By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Nearly a week on from the fastest Kona race on record, where rookies (including a new mom) prevailed and very fast dark horses did their best to thumb their noses at all that Norwegian science, we look back on the Ironman World Championships through a distinctly Kiwi lens. Enjoy our nine key takeaways from the Big Dance on the Big Island:

* * * 

Kona was hard

With rookies winning and records smashed, you’d be mistaken for thinking that Kona has suddenly become a jog in the park. It hasn’t, of course, as Kiwi pro DNFer Kyle Smith eluded to after mysteriously bonking late on during the 180km bike leg.

“I was going all right, felt really comfortable and then all of a sudden it was kind of like lights out and I struggled to get home. I barely made it off the bike…”

If you still don’t believe us, allow Kiwi 50-54 age-grouper Gareth Holebrook to put the Big Dance on the sweltering Big Island into scary perspective.

Gareth Holebrook

“I’ll take the finish. At 35k [into the marathon] I was semi-conscious laid out on the road with medics around me…at that point I had resigned to a DNF. However, a bottle of salty water later I was able to walk out the last 7km.”

“You’re an Ironman” Gareth and in a never, ever to be sniffed at 13:16:14.

We’re also delighted to report that Laura Cameron (above) is also a World Championship conqueror. After initially being listed as a DQ, the Sydney-based Kiwi lawyer had the clerical error (following a drafting penalty correctly served) overturned had her smart time of 10:47:15 reinstated.

* * * 

Kona was quick (and could get even faster)

With a time of 7:40:24, Gustav Iden became Kona’s new benchmark man and the spearhead of an unimaginable podium of rookies.

Thanks to a tailwind home on the bike along the Queen K, a bit of cloud cover to start the marathon and a whole lot of Norwegian scientific know-how, the men’s race in particular was ridiculously fast. The top four all beat Jan Frodeno’s 2019 course record – Iden stripped 10mins 49secs off the German’s mark – and the top 10 all eclipsed eight hours.

Cam Wurf saw Sam Laidlow slash 4mins 30sec off his bike course best and eventually finished in 8hrs flat – only good enough for 11th place!

“That’s the best performance I’ve ever had here and I wasn’t anywhere near it,” said the candid Aussie 39-year-old pro cyclist-cum-triathlete.

The really scary bit? Laidlow left a little out on the Queen K bike course and Iden reckons he can run faster still than his marathon course record of 2:36:15 after eclipsing Patrick Langer’s 2016 mark by a laughable 3mins 30secs.  To reference Iden’s split, know that the marathon world record is 2:01:09 and that Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge didn’t warm up for last month’s Berlin marathon with 183km of freestyle and lava field cycling beforehand.

“We can definitely go faster I think,” Iden said, speaking on behalf of third-placed stablemate Kristian Blummenfelt but mostly for himself. “I can still optimise my position on the bike quite a lot and I actually had new shoes for this race, developed specifically for this distance but I think with the team at On, we can make an even better shoe for the next version. And also we can optimise a bit of training.”

Yikes.

* * * 

Kona was cruel

After the pandemic denied him starts at Kona in 2020 and 2021 while in his pomp, it was heartbreaking to see Braden Currie pull the pin 50-odd kilometres into the bike on Sunday. The Wanaka 36-year-old conceded that he’s rapidly running out of runway to conquer Kona and that was before Iden and co. raised the bar.

How cruel that his “dream” build-up was derailed by a mystery virus at the 11th hour, denying Currie a chance to back up his bronze medal effort at the 2021 worlds in Utah. It will be fascinating to see how quickly he can respond from the demoralising experience. Figuratively and quite literally.

At least age-grouper Matt Kerr is only just at the precipice of his pro potential. It didn’t make his Kona nightmare any easier to stomach after the 30-year-old, third in his age group and defending the overall age-group world title with aplomb at the time, got wiped out by an unwitting spectator (at 60km/h no less) just before the bike transition.

“Absolutely gutted, to say the least” summed it up succinctly.

Roll on Ironman New Zealand in March where both will be keenly tracked.

* * * 

Kona was (and always is) utterly inspirational 

“JUST HANGING out with both Ironman World Champions, mates Gustav and Kristian. I said I was the break-dancing Kiwi, do you want a beer? Gustav said he loved my moves!” Photo courtesy Mike Stowers.

The longer you have to process Warren Hill’s 16:16:25, the more unbelievable the time becomes. As ‘Iron Mike’ Stowers said, the Auckland City Triathlon Club 82-year-old was “too fast for me”.

Stower’s modesty aside, the pair are legends both. It was Hill’s second Kona and a 19th Ironman finish for Stowers (pictured above in esteemed company) to go with a casual 54 marathons if his Facebook profile is up to date.

What’s more, the proud Samoan-Kiwi left just a little in the tank from his 16:49:17 effort to celebrate his Ironman Worlds bow with a victory chute break dance. Legendary stuff.

Paul and Warren Hill. Photo courtesy Ironman.com

A worthy footnote here is the 10:29:36 effort from Paul Hill, Warren’s son, in the 55-59 category. That is one fast family.

* * * 

Rebecca Clarke is the real deal

Rebecca Clarke was reportedly still miffed about her blue card for drafting several days after clocking the Kiwi best time, male and female, of 9:24:21. It cost the Auckland 33-year-old a five-minute stop-go penalty, plenty of momentum on the bike and probably a top 15.

But you cannot sneeze at 17th on debut and as her coach Rob Dallimore says: “… she was absolutely stoked to be in that front pack on the swim and in fact she’s recorded second out of the water because [American] Lauren Brandon, who was second out of the water didn’t finish the race, so Bec’s is officially second out of the water behind Lucy Charles[-Barclay].

“She was sitting in fourth on the bike saying I can’t believe I’m riding fourth in the world championships and this was about 30-40km into it.  She went through a couple of patches in the bike when she struggled a little bit…but got on the run, she’s been running really well this season, so we knew she was just going to have to keep fuelling and keep cool and she kept a pretty good pace the whole way.

“She was a little bit bummed the five-minute penalty cost her possibly three places and that gets in the money, it was three grand for 15th place I think…so you come away from that going damn. But then I said, you know, we’ve just started, let’s come back next year and have another crack at it. Yeah, the overall experience was amazing for her.”

With more PTO racing next year, her rookie experience in Kona and the Tribe Nation willing her on from afar, a top 10 looks like a distinct possibility for Clarke in 2023.

* * * 

Fear the Mumma Bear

Talking of inspirational women, how about Chelsea Sodaro’s victory on debut and just 18 months postpartum? The American’s surprise 8:33:46 winning time condemned Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay to a bitter-sweet fourth Kona runner-up finish and made Sadaro only the second mother, after Switzerland’s Natascha Badmann, to win the coveted title on the Big Island.

“I  started back on a training plan when I was six weeks postpartum. My fellow athletes are probably tired of me talking about my postpartum journey and being a mum and all this stuff. But I’m not going to stop talking about it until things are more equitable and women feel more comfortable that they can choose both family and sport at the highest level.”

Amen to that. Check out the excellent “Chelsea Sodaro: Greater than One” series created by the Professional Triathletes Organisation for more on “Mumma Bear’s” postpartum journey.

* * *

“Sky’s the limit” for our new Kiwi age-group inspiration

Here at Tri NZ, we’re a family-friendly show so probably shouldn’t be promoting adult-only shenanigans. But we’re also suckers for stories involving colourful characters and feel emboldened by the fact that what we are about to report is a Kona institution. So, without further ado, allow us to present Billy Bowman, world champion.

The effervescent North Harbour Triathlon Club personality knocked out a smoking 9:54:58 to be the fourth fastest Kiwi in Kona behind Rebecca Clark (9:24), Tim Gould (9:43 – how good in the 40-44 age-group!) and fellow 25-29 age-grouper Michael Tong (9:48), plus plenty of colourful social media content besides via his billybowman_  Insta handle.

But, boy, did Billy save his best till last by reportedly winning the Kona Beer Mile World Champs.

To keep it ‘PG’ here, we’ll let you check out the race “highlights“ over at Billy’s Insta page but enjoy some of the best bits of his victory acceptance speech here: “Whilst I’m pleased with my result at Ironman World Champs I’m wearing the Kona beer mile world title like a badge of honour,” Bowman said.

“Couldn’t be prouder to represent my country New Zealand in such a prestigious event Mum has never been so proud either. Seems I’ve found my niche where VO2 meets a beer or 2. Sky’s the limit #proudkiwi.”

The Tribe Nation salutes you, Billy ‘Hops to trot’ Bowman.

* * *

The Ironman narrative is more compelling than ever

Gustav Iden, coach Olav Aleksander Bu and Kristian Blummenfelt

Even Braden Currie, in the depths of his cruel DNF despair, agreed that “this sport has huge momentum right now and Ironman put on a great show this week.”

That has a lot to do with giving the Pro Women an almost male-free day to shine and even more about how Gustav Iden, Kristian Blummenfelt and the Norwegian’s super coach Olav Aleksander Bu are changing the game with science. Who isn’t fascinated by athletes embracing data found in heat sensors, oxygen measuring masks and, ahem, their faeces? Constant lactate samples and $2000 bottles of oxygen isotape-infused water anyone?

Still, not everyone is sport science-focused, at least not to the levels of Iden and Blummenfelt. Second-placed Sam Laidlow is a case in point. The Frenchman proved he was more than a loudmouth (see the Collins Cup) with his record ride and PR marathon split to almost upset the best-laid Viking plans.

The new science v old-school secret sauce (a little experience and a whole lot of mind over matter) makes it an utterly compelling watch.  It will also be intriging to see if elder statesmen such as Currie and Jan Frodeno, out injured this year, can make some old-fashioned experience count in 2023.

* * * 

“Chris Nikic, you are an Ironman!”

“I want to be an example for other people with Down syndrome. I want to open doors,” Chris Nikic is reported to have said before Kona  according to an excellent piece by Triathlete.com’s Brian Metzler. “And I want to raise awareness. Anyone who sees people with Down syndrome: don’t look away or walk away.”

With that, we implore you to spend 25 lump-in-your-throat moments willing Nikic, battling dehydration, exhaustion and doubt, to the victory chute. It will give you a small sense of his journey into Kona lore as the first triathlete with Down syndrome to finish all 226km of the Hawaiian epic, willed on by volunteer guide Dan Grieb. It’s arguably the best story of the entire 2022 Ironman World Championships but comes with a warning; don’t forget the tissues.

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We’re not crying, you’re crying. What. A. Champion.

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