KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — As the sun rose, early on Oct. 11, a certain contagious hush swept over the Kailua-Kona community. To the east were tranquil mountains partially covered by seemingly-still clouds. But to the west there were 2,187 of the world’s most elite athletes sending shock waves of excitement, anxiety and jitters through the warm waters of Kailua-Bay—a clashing reaction that, for many, only one sporting event can foster. Welcome to the starting line of the 2014 Ironman World Championship.
Germany’s Sebastian Kienle claimed the title of world champion, after completing the body-crushing 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile marathon in eight hours, 14 minutes and 18 seconds. For Kienle, winner of two Ironman 70.3 world championships, this was his first victory on the vicious Big Island.
“I think I’m pretty good when I have my best days and pretty bad when I don’t have my best day,” Kienle says. “I was ready to give my best. A big part of doing well in sport is having trust in yourself and your abilities.”
Kienle was challenged early in the race when his countryman Jan Frodeno the U.S.’s Andy Potts exited the water and entered T1 (Transition One) elbow-to-elbow in the lead.
“I was very appreciative to be here and be healthy,” says Potts, who would finish the race in fourth place. “As athletes, we just want a chance to show our good days.”
But Kienle, who began the bike in 38th place, started the run segment on a six-minute-mile pace and had already advanced nine minutes on his competitors by the seven-mile mark. And Kienle never faltered.
“I try to clear my head,” Kienle says. “If I wouldn’t have been able to clear my mind and get rid of doubt and everything, and be in the right mindset, I wouldn’t have had a chance today.”
Following Kienle to the podium were the U.S.’s Ben Hoffman (8:19:23) and Frodeno (8:20:32). Hoffman finished with the top American performance since Chris Lieto's runner-up showing in 2009.
“At this stage in my career, to think I could have gone with Sebastian would have been naive,” Hoffman says. “The logical step would be for me to go to the top 10 this year. I tried not to panic and do anything that wasn’t my plan. And in the end, it turned out really well.”
Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae, who’s known for her exceptional marathoning, blew past Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf with less than four miles remaining and captured her second straight—and third overall—world title. Last year Carfrae had crushed the race, setting a women’s record for the run portion on her way to a world championship course record. This year, she was clearly not ready to relinquish ownership.
“I’m on the moon to say the least,” says Carfrae, who found herself with a 14-minute, 30-second deficit at the conclusion of the bike. “These girls are tough as nails and they can ride bikes. Chasing [them] down all day wore me out, for sure. I was just trying to stay within reach.”
Carfrae, who posted the third fastest marathon, overall, last year (two hours, 50 minutes, 38 seconds) awed the triathlon community again this year, posting another new female run-record of 2:50:26.
“Last year I was in a much better position than I ever was before,” Carfrae says. “I think it’s pretty cool to win in great conditions, then win in conditions which aren’t so favorable.”
Ryf finished second (9:02:57), while the third place women’s slot was grabbed by Great Britain’s Rachel Joyce (9:04:23).
“I never ever dreamed that I would have such results,” says Ryf, who was competing in her first Hawaiian world championship. “I’ve found a really happy place with long distance. [But] I still have a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to coming back next year.”
In the 36th year of what’s arguably the world’s most physically-demanding single-day sporting event, the Ironman World Championship was visited once again by its well-known wind demons.
“We had stretches on the bike when it was really, really hard—some really strong crosswinds, which always makes it challenging with bike-handling,” Kienle says. [But] I think it was sort of a normal day. It’s the stuff you can expect from Kona.”
How did the U.S.’s most decorated Winter Olympian, eight-time short track speed skating medalist Apolo Ohno, fare? Well, he’s an Ironman too, along with Alex Zanardi—the Italian former Formula One and CART race driver who lost both his legs in a 2001 crash. The duo both crossed the famous Alii Drive finish in under 10 hours.
So, how does an Ironman world champion celebrate a hard-fought victory? Well, for Carfrae, it’s simple. And, nope, it’s not Disneyland.
“We are heading to Maui and relaxing,” says Carfrae, with a laugh. “[Then] to see the Foo Fighters in Vegas.” No doubt. It’s more than well deserved.