KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII – Last year's champions returned the Ironman world championship in Kona in a Big Island way in 2016, as reigning men's winner Jan Frodeno and defending women's champ Daniela Ryf both completed the race’s 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile marathon and etched a piece of history at the world’s most physically demanding, single-day sporting event.
Frodeno, who last year finished the grueling course in eight hours, 14 minutes, 40 seconds, crushed this year’s competition and was crowned with his second consecutive title, crossing the finish in 8:06:30.
“There was little calculated about this year,” Frodeno, 35, said after his victory. “I’m really happy that it paid off with putting all my eggs in the basket for today.”
After completing the 112-mile bike in 4:29:00, Frodeno was neck-and-neck with 2014 world champion Sebastian Kienle for the first five miles, before eventually breaking away to lead Kienle by one minute, 30 seconds midway through the marathon.
“Sebastian really put the pressure on me,” Frodeno said. “You just never know, Seb is just a killer on the day and gets the most out of himself, and a one-on-one battle. He showed why he’s one of the best in the world.”
Last year, Frodeno became the first Ironman athlete to attain the triple crown of triathlon, winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and capturing the 2015 Ironman 70.3 world championship. On Saturday, Frodeno’s countrymen Kienle (8:10:02) and Patrick Lange (8:11:14) finished first and second, respectively, marking the first time that a German trio took the podium since Thomas Hellriegel, Juergen Zack and Lothar Leder in 1997.
“I had a little bit of a subpar swim,” Kienle said. “This year, I felt pretty good all the time, [but] I slowed down first.”
Lange, who was making his pro Ironman world championship debut, has a lot more to celebrate than just a third place finish: with his 2:39:45 run, Lange broke the 27-year old marathon course record set by Mark Allen in 1989 (2:40:04).
“It felt unreal,” Lange said. “I was going into this race with the hope of finishing in the top 15. I can’t believe it—that I took this record from a really, really great guy.”
Also finishing in the top five were the U.S.’s Ben Hoffman (08:13:00), who matched his 2015 fourth place finish, and Germany’s Andi Boecherer (8:13:25).
It’s evident this was a year of repeats and records, especially for the women, who made up the largest female field in the race’s history. Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf won her second-straight Ironman world championship, crossing the finish in 8:46:46. With her victory, Ryf set a new Ironman world championship women’s course record—a stat set in 2013 by this year’s second place finisher and three-time world champion, Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae (8:52:14).
“It was great,” Ryf, 29, said after Saturday’s race. “It was something you always wish for as an athlete and end up having the perfect day—that was my perfect race. The run was phenomenal for me. It was the one I always hoped for.”
Both Ryf and Carfrae (9:10:30), ran sub-three hour marathons, 2:56:51 and 2:58:20, respectively—a solid return for Carfrae, who was forced to withdraw during last year’s bike segment due to a back injury. Carfrae’s second place finish was after she closed an enormous gap at the start of the marathon, making up six places during the first eight miles and eventually landing in the fourth slot at the 13.1-mile mark.
“It wasn’t my perfect race, but I fought all day,” Carfrae explains. “These girls put up a great battle for me, but I still think my perfect race is out there.”
Also claiming a spot on this year’s podium was the U.S.’s Heather Jackson (9:11:32), who last year finished fifth and made her world championship pro debut. In 2015, Jackson was the first U.S. woman to cross the finish, but this year, she became the first stateswoman to podium at the world championship in 10 years—Desiree Ficker received the honor in 2006.
“I’m so excited,” Jackson said. “It’s incredible and so motivating. I pushed as hard as I could. … You get so many different things out there, you’re just freaking out.”
To complete the handful of top women finishers were Germany’s Anja Beranek (9:14:26) and Finland’s Kaisa Lehtonen (9:15:40).
“I had a really good swim, it was very motivating,” Beranek said. “I’m not the best runner, but I felt good—it was my best marathon time, ever. The spectators were saying so many nice things, it really [motivated] me.”
This year, more than 260,000 professional and age group athletes attempted to qualify for the Ironman world championship either through worldwide Ironman (full-distance) or Ironman 70.3 (half-distance) races, or by legacy or lottery. This year’s race boasted a field of over 2,300 athletes, representing 64 countries and territories, on six continents.
“I came here prepared,” Hoffman said. “But it just speaks to how well these guys raced today—they’re the best in the world. I’m happy with what I gave…I gave everything.”