This year in triathlon has been a much needed renaissance after the past few years, with the return of Ironman world championships and full-fledged championship series from Super League Triathlon and World Triathlon.
As 2022 winds down, it’s time to take a look at what we here at MX Endurance think were the year’s huge moments in the sport, bad or good.
Marten Van Riel’s Ironman 70.3 World Record
Kristian Blummenfelt owned the previous Ironman 70.3 world record, setting it twice on the super-speedy Ironman 70.3 Bahrain course. So when Marten Van Riel went 3:26:06 at Ironman 70.3 Dubai, it initially looked like he was 45 seconds too slow to break it.
But considering the Bahrain bike course was a few kilometres short the year Blu set his record, Ironman went on to declare Van Riel’s time a new “world best.”
Laura Philipp Nearly Breaks Chrissie Wellington’s World Record
After battling COVID-19 which forced her withdrawal from the Ironman World Championship in St. George, Laura Philipp lined up to defend her title at the Ironman European Championship in Hamburg. You’d think some of the wind in her sails would have gone, but the German came out of the water in the lead pack, took off on the bike to build a four-minute advantage, then ran a 2:45:39 marathon to win the race and nearly break Chrissie Wellington’s world record by a scant seven seconds.
Sub7 and Sub8, Twice
When the Pho3nix Sub7 and Sub8 Project, Powered by Zwift was first announced in 2021, there were many who declared the attempt impossible. Could a man go under seven hours over the full distance of triathlon? Could a woman go under eight hours? The standing full distance record for men at the time was more than half an hour off that target; for women, it was 18 minutes off.
But in the interim between the announcement and the actual race day in June 2022, the men’s record fell twice (Jan Frodeno’s Tri Battle Royale and Kristian Blummenfelt’s Ironman Cozumel) and the women’s record was nearly broken on the same weekend of Sub. It was as if athletes around the world realised impossible could be defied.
That happened not once, but twice as both male and both female athletes went under their respective targets. In a spectacle watched by more than 7 million people worldwide over live streaming as well as cable and OTT channels, Kristian Blummenfelt and Joe Skipper went under seven hours, while Kat Matthews and Nicola Spirig went under eight hours. Helped along by a fast course as well as pacemaker teams on swim, bike, and run, the athletes knew they weren’t world record-eligible but did it because they believed it was a worthy goal to accomplish.
Ironman World Championship St. George
This makes our list not just because of the commanding performances by Kristian Blummenfelt and Daniela Ryf to win the world title, but also because it was only the second time in history that two Ironman world championship races were held in the same calendar year – and the first time the race was held outside of Hawaii.
Flora Duffy Wins Historic Fourth World Title
Flora Duffy has already established herself as a force to contend with: Olympic and twice Commonwealth gold as well as three-time World Triathlon champion, equalling Emma Snowsill’s record. But winning a fourth world title has put her in a league of her own.
The win was also a nailbiter: Georgia Taylor-Brown led the points race for most of the year until Duffy won her home race in Bermuda and came level with the Brit. It was all to play for in Abu Dhabi, and she delivered.
Leo Bergere the Unexpected World Champion
Before the World Triathlon Championship Series Grand Final in Abu Dhabi, the talk was about the rivalry between Alex Yee and Hayden Wilde and which one would become world champion. Third in the rankings, Leo Bergere had only one shot at winning the title: he had to win the race, and Wilde and Yee had to finish lower than third place. Yet somehow, that very thing happened.
Thrills and Spills at Super League Triathlon
The supersprint racing that Super League Triathlon has become famous for has made it the gold standard in triathlon entertainment, keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat. It’s also been the birthing ground where new world beaters have been fostered, such as this year’s SLT championship series winner Hayden Wilde, as well as Matt Hauser who spoiled Wilde’s chances at a world title by overtaking him in Abu Dhabi.
That doesn’t mean SLT doesn’t make gaffes. This year’s series saw uncharacteristic officiating errors, the most headline-worthy of which was a penalty mistakenly handed out to Hauser for a false start at SLT London. (The real offender was Jamie Riddle, Hauser’s teammate on the SLT Eagles and apparently a dead ringer for him in the Eagles uniform.) Hauser served the penalty and still finished second on the day.
Hayden Wilde’s Commonwealth Games Penalty
Getting off the bike with only the run to go, Hayden Wilde was leading the sprint triathlon race in Birmingham. Then he touched his helmet clip and was penalised by an official who alleged he had unclipped his helmet before racking his bike.
The 10 seconds he stood in the penalty box late on the run allowed Alex Yee to overtake him and win gold by 13 seconds.
Hayden and Tri New Zealand appealed the penalty, but World Triathlon overruled it on the grounds that absent the evidence of the penalty being imposed in “bad faith”, they would defer to the judgment of the officials and the decision that was made on the “field of play”.
World Triathlon has since approved new rules for 2023 that include a prohibition on touching the helmet clip before the bike is racked, and amending the ways an athlete can accept or appeal a penalty.
If Ironman Hawaii is supposedly on another level in terms of how tough it is as a race, how come the top 5 men this year all broke the Kona course record of 7:51:13 set by Jan Frodeno in 2019?
The answer is that the athletes have all taken it up several notches, with Gustav Iden edging out the competition to win and add this wreath to his two Ironman 70.3 gold medals. While racing in prototype shoes like he did will be illegal in 2023 due to new World Triathlon rules, we reckon he could have done it even without the new tech.
Chelsea Sodaro stole the show and became the first American to win the Ironman world title in 25 years. It was also the first time the pro women had their own race day, and it showed in the tighter race dynamics that made for smaller gaps in the bike groups – and better opportunity for Sodaro to pull back a three-minute deficit and then some with a blistering run, stopping the clock 12 minutes ahead of Lucy Charles-Barclay.
Blu and Knibb Supreme at Ironman 70.3 World Championship
This year the Ironman 70.3 world championship took place after the Ironman world championship in Kona, allowing athletes to race both at full tilt (instead of skipping one in favor of the other). Only three weeks after placing third in Kona, Kristian Blummenfelt seemed to be avenging himself by winning the 70.3 world title. While Big Blu took the lead on the bike and seemed on his way to a sure victory, Ben Kanute made it a race by turning the marathon into a run duel. The Norwegian put on the afterburners in the final few kilometres to secure the win.
Taylor Knibb made good on her long-course potential first seen last year at this same race, when she finished third. Tagging onto uber-swimmer Lucy Charles-Barclay’s feet to prevent a breakaway, Knibb then put her bike prowess on display to lead back into transition by more than six minutes. She continued to lead on the run and kept this margin through to the finish line, despite best efforts for her competitors to claw back time.
Ironman Announces Split World Championship for 2023
The two-race day format in Kona this year was a big hit for the athletes, and Ironman earlier announced they were on track to do the same again next year. Then rumours started to spread that Kona’s local community had pushed back – but it still came as a shock when Ironman announced that male athletes who had qualified for the 2023 Ironman World Championship could either choose to race in 2023 in a location to be announced, or defer to race in 2024 at Kona. The women’s race would still push through on the Big Island.
Will a world championship held outside Kona still be considered as prestigious? How about Kona-qualified triathlon couples who will now have to spend double for travel? What do male athletes do about the non-refundable bookings they’ve already made? How could Ironman do this? The debates rage on.
(Featured photo credit: Dani Vasquez/Sub7Sub8)