Top Tris - Ireland to New Zealand

The Top Triathletes from 50 Countries series passes the halfway point with award winning triathletes from countries 21 through 30.

The choice of the best triathlete from Ireland comes down to a man who raced Olympic distance in the 1990s and a woman who races long course today.

Garrett McCarthy was 3rd in the 1992 ITU World Cup series including a 2nd at Säter Sweden, 3rd at Portaferry Ireland, and a win at Moscow, Russia. He also took 2nd at the 1991 and 1992 Coke Grand prix series and placed 2nd at the 1992 Beijing World Cup.

Eimear Mullan is Ireland's best because she has many more prestigious wins than McCarthy after she turned to long course in 2012. In 2012 she won Ironman UK and Ironman 70.3 UK and took 2nd at Ironman Wales. In 2013, she won Ironman 70.3 UK and took 2nd at the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon. In 2014, she won the Embrunman Long Course, Ironman Mallorca and Ironman 70.3 UK. In 2015, she won Ironman 70.3 Budapest and took 3rd at Challenge Fuerteventura.

Determining the top triathlete from Italy presents a tough choice between two men and one woman. Only one Italian competitor, Daniel Fontana, made it to the podium at a World Championship – 2nd place at the 2009 Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Clearwater. And this performance is why we chose him as Italy’s greatest triathlete. He was born in Argentina competed for Argentina from 1994 until moving to Italy in 2006. Fontana placed 28th for Argentina at the 2004 Olympics and 33rd for Italy at the 2008 Olympics. Adding to his Italian results, Fontana finished 3rd at Ironman South Africa in 2010, and won Ironman 70.3 events in Pucon, Chile in 2011 and in Pescara, Italy in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, he won Ironman Los Cabos.

Alessandro Degasperi has won the 2005 ITU European Winter Triathlon Championship, 2012 Ironman 70.3 Salzburg, 2015 Challenge Sardinia and 2015 Ironman Lanzarote. He also earned runner-up titles at 2007 and 2008 Ironman 70.3 Germany and at 2012 Ironman 70.3 Italy.

Edith Niederfriniger has two Ironman wins - 2006 France, 2007 Austria and many long course second places - 2003 Ironman Austria, 2004 Ironman Brazil, 2005 Ironman Austria, 2006 ITU Long Distance Worlds, 2007 and 2008 Ironman South Africa, and 2009 Ironman China and 2010 Ironman Malaysia.

Japan has two women who stand atop as their country’s best triathletes. Kiyomi Niwata deserves honors for her 18 years competing at the top level of ITU Olympic distance racing. Since 1997, she has scored six ITU World Cup podiums including 2nd places at Gamagori in 1997 and at Ishigaki in 2005 and, finally, won the 2010 Ishigaki World Cup at age 40. Niwata and Anja Dittmer of Germany were the only two women to participate in the first three Olympic Games. Niwata took 14th in 2000 and 2004 and finished 9th at Beijing in 2008.

While her career is briefer, Ai Ueda is Japan’s best triathlete because she has had more success at big races – Olympics excepted, than Niwata. Ueda scored a 2nd at 2015 ITU Duathlon Worlds, 1st at the 2015 Cozumel World Cup, 8th at the 2015 WTS Grand Final, 2nd at the 2014 Tongyeong World Cup, 2nd at 2014 WTS Yokohama, 1st at the 2013 Ishigaki World Cup, and 1st at 2013 ITU Duathlon Worlds.

Kazakhstan poses a difficult problem for this list in that its competitor who has the greatest triathlon achievements still on the record books was busted for doping and given a two-year ban in September 2008. Baseball’s Hall of Fame takes care of this issue by vote of the writers and Hall of Fame members who refuse to vote in players who have been convicted of performance enhancing drug use – or who are under general suspicion. As outlined in the introduction of this series, this list has different criteria. It is the responsibility of one person - not the vote of a large body of selectors. Popularity, judgments of good and bad character, and suspicion of drug use not validated by a conviction by a governing body, will not be considered. The final criterion will be objected to by many in the triathlon community – athletes convicted of a drug suspension which occurred after all the relevant performances and which have not been stricken from the official record by the governing bodies – will be considered. Objections to this criterion are completely understandable and duly noted. However, with no proof that drug use predated and thus contributed to the top performances, those athletes will be considered.

Kazakhstan’s only triathlete with major victories is Dmitry Gaag. This former military pentathlon competitor won the 1999 ITU World Championship and took bronze at the 2004 ITU Worlds. Gaag was 4th at the 2000 Olympics and 25th at the 2004 Olympics. He was the season-long ITU World Cup points championship in 2000 and 2004. He also won gold at the 2006 Asian Games.

Dirk Bockel stands alone as Luxembourg’s best triathlete. His best so far at Kona was 4th in 2011 but he has bigger successes outside the World Championship. He won 2012 Ironman Regensburg and 2013 Challenge Roth in 7:52:01 – the 10th fastest Ironman-distance performance ever. He also won the 2014 Asia Pacific Championship in Melbourne. He also has Olympic bona fides – he led a two-man bike breakaway at the 2008 Olympics before fading to 25th.

So far, Crisanto Grajales is the best triathlete Mexico has produced, placing high at important international races such as 4th at the 2015 WTS Grand Final in Chicago, winning the 2015 Pan American Games. He also finished 5th at 2015 WTS Yokohama, 4th at the 2014 Cozumel World Cup and 6th at the 2014 WTS Grand Final.

Claudia Rivas stands next in Mexico’s triathlon history with a 2nd at the 2014 Huatulco World Cup, 6th at the 2014 WTS Grand Final, 4th at the 2013 Cozumel World Cup, 21st at the 2012 Olympics and in 2008 she won gold at the ITU Aquathlon World Championship.

Yvonne Van Vlerken is first among many internationally prominent triathletes of the Netherlands. Van Vlerken is an 11 time Ironman-distance winner and owns a World-best 10 sub-9 hours Ironman-distance performances with a PR of 8:43:07 at Ironman Florida in 2013 – the 13th best women’s Ironman distance performance.

Rob Barel maintained world class performances for a decade. He won the 1994 ITU Long Distance Triathlon Worlds and placed 2nd at the 1997 and 1998 ITU Long Distance Worlds; was 3rd at the 1992 ITU Long Distance Worlds and placed 43rd at the 2000 Olympic Games at age 42.

Patrick Vernay is a 9-time Ironman winner, has won Ironman Australia four times, was 3rd at the 2006 ITU Long Distance Worlds, placed 10th at the 2006 and 2007 Ironman World Championship and 6th at the 2008 Ironman Worlds. As such he is the greatest triathlete of New Caledonia which is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Vernay lives in Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia, which has a population of 268,000.

Norway may have dominated the Winter Olympics in matters of ski jumping, speed skating, biathlon and cross country skiing but it is still working on triathlon. Still, it has two promising international triathletes - a young man and a late starting woman.

While Kristian Blummenfelt is just 22 years old, he is the best triathlete in Norway’s history. He currently ranks 23rd in the World Triathlon Series. He is well known for his powerful cycling prowess, often leading breakaway packs in the premier Olympic distance series. But he is still working on his run. So far he finished 13th at 2015 WTS Stockholm, 2nd at the 2015 Alanya ITU World Cup, 3rd at the 2015 New Plymouth World Cup and scored 4th at the 2012 WTS Grand Final Junior Men.

Mette Moe is 41 years old and her first international triathlon results began in 2011 with a 10th place finish at the Alanya ITU Triathlon Premium European Cup. In 2013, she placed 7th at the Barcelona ETU Middle Distance European Championships. In 2013 and 2014 she won the Norwegian Olympic distance National Championships and placed 4th at 2014 Ironman Mallorca. In 2015, she won the Norwegian Long Distance National Championships and took 5th at Ironman 70.3 Norway. An impressive late career start but just short of Blummenfelt's WTS ranking.

New Zealand Is another high achieving triathlon nation and so the choice of the single best Kiwi triathlete is a particularly painful coin flips comparing multiple worthy candidates.

Recently retired Bevan Docherty won the 2004 ITU Olympic distance World Championship, took silver at the 2004 Olympics and bronze at the 2008 Olympics. His turn to Ironman wasn’t shabby either as he won 2013 Ironman New Zealand in then-record time and also won Ironman Texas in 2014. Cameron Brown is another member of Kiwi triathlon royalty. In Ironman World Championships he was 2nd in 2001 and 2005, 3rd in 2002 and 2003. He scored a runner-up at 2014 Ironman Melbourne. At his home country Ironman, Brown won at Taupo 12 times – the greatest domination of any Ironman in the history of triathlon. He also saved the best for last. At age 43 he became the oldest man to win an Ironman event at the 2016 edition of Ironman New Zealand. And he did it in style - setting a race record time of 8:07:58. Then there is the multi-talented Hamish Carter. He won the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 XTERRA World Championship. He also took 2nd at 1997 and 2006 ITU Olympic distance World Championship.

Such an array of stars! And then there is New Zealand’s best.

Erin Baker was Paula Newby-Fraser’s greatest rival at Ironman Hawaii, winning Kona in 1987 and 1990 and taking 2nd in 1988, 1991 and 1993. Baker won the inaugural ITU Olympic distance World Championship in 1989. She won the Nice International Triathlon in 1985 and 1988, the 1991 ITU Duathlon World Championship and Powerman Zofingen in 1992 and 1994. While those may have been her most prestigious wins, but Baker also won 104 times of 121 triathlons entered.