schoeman of South Africa as a big threat. A win at 2018 WTS Abu Dhabi may mean Schoeman is the one to upset the Brownlee applecart.