This year’s Kona Ironman World Championship was filled with ambitious efforts from both the men and women. Lead changes, various broken records, and many surprises were the themes that seemed to emerge.
Ultimately though, the extremely challenging course in Kona collected its dues once again. One by one elite athletes at the top of their game dropped like flies as only the smartest and toughest kept going.
Going into the men’s race there was only a little talk about who could stop the bulletproof Jan Frodeno. Names like Sebastian Kienle and Lionel Sanders were some of the only ones from the field of 32 that were considered possible candidates to de-throne the German favorite.
As the paddleboards turned and pointed towards the first buoy and the gun went off, the 32 elite men took off in dead sprints to get good positioning. The Australian Josh Amberger quickly showed his speed as he put a lot of distance between him and the leading main pack very early on.
He continued to set a blistering pace the entire time as the group of Frodeno and company held their own as best as they could. As time went on Sebastian Kienle and Lionel Sanders were stuck in the second pack hemorrhaging time.
Josh Amberger came out with a 1:19 lead from the likes of Frodeno, O’Donnell, etc. As they all hopped on their bikes and headed out of T1 the pair of Sanders and Kienle were still nowhere to be found.
A little over 6 and a half minutes back the pair finally climbed up the stairs and headed into T1. Could they make up the time? The duo of uberbikers was surely going to try.
On the women’s side all eyes were on back-to-back World Champ Daniela Ryf. Last year Ryf won by nearly 25 minutes and had been more dominant this season so far.
Lucy Charles and Lauren Brandon took out the swim extremely fast, similarly to how Amberger had done only 5 minutes prior.
Nearly breaking the course swim record, Charles led out of the water by a few seconds over the American Brandon. Over 4 minutes behind the duo was the favorite Daniela Ryf.
Amberger led for the first 20 miles or so as the main lead pack of men slowly reeled him in. Once caught, the field of elite men formed a perfectly spaced line as various characters alternated positions.
Meanwhile, to the ignorance of the leaders, there was a trio of hard-charging cyclists gaining ground mile by mile. Lionel Sanders, Sebastian Kienle, and Cameron Wurf flew up the ranks and by the turnaround point at Hawi had taken the lead.
Now that the gap had been bridged and the best of the best were all present at the top, the race finally started to begin.
Former pro cyclist Cameron Wurf made the turn at Hawi and showed his perfectly tuned skill as he hit another speed and started making a move at the front of the pack. Sanders, Kienle, and a few others met the surge while the other men started to drop off one-by-one.
A few changes between the leaders but ultimately Wurf, Sanders, and Kienle continued the assault on the bike and pushed as far forward from everyone else as they could. Wurf cruised into T2 blistering fast, adding a new course bike record to his belt.
Sanders also broke the record as he came into T2 in second place if that is any indication into just how fast the lead bikers went. Would the hard-charging bike risk pay off?
The swim leaders of Charles and Brandon continued their assault as they sped through the long bike course up to the turnaround at Hawi. Adding over a minute to their lead gap on Ryf, they made the turn with a 5 and a half minute lead.
Charles and Brandon continued the lead until about 40 miles left when Daniela Ryf made the decision to “just go for it”. At that point Ryf turned it up a notch and started reeling in the two leaders extremely quickly.
In less than 25 miles Daniela Ryf made up over 5 minutes of time and took the lead from Charles. Heading into T2 the reigning World Champ had a 40 second lead over Lucy Charles.
This was Ryf’s race now.
Having never been under 3 hours in a marathon leg before, Wurf was easily overtaken by the men in the run. Lionel Sanders pulled into the lead very quickly and ran steady right under 6 minute pace for the beginning miles.
The following men looked strong as well with Kienle looking to be a threat early on. Only a few minutes into the run Jan Frodeno experienced painful back spasms nearly causing him to throw in the towel.
However, after stopping and stretching it out for 10 minutes he was able to pay his dues to the course and tough it out the rest of the race.
Although Sanders and Kienle were running at decent paces and seemed fresh, it was really apparent that they were actually struggling when the group who decided to race their own race and let the uberbikers go and surge by themselves hit the ground running.
In that group of men was course run record holder and last year’s 3rd place finisher, Patrick Lange. As he floated through the course comfortably with his race suit packed with all sort of goodies, it was clear that he was not going to slow down anytime soon.
One-by-one he passed men as they simply could not keep up with the fresh legs from the incredible runner. And one-by-one the men who made assaults on the bike found their risk not exactly paying off as their legs quickly began to fail.
Only the toughest one of them all remained with about a 10k left to go, and that man was Lionel Sanders. Sanders is known for his grit, fight, and determination and it was clear that he was going to live up to that again in this race.
With a grimace on his face and his legs failing him he continued to put one foot in front of the other and push as hard as he humanly could. Unfortunately for him this brutal course doesn’t alway reward the toughest or strongest but rather the ones who pay their dues and race the course instead of each other.
This year that man was Germany’s Patrick Lange and with a little over 3 miles left he passed Lionel Sanders to take the lead and cruise into the famous Ali’i Drive.
As he ran down the famous strip of road to the cheers and applause of the crowd, Patrick Lange was all smiles. Crossing the finish line in a new course record of 8:01:40, the 2017 men’s Ironman World Champion cemented his name in history.
Daniela Ryf continued to expand her lead every mile of the final marathon leg. She ultimately came across the finish line in 8:50:47 which is nearly 4 minutes off her own course record from last year. Lucy Charles was able to battle her way to a 2nd place finish in her rookie pro Ironman World Championship after leading the majority of the race.
Congratulations Daniela on 3 in a row!
— Lucy Charles (@LucyAnneCharles) October 15, 2017
— David McNamee (@DavidMcNameetri) October 15, 2017
— Daniela Ryf (@danielaryf) October 15, 2017
18th today. Congratulations to the winner, Patrick Lange, for setting a new course record. pic.twitter.com/AvomWRYXp9
— Timothy O'Donnell (@TOinTRI) October 15, 2017
— Heather Jackson (@hjacksonracing) October 15, 2017