Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kona Winners and Losers...and a few other Ironman Nuggets

Hi All,

Kona is now 10 days gone, and the shock is just wearing off from Chrissie Wellington's stunning DNS at the Ironman World Championships this year, where she just got a huge batch of bad luck in getting sick with flu-like symptoms the night before the race. Her early-morning decision to not start absolutely opened up the women's race to a much larger number of women to steal the title, but ultimately it was a great duel between Julie Dibens (who predictably opened up a huge gap on the bike) and Mirinda Carfrae, who ran her down with a record-breaking 2:53 run split to win easily over by 7:30 over Ironman newcomer Caroline Steffen. Julie Dibens finished  third, despite running 23 minutes slower than Carfrae.

Other Highlights

  • Despite her painful decision to not start, congrats to Chrissie for staying out of the spotlight on race day and allowing the race to make the headlines.
  • This sure didn't make a lot of press releases, but Paula Newby Fraser's female bike record that had stood since 1993 was broken by Switzerland's Karen Thurig, who rode a remarkable 4:48:22 to break the record by a whole 8 seconds
  • Virginia Beratasegui - after her under-the-radar third place in 2009, she finished an even farther under-the-radar 4th in 2010. 
  • Remarkably, the only other woman to repeat in the Top 10 from last year was Rachel Joyce, who improved from 6th last year to finish 5th this year. 
  • The Team TBB Breakthrough Performer of the Year - Brett Sutton's team continues to pump out great Kona performances.  Caroline Steffen is the latest in the long list of Team TBB athletes to have huge breakthrough race in Kona. Chrissie in 2007, Erika Csomor in 2008, Tereza Mazel last year, and now Steffen in 2010. 
A Couple of Lowlights
  • What happened to the rest of the so-called race favorites? Slowtwitch had female odds to win, and the ladies ranked 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th - Macel, Keat, Morrison, and McGlone - all had terrible days and finished outside of the Top 15. Terrible days for all of them...Morrison and Keat didn't even make it to the finish line this year.
  • Sandra Wallenhorst - picked by a many to be a dark horse, got DQ'ed for inexplicably cutting the bike course early on. I have no idea how that could happen, but have been unable to find any official explanation online. Regardless, a thumbs down to her.
  • The overall Ironman.com experience - yes, the streaming was much better this year. But the commentary was so-so, they were very inconsistent with time splits between the leaders, and it just seems that they need to spend some money on upgrading the graphical presentation. It just feels like the coverage isn't much better than it was in 2004....

Unfortunately for the women, the 2010 event was completely overshadowed by a very exciting and extremely memorable men's race. With a list of contenders a mile long going on, it was shaping up to a  be a great race. And it didn't disappoint, with the bikers going off the front trying to get enough breathing room on the runners. And unfortunately for the bikers, it was a day for the runners. The top 3 men off the bike ended up outside of the top 10 as the relatively easy conditions made for fast times.

Ultimately, it was Chris McCormack's day, as he started the run almost 8 minutes behind bike leader Chris Lieto. It took him about 11 miles to eliminate those 8 minutes, and McCormack looked to cruise to the finish line. Unfortunately for him, there were two men running faster than him coming up behind him. Craig Alexander, whose Kona formula is to give the bikers their lead and camera time, and then hammer through the field to win going away, ultimately gave Macca too much room and despite running faster than him and having the 2nd best run split, finished 6 minutes back in 4th place. However, Andreas Raelert made a huge push, caught Macca just before 24 mile, and the two men ran together for almost 2 miles before Macca dropped him on the downhill right at the last aid station. A gutsy move by a worthy champ - and McCormack joins a very short list of multiple Kona winners. And we'll look on back on the 2010 duel between McCormack and Raelert for years to come.

Other Highlights
  • Craig Alexander - despite having an overwhelming deficit on the run, he ran the 2nd fastest time of the day to defend his back-to-titles honorably. Congrats to him on being a great champion
  • A wicked fast run split by the "other" Aussie Pete Jacobs, who had a race-best blistering 2:41:06 run split to finish in 8th place.
  • The European Dominance - 6 Europeans in the Top 10, including 3 Germans (Raelert, Bracht, Al-Sultan) and one each from Spain (Llanos), Belgium (Vanhoenacker), and Luxembourg (Bockel).
And now for the Lowlights
  • 0 North Americans in the Top 10! How long has it been since the days of Peter Reid and Tim DeBoom being the race favorites?
  • Chris Lieto - just like last year, the race was there. He had the lead. He promised this year would be different. A 2:51 run would have been enough. However, the run didn't go well and he finished in 11th place. At 38, is his window closed?
  • Terenzo Bozzone/Andy Potts/Rasmus Henning - three guys expected to at least contend for the top 5. They finished 20th, 21st, and 24th. Their problem - none of them ran under 3 hours when 22 pro men and 2 pro women did it.
  • Where are the next generation of male Ironman pros? Most of the current top 10 are in their 30's, including many on the wrong side of 35. Who will be the guy in 2 years? It shall be interesting...


Anyhow, with 2010 out of the way, we can now already look forward to 2011, with the new Ironman qualification system for pros already in place. Essentially, the old system of qualifying for Kona at any one Ironman race is gone. Instead, a points system rewarding finishing positions in Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races will determine the top 50 men and top 30 women who will compete at Kona in 2011. You can read the full details here and the current ranking can be found here.  The other main difference is that all pro triathletes will be required to race one Ironman event to qualify for Kona. Even Carfrae and McCormack don't automatically get a free entry into next years race without finishing another Ironman.

All in all - I like the new system. It should encourage more racing among the pro racers. And could mean that races that often get shortchanged with regard to top pros (Ironman Coeur D'Alene, Lake Placid, Canada) could see more top competitors. We'll see how the system works...but already we've heard that Rasmus Henning and Chrissie Wellington are going to jump back into the Ironman pool at Ironman Arizona in late November as they look to move up the rankings.

More soon....

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