Even though the 2024 Ironman World Championships in Nice and Kona are still months away and we have a full season of racing in front of us, maybe now is a good time to start discussing the “statistical favorites” for the races. After all, the “short list” is typically built from previous winners and last year’s podium – this is what the first section on “Past Winners” looks at. Then we apply this historical data on the September and October races to see who should be in the mix – and who may be overlooked by this simple way of building a short list.
Of course we still have a lot of racing left before Kona 2024, but I’m still giving “baseline odds” based on 2023 racing and the historical data. Of course, these odds are likely to change before the fall Championships.
Data on Past Winners
When looking at the past winners of the Ironman World Championships, most of them have placed well in the previous year. To put it another way: The best indication for winning Kona is previous success in Kona. Here is the distribution of how the Kona winners after 1990 did before their wins:
Some more details on the categories:
- Winner: In the 66 races since 1990 (33 men and 33 women), the winner has also won the year before (8 men, 12 women). Interestingly, the last title defenses were already five years ago in 2018 when Patrick Lange and Daniela Ryf retained their 2017 titles.
- Second & Third: The other athletes on the previous year’s podium have won 24% (second place the year before) and 14% (third place). Both 2023 winners, Sam Laidlow and Lucy Charles-Barclay were second in October 2022.
- Another common scenario is a previous champion (who maybe had to a bad race the year before or sometimes haven’t been racing at all), this has happened about 16% of the time. Recent examples are Jan Frodeno (who won 2019 after not racing in 2018 with an injury) and Daniela Ryf (who won May 2022 after finishing 13th in the previous race which was in 1999).
- Winning on Debut is quite rare: It has happened about 8% since 1990 which corresponds to 5 instances: For the men, it was Luc Van Lierde (1996), Kristian Blummenfelt (May 2022) and Gustav Iden (October 2022), for the women we have Chrissie Wellington (2007) and Chelsea Sodaro (October 2022).
- This leaves only a few “Other” occurrences, all of which have been quite a while ago: Greg Welch (won 1994 but didn’t race in 1993), Peter Reid (won 1998 and was fourth in 1997), Normann Stadler (won 2004 and was fourth in 2003), Heather Fuhr (won 1997 but was seventh the year before) and Natascha Badmann (won 1998 but DNF’d the year before).
A final note about the cutoff date: Going all the way back through Ironman history mainly increases the “Debut” category – not a big surprise since all but one of the first nine champions won on debut! (The exception is John Howard who won 1981 after finishing third the year before.) Before 1990, there have only been another four “Other” winners: Scott Molina (won 1988 after not racing in 1987), Mark Allen (won 1989 after fifth the year before), Joanne Ernst (winning 1985 after fourth the year before) and Erin Baker (winning 1987 after a DNF in 1986).
Nice 2024 – Women
The following graph shows “baseline odds” for the women’s racing in Nice on September 22nd:
2024 will be the first time that the women’s World Championships will be held on the tough bike course in Nice. As we’ve seen in the men’s 2023 race, this may put an extra emphasis on a strong bike leg.
Lucy Charles-Barclay – DNS
As the defending Champion, Lucy would likely be the pre-race favorite. However, she has announced that she will not be racing Nice this year, instead focusing on the T100 Tour. Unless that changes, I have to take her out of the Nice odds.
Anne Haug – 25%
Anne has always raced well in big races – she won the Ironman Championship title in 2019 and was on the podium in all her starts. Her run strength forces the other athletes to take some extra risks on the bike, hoping to create a gap that’s too big even for Anne to run down. This has worked in the three most recent Championship races when others were able to have a career day. But Anne only needs a slightly better day herself .. and maybe a small improvement on the bike. Will racing the T100 Series help her reach T2 after the tough bike course in Nice with a smaller gap to the leader, and will she still be able to then run through the field?
Laura Philipp – 15%
With her third place in Kona 2023, Laura has been able to join the statistical “short list” – in previous years she was almost there after two fourth places in 2019 and 2022. Can she be in the mix in the final hour of Nice 2024? She will likely need a better swim so she doesn’t have to play catch up in the first part of the bike as in Kona 2023. Racing the T100 Tour might help her build resilience in deep swim fields, and then the tough bike course in Nice should suit her strengths and give her a lot of tactical options. As she is also one of the strongest runners on the full distance, she might be the next German World Champion winning after placing third the year before. Can she join the group of Faris Al-Sultan, Sebastian Kienle, Jan Frodeno, Patrick Lange and Anne Haug?
Daniela Ryf – 20%
Daniela will be the athlete with the most World Championships on the Nice startline, and she’s also the athlete who won the race the last time it was held outside of Kona: She won St. George after putting seven minutes into Kat Matthews and twelve minutes and more into the rest of the field on the bike. Can she deliver a similarly dominating bike performance in Nice and then also run well? Sam has shown in the men’s 2023 race that a lead of six minutes will be hard to overcome. Can Daniela win her final Ironman World Championship and reinforce her position as one of the greatest Ironman athletes?
Chelsea Sodaro – 15%
When Chelsea won the 2022 Kona title, she had a strong bike leg, starting the run about two minutes ahead of Anne and then posting the fastest marathon. In Kona 2023, she struggled on the bike but then also had a good marathon, the second-fastest of the day but still four minutes slower than Anne. How strong will Chelsea bike in the French mountains – and how strong can she run in September 2024? If she can put together three solid legs, she will be at least a strong podium contender.
Who’s Missing? 25%
There are a few more names who will be discussed as Nice favorites. Skye Moench might be one of the athletes who will try to be in the mix, but her tactics might be calibrated for a spot on the podium. Taylor Knibb has impressed in her Ironman debut in Kona 2023, but she’ll be focused on the Olympic Games and it’s not clear if she can validate her slot from winning 70.3 Worlds and then also build for Nice which probably suits her bike strength. Another athlete with a strong bike leg is Kat Matthews who has been on the podium in St. George in 2022. Can either of these become the first female Champion from the “Other” category since Natascha Badmann in 1998?
Kona 2024 – Men
Here are “baseline odds” for the October race in Kona after 2023 racing:
Let’s have a closer look at the athletes on the short list!
Sam Laidlow – 25%
The “easy pick” is always last year’s winner. Sam has delivered two great performances in the last two Ironman World Championship races – second in Kona 2022 and winner in Nice 2023. There is very little reason not to have him as a strong contender for 2024 as well. In both recent years, he’s had a fair mix of ups and downs, and he may arrive in Kona 2024 without having shown his “Championship form” in any of the upcoming races. Even then, he’ll have to be taken seriously as he’s always racing for the win and has shown that he can deliver.
Patrick Lange – 15%
Without any doubt, Patrick has been the best long-course runner in recent years – he seems to be chasing course records and possibly also the first 2:30 marathon. While that is unlikely in the heat and humidity of Kona, he’ll be looking to reclaim the run course record which was taken over by Gustav Iden with a 2:36:14 as part of his 2022 win. In Nice 2023, Patrick ran seven minutes and more into anyone likely to start the run ahead of him, and nine minutes into Sam. If Patrick wants to win another big title, he can’t give up more time than that into T2, likely forcing him to bike a bit harder – and still run at a similar level. Are we going to see any indication of an improvement on the bike in his 2024 races before Kona?
Magnus Ditlev – 15%
Magnus has shown that he has the necessary tools to win big races – especially a very strong bike leg. His third place in Nice 2023 was his first Ironman World Championship podium, and often that is a necessary step on the way to the title. For the last two years, Magnus had his best performance in the summer, winning Challenge Roth with fast times, and maybe he was already a bit “battle-weary” by fall for the Championship races. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s quiet for the first two-thirds of the year, even if he will be tempted to race the T100 Tour and defend his Roth title. What season plan will he choose for 2024 and will that allow him to race his best in October?
Kristian Blummenfelt – 15%
For the first half of the season, Kristian will be focused on July 30th – the Olympic Games in Paris and a chance to defend his Gold medal from Tokyo. After that, he plans to shift to Ironman racing and Kona. This leaves the question of how he intends to validate his slot. If he wants to avoid doing a full-distance Ironman, he’d have to finish two Ironman 70.3s before July, i.e. as part of his Paris prep. The alternative would be to do an Ironman after Paris – but then his only option before the validation period closes is Ironman Frankfurt on August 18th. Let’s see where he’s going to show up for validation! And how competitive can he be in Kona after almost two full seasons focused on shorter distances?
Gustav Iden – 15%
Gustav has had a crappy 2023 season, and he starts 2024 with an Achilles injury that keeps him from doing proper run training. Hopefully, he can quickly get back to full health, and hopefully he can then train and race with a clear head. Will he still try to qualify for Paris, or is he going to put his full focus on long-distance racing for 2024? And would that require a change in his training environment as his training buddy Kristian will be focused on Paris? Among all the contenders discussed so far, Gustav is likely to be the first athlete with an indication of where things may go for 2024 and if he can be back to racing competitively. If he can get things back to his 2021 and 2022 level, he’ll be a top contender for Kona 2024 – and he and Sam can argue about who will be the “real defending champion” for Kona 2024.
This early in the season, there are a lot of questions “the usual suspects” have to answer before Kona. In addition, 2024 racing could add another name or two to the “Kona short list”. Which changes in the early odds shown above are going to develop during the season?