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Kona 2018 Qualifying Before the Final July Races

This post looks at Kona Qualifying before the remaining July races:

Date Type Race Points
22-Jul IM Ironman Lake Placid – WPRO only P-2000
28-Jul 70.3 70.3 Santa Rosa P-750
29-Jul IM Ironman Switzerland P-2000
29-Jul IM Ironman Hamburg P-2000
29-Jul IM Ironman Canada (Whistler) – MPRO only P-2000

The following analysis is built on the available start lists posted by Ironman and assumes that there are not going to be any late entries.

Women’s Qualifying

There are 28 Kona points slots (not counting the Automatic Qualifiers) for the female Pros in July. (There will be another 7 in August.) Here is a graphical view of the athletes who I consider to be safe for a July slot:

KPRWomen

The following table lists the athletes currently occupying the last qualifying slots:

Rank Athlete Points Races Comments
(5) Heather Jackson 6.975 (NV) 1+2 registered for IM Lake Placid
Liz Lyles 6.325 2+1 expected to decline (announced retirement)
(17) Annabel Luxford 5.215 (NV) 1+1 registered for IM Switzerland
22 Helle Frederiksen 4.845 1+2
23 Lisa Huetthaler 4.680 2+2
24 Tine Deckers 4.490 3+1
25 Anne Haug 4.480 1+2
26 Jodie Robertson 4.340 1+2 registered for IM Lake Placid & 70.3 Santa Cruz
27 Melanie Burke 4.035 2+1 registered for IM Switzerland
28 Sara Svensk 4.035 2+2 registered for IM Switzerland & IM Hamburg

As you can see, I’m not counting Liz Lyles as she has announced her retirement and is expected to decline her slot. (The “formal decline” can only happen after the end of July qualifying when Ironman asks athletes to accept their slots.) There are also Heather Jackson (registered for IM Lake Placid) and Annabel Luxford (registered for IM Switzerland) who still need an Ironman finish to be eligible for a points slot, but they should be able to do so in their races. With these reasonable assumptions, Sara Svensk currently occupies the last qualifying spot with 4.035 points. (She has the same number of points as Melanie Burke but is behind on the tie-breaker top score.) Also, Helle Frederiksen is “safe” for a slot, there are only six athletes with a chance to pass her in the remaining races so she can’t fall further back than to 28th points place.

The following table lists what each of the athletes who are on one of the start lists and who can still overtake Sara will need, even if that is probably not going to be enough for securing a slot (i.e. even if one can pass Sara, there are likely others that leap further ahead). In brackets I have added the (result) that will be needed to be quite certain of a slot (regardless of where others may finish, “n/a” meaning that even with a win a slot is not assured).

Athlete Points Races Registered for Needs
Maja Stage Nielsen 3.335 2+1 IM Hamburg 5th (2nd)
Corinne Abraham 3.280 2+1 IM Hamburg 4th (2nd)
Jen Annett 3.255 2+2 IM Lake Placid 3rd (win)
Kelsey Withrow 2.560 1+2 IM Lake Placid, 70.3 Santa Rosa 2nd (n/a)
Daniela Sämmler 2.460 1+2 IM Hamburg 2nd (n/a)
Martina Kunz 2.330 2+2 IM Zürich win (n/a)

There are a lot more athletes registered for the remaining July races, you can check start lists and seedings on TriRating.com.

Men’s Qualifying

There are 40 Kona points slots (not counting the Automatic Qualifiers) for the male Pros in July. (There will be another 10 in August.) Here is a quick view of the athletes that I consider safe for a July slot:

KPRMen

The following table lists the male Pros in the last qualifying ranks:

Rank Athlete Points Races Comments
(7) James Cunnama 6.500 1+2 (NV) registered for IM Hamburg
Boris Stein 3.920 1+2 (NV) not racing in July, looking to validate in Copenhagen
(28) Bart Aernouts 3.865 1+2 (NV) registered for IM Hamburg
29 Romain Guillaume 3.795 2+2
30 Luke McKenzie 3.715 2+1
31 Matt Chrabot 3.630 1+2
32 Marino Vanhoenacker 3.600 2+0 unknown if interested in a slot, registered for IM Canada
33 Thiago Vinhal 3.585 3+0 registered for 70.3 Santa Rosa
34 Tim Reed 3.470 2+2
35 Callum Millward 3.465 2+2 registered for IM Canada
36 Denis Chevrot 3.465 2+2
37 Will Clarke 3.445 1+2 registered for IM Hamburg
38 Simon Cochrane 3.420 3+1
39 Mike Phillips 3.390 2+2 registered for IM Switzerland
40 Jan van Berkel 3.390 3+0 registered for IM Switzerland

James Cunnama, Boris Stein and Bart Aernouts still need an Ironman finish to be eligible for a slot. James and Bart are registered for IM Hamburg, and “just finishing” will secure a points slot for them. However, Boris has been injured shortly before IM France, he is not going to race before the end of July. Therefore I am including James and Bart but not Boris in my “points ranks”. This means that currently Jan van Berkel occupies the last direct qualifying slot, but it’s safe to assume that a number of athletes are going to score and that more than 3.390 points will be needed. There are a few more uncertainties, for example it is unclear if Cam Brown or Marino Vanhoenacker are even interested in a Kona slot (they might decline) and whether Terenzo Bozzone is going to accept his slot (he is still recovering from being hit by a truck while training on the bike).

There is a theoretical chance for the cutoff to occur as high as 3.890 points, but that requires a large number of pretty improbably race outcomes. As shown in the graph above I therefore consider everyone down to Cam Brown (at 3.840 points) to be safe, and every athlete who is able to pass Cam is going to receive in a slot unless some really weird things occur.

The next table lists what each of the athletes who are on one of the start lists and who can still get to at least 3.400 points will need, even if that is probably not going to be enough for securing a slot (i.e. even if one can pass that mark, there are likely others that leap further ahead). In brackets I have added the (result) that will be needed to be quite certain of a slot (regardless of where others may finish, “n/a” meaning that even with a win a slot is not assured).

Athlete Points Races Registered for Needs
Philipp Koutny 3.325 2+2 IM Switzerland 6th (4th)
Jonathan Shearon 3.290 2+2 IM Hamburg 5th (3rd)
Ty Butterfield 3.165 2+1 70.3 Santa Rosa 6th (2nd)
Jeremy Jurkiewicz 3.100 3+1 IM Switzerland 4th (3rd)
Ronnie Schildknecht 3.005 2+2 IM Switzerland 5th (3rd)
Tim Don 2.900 0+2 IM Hamburg 6th (4th)
Christian Kramer 2.675 2+2 IM Hamburg 4th (3rd)
Jesper Svensson 2.620 1+2 IM Hamburg 4th (3rd)
David Plese 2.455 3+1 IM Switzerland 2nd (win)
Mark Bowstead 2.425 2+1 IM Canada 3rd (2nd)
Miguel Blanchard Tinto 2.340 3+1 IM Hamburg, IM Switzerland 2nd (win)
Johann Ackermann 1.905 2+2 IM Hamburg 2nd (win)
Sven Riederer 1.845 1+2 IM Switzerland 2nd (win)
Horst Reichel 1.445 1+2 IM Hamburg win (n/a)

As for the women, there are a lot more athletes registered for the remaining July races, you can check start lists and seedings on TriRating.com.

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Kona Qualifying Situation Mid June 2018 – Men

With only seven Ironman races remaining before the first cutoff at the end of July, it’s a good time to have a close look at the current qualifying situation. This post looks at the situation for the men, yesterday’s post analyzes the women’s standings.

Current Situation

Let’s start with an overview of the ranking in mid-June (click on the graph for a higher-res version):

Based on the projected cutoff around 3.500 points the graph shows six categories:

  • Automatic Qualifiers: Kona winners of the last five years and the winners of the Regional Championships receive an automatic slot. Past Kona winners have to validate their slot with an Ironman finish. (Both Jan Frodeno and Patrick Lange still have to do this.) The AQs do not count for the “points slots”.
  • Safe: These athletes are more than 300 points above the projected cutoff and can be considered safe for a July slot. There are currently 19 male athletes in this category.
  • Safe not validated: These athletes have enough points (usually from a good Kona result the previous year) but still need an Ironman finish to be eligible for a slot. There are another five athletes in this category.
  • Bubble: These athletes (currently twelve) are close the cutoff and might be fine for a slot – but there could still be a number of athletes that can overtake them and they can still fall out of the slots.
  • Close: These athletes will have to race again and improve their total in order to have a chance for a slot – another 13 athletes.
  • Close, not validated: There are three athletes in this category, but Ben Kanute and Sam Appleton are unlikely to race an Ironman this season.

There is a total of 40 “points slots” for the men at the end of July. If you add up the number of athletes in the different categories (leaving aside the AQs) you already end up with more than 50, so you can see that the race is very tight.

Upcoming Races

Ironman has released entry lists and start lists for all the remaining Ironman races up to the end of July. As always, they are easily accessible through my Race Posts showing the entries with their current KPR points and the seedings for races with a closed start list.

The following table shows an overview of the remaining Ironman races and the currently registered athletes currently without a secure Kona slot. (Of course, most races have some more high-profile athletes on the start list, and athletes can still register for most of these races.) I’ve also listed a few “Additional Athletes” who aren’t shown in the graph above but who still have a chance for a slot:

Race Racing for a Slot Additional Athletes
France Andrej Vistica (2.960)
TJ Tollakson (2.575)
Romain Guillaume (2.435)
Austria David McNamee (7.870)
Andy Potts (5.050)
Michael Weiss (3.435)
Thiago Vinhal (3.180)
Miquel Blanchard Tinto (2.325)
Frankfurt (P-4000) Patrick Lange (AQ)
Jan Frodeno (AQ)
Patrik Nilsson (3.825)
Tyler Butterfield (1.830)
Philipp Koutny (1.730)
David Plese (1.530)
Andi Böcherer (1.390)
UK Will Clarke (2.905)
Whistler Joe Gambles (2.885) Sam Long (1.575)
Switzerland Jan van Berkel (3.390)
Hamburg Miquel Blanchard Tinto (2.325)
Horst Reichel (1.445)

A few of the athletes haven’t announced their plans yet (James Cunnama, Bart Aernouts) or have been forced to change them (Boris Stein who planned to race IM France but had a bike crash a few days out and won’t be able to race).

As you can see, the number of athletes that aren’t on my graph but still have a chance to qualify is quite large. There are also a few more 70.3s on the calendar that may not have many points but can still make a difference when things are getting close, so it’s hard to tell at this point who will actually qualify. Some athletes might also decide to look for a race in August to secure one of the additional ten male slots that are even harder to predict.

Kona Qualifying Situation Mid June 2018 – Woman

With only seven Ironman races remaining before the first cutoff at the end of July, it’s a good time to have a close look at the current qualifying situation. This first post looks at the situation for the women, another post analyzes the men’s standings.

Current Situation

First let’s have an overview (click on the graph for a higher-res version):

Based on the projected cutoff around 4.400 points the graph shows six categories:

  • Automatic Qualifiers: Kona winners of the last five years and the winners of the Regional Championships receive an automatic slot. Past Kona winners have to validate their slot with an Ironman finish. They do not count for the “points slots”.
  • Safe: These athletes are more than 300 points above the projected cutoff and can be considered safe for a July slot. There are 14 female athletes in this category, but Liz Lyles has announced her retirement and is expected to decline her slot.
  • Safe not validated: These athletes have enough points (usually from a good Kona result the previous year) but still need an Ironman finish to be eligible for a slot. There are another three athletes in this category.
  • Bubble: These athletes (currently five) are close the cutoff and might be fine for a slot – but there could still be a number of athletes that can overtake them and they can fall out of the slots.
  • Close: These athletes will have to race again and improve their total in order to have a chance for a slot. One of these six athletes is Yvonne Van Vlerken who has said that she’s not interested in racing Kona again.
  • Close, not validated: One more athlete in this category – at least an Ironman finish is needed, and Emma needs to add a good number of points as well.

There is a total of 28 “points slots” for the women at the end of July. If you add up the number of athletes in the different categories (leaving aside the AQs) you end up with 29 (maybe minus two for Liz and Yvonne), so you can see that the race is very tight.

Upcoming Races

Ironman has released entry lists and start lists for all the remaining Ironman races up to the end of July. As always, they are easily accessible through my Race Posts showing the entries with their current KPR points and the seedings for races with a closed start list.

The following table shows an overview of the remaining Ironman races and the registered athletes currently without a secure Kona slot. (Of course, most races have some more high-profile athletes on the start list.) I’ve also listed a few “Additional Athletes” who aren’t shown in the graph above but who still have a chance for a slot (e.g. Eva Wutti who will likely attempt the “double” in Austria and Frankfurt or the Ironman rookies Sarah True, Laura Philipp and Anne Haug expected to race in Frankfurt):

Race Racing for a Slot Additional Athletes
France Manon Genet (4.120)
Lisa Roberts (4.000)
Eva Wutti (1.165)
Austria Emma Pallant (3.620) Lisa Huetthaler (3.080)
Sara Svensk (2.410)
Frankfurt
(P-4000)
Daniela Ryf (AQ)
Sarah Crowley (6.480)
Jodie Robertson ( 3.980)
Rachel McBride (3.795)
Sarah True (3.270)
Laura Philipp (3180)
Dimity-Lee Duke (2.660)
Bruna Mahn (2.655)
Saleta Castro (2.410)
Anne Haug (2.025)
Katharina Grohmann (2.020)
Eva Wutti (1.165)
UK Laura Philipp (3.180)
Sara Svensk (2.410)
Lake Placid Heather Jackson (6.975) Meredith Kessler (3.205)
Jen Annett (3.140)
Kelsey Withrow (2.560)
Switzerland Annabel Luxford (5.215) Sara Svensk (2.410)
Hamburg Laura Philipp (3.180)
Daniela Sämmler (2.460)
Katharina Grohmann (2.020)
Anja Beranek (2.000)

As you can see, the number of athletes that aren’t on my graph but still have a chance to qualify is quite large. There are also a few more 70.3s on the calendar that may not have many points but can still make a difference when things are getting close, so it’s hard to tell at this point who will actually qualify. Some athletes (likely including Liz Blatchford or Asa Lundstroem) may also miss July qualifying but then look for another race in August to secure one of the seven female slots in August that are even harder to predict.

Trying to Predict Ironman Times from 70.3 Ratings

There is a number of good 70.3 athletes stepping up to the Ironman distance, among these are Javier Gomez, Emma Pallant, Anne Haug and Laura Philipp who are lining up for their first Ironman races in the next weeks.

I’ve been asked to predict their Ironman capabilities from their 70.3 races. Of course there are a lot of issues that make this difficult: There are athletes that are naturally stronger on one distance over the other, some athletes decide to focus on one distance (and are therefore unable to race at their full potential over the other distance), and there are a lot of uncertainties when athletes step up for the first time. Nonetheless, there are ranges that might be considered “normal” and can therefore serve as an indication of what these athletes might be able to do.

Comparing 70.3 Ratings to Ironman Ratings

With the race results in my database, I calculate ratings for the 70.3 and the Ironman distance that abstract away as much as possible fast and slow courses and the specific conditions on race day. I have analyzed these ratings for athletes that are among the Top 100 in both ratings. As not all athletes race both distances on a regular basis and might not be among the Top 100 athletes, my analysis is based on 107 data points.

When moving from 70.3 ratings to Ironman ratings, I calculate the “slowdown” that occurs when moving up the distance. To express it as a formula:

IM Rating  = 2 * 70.3 Rating * Slowdown

Here’s a look at the distribution of the Slowdown:

Slowdown

The average slowdown is 5.35%, i.e. the average athlete slows down a bit more than 5% when moving from the 70.3 to the Ironman distance. Athletes who are pretty close to that average are Sebastian Kienle (slowdown of 5.7% or 26 minutes) and Meredith Kessler (slowdown of 5.23% or 28 minutes). There are also athletes who don’t slow down quite as much – usually because they haven’t been focused on racing 70.3s as much as Ironman distance races (e.g. Patrick Lange 1.69% or Lisa Roberts 0.98%). On the other hand, there are athletes with a large slowdown – mostly because they are still in the process of moving up in the distance (e.g. Braden Currie 9.1% or Magali Tisseyre 9.05% – corresponding to roughly 45 minutes).

Predicting Finishing Time Ranges

The graph and the data in the previous section are based on athletes that are within the Top 100 ranked athletes both for the IM distance and the 70.3 distance, indicating that they have been racing on both distances for some time. It’s obviously tricky to use this data to predict how established 70.3 athletes will be racing in their first race over the longer distance. So instead of just making a direct conversion based on the average from above, I will show pretty wide ranges that should cover a wide range of possible outcomes. (For those interested in the details: I’m using one sigma on the fast side and two sigmas on the slow side to reflect that a slower outcome is likely to be more common for an athlete’s first race. This should roughly 80% of the expected race times.)

The first line for each athlete in the following table shows the conversion from a 70.3 rating to a range of IM ratings. The second line shows what this rating range corresponds to as a finishing on the course they are expected to race:

Name Type 70.3 Rating Fast Medium Slow
Javier Gomez Rating 03:54:55 08:04:40 08:14:59 08:35:37
IM Cairns 08:00:01 08:10:15 08:30:41
Emma Pallant Rating 04:27:17 09:11:26 09:23:11 09:46:40
IM Austria 08:50:32 09:01:50 09:24:25
Anne Haug Rating 04:15:43 08:47:34 08:58:48 09:21:16
IM Germany 08:32:41 08:43:36 09:05:26
Laura Philipp Rating 04:24:22 09:05:25 09:17:02 09:40:15
IM Germany 08:50:01 09:01:18 09:23:53
Sarah True Rating 04:26:45 09:10:20 09:22:03 09:45:29
IM Germany 08:54:48 09:06:11 09:28:58

To explain most of the data in the table:

  • Jamie Gomez should finish somewhere around 8:10 in his IM debut in Cairns with a pretty wide range of 8:00 to 8:30.
  • Emma Pallant (at IM Austria) and Laura Philipp (at IM Germany) could be able to post a finish time of about 9:00 hours. Based on her 70.3 rating, Sara True should be just a few minutes slower in Frankfurt.

The data for Anne Haug shows the limits of this analysis and the resulting predictions: The conversion of Anne’s 70.3 rating to a finish time at IM Germany sees her finish at around 8:45 which is somewhat unlikely – after all the course record by Daniela Ryf is 8:51! The data shows Anne’s potential on the full Ironman distance,  and while it won’t be a surprise to see her finish sub-9 in Frankfurt, there’s a lot that has to go right for her to challenge Daniela or last year’s winner Sarah Crowley at this year’s IM Germany.

Who to Look for in 2018 Long-distance Racing

With the 2018 season slowly getting started, here’s a list of trends, themes and athletes to look for in Ironman-distance racing. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, and there isn’t enough space to highlight every “interesting athlete to watch this year”, so apologies in advance to everyone who isn’t mentioned!

Athletes Stepping Up to Ironman Racing

Every year, there are a number of athletes with great success on shorter distance who give racing on the Ironman-distance a try. While there isn’t a guarantee that their racing prowess transfers to the longer distance, the talent that is evident usually makes them very interesting when they line up in their first Ironman race.

For 2018, Emma Pallant (second in 70.3 Championships) and Laura Philipp (third in 70.3 Championships) have announced that they will race an Ironman. Emma is registered for IM South Africa, Laura plans to race IM Germany where she’ll be joined by Anne Haug who has just stepped up to the 70.3 distance in 2017(winning 70.3 Dubai).

2017FemalePodium037.png

Photo: The podium of the 70.3 World Championship in 2017. Daniela Ryf went on to defend her Kona title, Emma Pallant (left) and Laura Philipp (right) will step up to Ironman racing in 2018. (Credit: Donald Miralle for Ironman)

On the male side, there is a huge anticipation of Javier Gomez to race Ironman. (I’m not aware of a firm plan for his first Ironman, but I’m guessing he’ll race one of the Regional Championships in Cairns or Frankfurt. Update March 26th: Spanish media report that Javier will race IM Cairns.) There’s been a lot of talk about the Brownlee brothers stepping up to Ironman racing as well, but for now they seem to be focused on short-course and 70.3 racing rather than Ironman.

All of the athletes mentioned above have scored well in 70.3 races so that just one solid Ironman race will be enough for them to be on the Kona start line – adding even more excitement to the highlight of 2018 Ironman-distance racing.

Returning Super Moms

2016 and 2017 have seen a large number of “triathlon babies” – a lot of high-profile female athletes have taken a break from triathlon to have a baby and then return to long-distance racing. In 2017 we’ve had two “Super Moms” in the Kona Top 10 (Liz Lyles and Jocelyn McCauley), two more in the Kona field that had a baby in 2016 (Rachel Joyce and Sonja Tajsich), and one more “new mom” who won an Ironman but missed Kona qualifying (Eva Wutti).

For the 2018 season there are even more Super Moms returning to racing: Three-time Kona champion Mirinda Carfrae gave birth to daughter Isabelle before Kona 2017, she is already back to training and as a prior Kona champion only needs a validation finish to secure her place on the Kona start line. She has just announced that she will be racing IM Cairns in June.

RinnyTOIzzy

Photo: Mirinda with husband Tim O’Donnell and daughter “Izzy”. Credit: Welcome to the Tim and Rinny Show! on YouTube.

Things will be a lot harder for Meredith Kessler (son Mak born in November), Liz Blatchford (daughter Mahli born in June) and Jodie Cunnama (son Jack born in November), they need a points slot and have to start 2018 racing with no points and only March to July to get to 4.400 points needed for a slot. Caroline Steffen is another “new mom” (son Xander born in late December) who’s back to training, but I’m not aware of any long-distance racing plans for her. (She was focused on the 70.3 distance before she got pregnant.)

The First Sub-4 Bike Leg?

Last year we’ve seen a new “Ironman bike record” when Andy Starykowicz posted a 4:01 bike split at IM Texas. That race was Andy’s return from a horrible bike accident when he was run over by a truck, and he wasn’t sure how well he’d be able to run so he was clearly focused on a good bike split. (His run split was just 3 minutes faster than his bike and is currently the slowest run split for a sub-9 finish overall.) In October, he was more balanced and won IM Louisville with a 4:08 bike and 3:07 run. Another super-biker is Cam Wurf who set a new bike course record at IM Hawaii and who was also able to win Ironman Wales with a solid run.

CamBikeKona

Photo: Cam Wurf leading on the bike in Kona. Credit: Ingo Kutsche

I think that both Andy and Cam (and maybe a few others) would be able to post a sub-4 bike leg if that was their main goal in a race, but their focus is probably more on improving their run and on being competitive for the wins in strong, deep fields. But maybe they think that their best chance to win a race is to get a huge advantage on the bike? In addition, there are almost always athletes that maybe aren’t fully competitive in all legs who opt to go for the glory of a fast bike split. Overall, I’m pretty sure that we’ll see a sub-4 bike in the next few years, but I’m not sure it’ll happen this season quite yet.

Coming Back from Injury

Avoiding or managing injuries plays a big role in long-distance racing. Mel Hauschildt is one of the athletes that’s been forced to deal with injuries on a regular basis. In 2017 she wasn’t able to race before late August, but then was able to finish the ITU Long Distances Worlds, 70.3 Championships and Kona and ended the year by with two wins at 70.3 Western Sydney and IM Western Australia. It would be great to see what she’s able to do when she has two consecutive build periods without having to take a long break for an injury. After winning IM Texas in 2015, Angela Naeth hasn’t been able to complete another Ironman race because of a long string of injuries. Towards the end of 2017 she has returned to 70.3 racing and plans to race an Ironman this spring. (She’s on the entry lists for both IM South Africa and IM Texas.) Angela and her bike strength can hugely impact the race dynamics in any Ironman race she enters.

It’s always unfortunate when athletes qualify for Kona but then are not able to race because of an injury. Last year Tine Holst, Andy Boecherer, Carlos Lopez and Will Clarke had to cancel their Kona start, but are already planning their 2018 season for a return to Kona. Two more athletes made it to Kona with plans to race and had accidents on the Big Island. Tim Don fractured a vertebra just three days before the race and was forced to wear a horribly uncomfortable halo for a few weeks, but by now he’s back to some light training. Matt Russell was hit by a car while in the race and was in critical condition for a couple of days when he lost a lot of blood. While he still sheds the occasional piece of glass, he seems to have been able to make a quick recovery and is on the entry list for IM Texas.

Looking Closer at Regional Trends

There’s always some up-and-down among the big triathlon nations, so here are some predictions of the Ironman racing from the viewpoint of different countries:

(Even) More Germans in Kona

MariceRothThe German men have been dominating in Kona – they have won four titles in a row from 2014 to 2017! But their depth of strong males is almost as impressive, and it seems that even when one athlete runs into problems that there are others ready to step up, such as when Frodo was struggling and Sebi couldn’t quite take the lead on the run, Patrick blasted out another sub-2:40 run to win the race. Also, some new names show up on the Kona radar every year. Two athletes you should follow across this season are Andi Dreitz and Maurice Clavel. Both have stepped up to IM racing in 2017, Andy won IM Italy and Maurice was third at Challenge Roth. Both are targeting Kona for 2018 and are in a good position to qualify with one more solid result: Andi already has 3.435 points and should be able to snag a slot with one more good 70.3 finish, while Maurice with 2.205 points is racing IM South Africa to get the points he needs for a Kona slot.

Photo: Maurice crossing the finish line at Challenge Roth. Credit: TriRating

While the German women were not quite as successful as the men, they have also been able to snag a number of Kona Top10 finishes and Ironman wins in previous years. In 2017, Mareen Hufe was the best German female in Kona, finishing just outside the Top10. With some new faces (such as Laura Philipp mentioned above) the pressure for the established German women will only increase, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see two German ladies in the Kona 2018 Top10.

The Big American Hope to Win Kona

For quite some time the “Big Three” US male athletes have been Ben Hoffman, Tim O’Donnell and Andy Potts. They’ve traded the title of “Best American Kona Finisher”, but late in the race none of them have really been in contention for more than a podium spot. While the US always has a number of good athletes racing the Ironman distance, so far none of them have been able to crack the Top 10 in Kona. (Fun fact: Other than Ben, Tim or Andy, Chris Lieto was the last one to finish in the Top 10 in 2009.) When looking for “new faces” among the US male athletes that haven’t raced Kona before, the only name I could come up with is Kevin Collington. He’s been getting faster under the guidance of Matt Dixon and is now an Ironman winner in a hot and humid race (IM Taiwan 2017). With Ben Kanute there was an American on the podium of the 70.3 Championships, but for now he is still focused on the shorter distances.

So “The Big American Hope to Win Kona” might actually be a woman. There’s a large number of athletes that have already had success in Kona such as Heather Jackson (3rd in 2016, 4th in 2017), Sarah Piampiano (7th in 2015 and 2016 but DNF in 2017) or 10-time Kona veteran Linsey Corbin. In 2017 there were three US women in the Top 10: Heather, Liz Lyles – since retired – and Jocelyn McCauley, at 29 years among the younger female Pros. Lauren Brandon had a strong impact on the swim and bike but then didn’t have the run she was looking for. Considering how dominant Daniely Ryf has been in the last years, a Kona win is not very likely for the US women in 2018, but my money is on the best US female to finish higher than the best male.

Scandinavian Ladies

MajaKonaThe Scandinavian countries Finland, Sweden, Denmark and (to a lesser degree) Norway have a surprisingly deep talent pool for Ironman racing. Kona 2017 had two athletes finish in the Top10 (Patrik Nilsson 8th in the men’s field and Kaisa Sali who was 5th in the female field). Look out especially for the Scandinavian ladies in 2018 racing. Asa Lundstroem, Camilla Pedersen and Michelle Vesterby have raced well in Kona before but didn’t have a good race in Kona – they will be back to show that they can do much better. In addition, there are a number of “new faces”: Maja Stage Nielsen was 12th with the best run outside the Top10, at 29 years she has just completed her first season of long-distance racing. Then there is Helle Frederiksen who stepped up to IM racing after multiple wins on the 70.3 distance. Her first Ironman in Arizona was a sub-9 finish with a new Danish record. The Scandinavian males have been on the podium before (Pauli Kiuru was second in 1993, Torbjorn Sindballe third in 2007), and I think it’s time for the first Scandinavian female on the Kona podium.

Photo: Maja Stage Nielsen is all smiles after crossing the Kona finish line in 12th place. Credit: TriRating

Rule Britannia

The British athletes have had ten wins on the IM-distance in 2017, and they’ve been successful in Kona as well: Lucy Charles was second female, and David McNamee was third on the male side. These days it’s hard to decide if the men or women are more successful. The British ladies have been successful for quite some time: Rachel Joyce, Lucy Gossage, Jodie Cunnama and Susie Cheetham have won Ironman races and finished in the Kona Top10, and there are always new athletes stepping up,  such as Lucy Charles last year.

For quite some time, the British men struggled to keep up, but the 2017 results have been impressive: A huge win by Tim Don at IM Brasil with a new British record of 7:40, and David McNamee was the first British athlete on the Kona podium. In addition there are Will Clarke and Joe Skipper who have posted sub-8 finished but so far haven’t been able to transfer their speed to a good finish in the more tactical race in Kona.

Aussie Aussie

Just a few years back, the Australian men have been dominating in Kona: Between 2007 and 2012 Chris McCormack, Craig Alexander and Pete Jacobs won the title six times in a row for the Aussies. In 2013 Luke McKenzie almost extended that series (he finished second to Frederik Van Lierde), since then each year Tim Van Berkel has been the highest Aussie finisher with just a single Top10 (7th 2014, 36th 2015, 19th 2016 and 15th 2017). In the meantime, the Aussie ladies have continued to do well, Mirinda Carfrae won three times and even when Rinny didn’t race in 2017, there have been three Australian ladies in the Top10 (Sarah Crowley, Carrie Lester and Annabel Luxford).

However, things seem to be improving for the Australian men: Josh Amberger (in his first season of IM racing) was leading after the swim with a big gap, and T2-leader Cam Wurf made a huge impression when he set a new Kona bike course record. Nick Kastelein (even though he DNF’d) has also been racing well on the long-distance, winning IM Switzerland. It’s been a while that an Aussie male has been in the Kona Top10 – something that I expect to change in 2018!

Asians Starting to Close the Gap

The last few paragraphs have focused on the “big triathlon nations”, countries that win the most Ironman races across the globe. Having looked at the fastest 2017 finishing times from the continents (Women and Men),  it’s one continent that lags behind the others: Asia. However, Ironman is now owned by a Chinese company, and they are continuing to expand not only in China but in other Asian countries as well. While we haven’t yet seen a return of Ironman China (held three times between 2008 and 2010 in challenging conditions), there are now four 70.3s in China on the calendar, some even offering Kona slots. Last year, we’ve also seen the first Chinese athlete earning prize money in a 70.3 race (Jiang Zhi Hang who was sixth at 70.3 Xiamen and earned US$ 750). The number of races in other Asian countries is growing as well and it’s only a question of time until the Asian athletes are starting to close the gap to the other continents.

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