The 40th edition of the Ironman World Championships started with many course and national records under threat. Germany’s Jan Frodeno, having broken the iron-distance world record at Challenge Roth in July, would be aiming to go sub-8hr in Kona and break Craig Alexander’s 2011 course record.
For the Brits, meanwhile, Spencer Smith’s long-standing Kona record of 5th was the goal, with David McNamee, Joe Skipper and Tim Don all in the mix following encouraging performances at Hawaii in 2015.
Cut to 6:25am Hawaii-time and 2,300 of the world’s greatest long-course athletes would enter the water. The 3.8km swim started fast and furiously, with super-swimmer Andy Potts of the USA and hot favourite Frodeno making a break early on. At 15mins in and some clear splits had formed with, as expected, 2014 winner Sebastian Kienle (GER) unable to stay with the top group.
British athletes Harry Wiltshire, Don and McNamee all stayed close to the leaders, and it was Wiltshire who made a surge to the front. Overtaking Potts and Frodeno in a furious sprint to the pontoon (no doubt pleasing his wetsuit sponsors, Huub) he entered T2 in 48mins flat, with a large group following close behind.
The standings after the 3.8km swim, with Harry Wiltshire claiming the bragging rights
On the bike course the leader changed frequently early on, and 30km in the tussling got too close for comfort according to the race referees: serial Kona podium athlete Andreas Raelert (GER) and 2013 winner Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) were both forced to serve a 5min penalty for drafting. Frodeno measured his effort through the first half of the bike, never hitting the front but consistently staying within the top 5.
Around 60 miles into the bike, some of the strong bikers who emerged later out of the water began to creep up, with Kienle hitting the front around 70 miles in. Brit Skipper made up a lot of time after a disappointing swim, and was 9mins down on the leaders with 75 miles gone, closing in on Don. David McNamee, who ran the fastest marathon in Kona in 2015, was the leading Brit at 75 miles in 27th place.
Coming into T2, and Kienle had the lead after a 4:23:55 split but Frodeno exited transition first and the two were soon running shoulder-to-shoulder, exchanging some chat and bringing up memories of the Iron War between Dave Scott and Mark Allen in 1989, and the battle between Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert in 2010. The Brits were off the pace, with McNamee the only realistic top 10 contender after T2. Will Clarke had suffered a penalty, Skipper was adrift after a 4:49:58 bike split and Don was MIA.
Elsewhere, Ireland’s M35-39 age-grouper Bryan McCrystal was big news, posting a bike split of 4:29:14 (just 14secs slower than Frodeno’s) to lead the age-group field after T2.