Europe owns Kona - for now

After a dominant run of Ironman World Championship victories for Europe over the last decade, it's hard to imagine that the Big Island titles are likely to head anywhere else in 2017.

| August 30, 2017 | NEWS

Sebastian Kienle, Jan Frodeno and Patrick Lange make it a German podium at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in 2016.

Sebastian Kienle, Jan Frodeno and Patrick Lange make it a German podium at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in 2016.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

The Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is a place of dreams and a place of where those dreams are shattered. And this is not exclusive to the age groupers. Many pros have come to Kona with a big game in mind, only to lose out and spend the plane trip home thinking "what if."

In 1978 the race was first run and, for a long time, it was the domain of the American athletes (for the men's event). That was until 1994 when Greg ‘Plucky’ Welch finally cracked the Big Island code. Since then the wins for the US/North American athletes have been slim pickings and, since 2003 when Peter Reid was victorious, the North Americans have had no one on the top step. During that period the Australians have also held sway in Kona. Having sent countless pros over to the Big Island, Australia got it right again when Chris McCormack nailed it in 2007. That set the stage for a run that saw Macca and Craig Alexander swap wins. In 2012 Pete Jacobs got involved to continue the amazing run of Aussie men’s wins. Australia it seemed, could produce Ironman winners at will. (Michellie Jones, 2006 and Mirinda Carfrae, 2010, 2013, 2014 proved the point on the women's side, too.)

Enter 2013 when Australia got oh-so-close to the win via Luke McKenzie. But it wasn’t to be and Europe once again wrested the title back. Sebastian Kienle was the man in 2014, a year that saw Jan Frodeno enter the fray, preparing for the latest German onslaught. Frodeno now leads the German charge after two successive wins and he has brought a gang of countrymen eager to take his crown and continue the run for a country with a rich history in this event - Normann Stadler won in 2004 and 2006, Faris Al Sultan won in 2005 and Thomas Hellriegel took the title in 1997. In 2013, the only year in the last decade the race wasn't won by an Australian or a German, it was taken by Frederik Van Lierde from Belgium.

That leaves a "where to now?" Well unfortunately for those who want to see a win outside of either Europe or Germany then you might have to wait a bit longer. For now, Europe, and more specifically the Germans, own this race on the men's side. On the women's side of things it's been the Daniela Ryf show the last few years while, before that, there were five wins for Chrissie Wellington, one for Leanda Cave and Carfrae's three titles. Not that anyone's counting, but that means there's been a European on the top of the podium seven out of the last 10 years.

It's hard to imagine that the European charge will change in 2017. Ryf is back as the prohibitive favorite. (If she falters, though, things become very interesting ...) When it comes to the men we very well could see another German sweep of the podium (as we did last year with Frodeno, Kienle and Patrick Lange) - all three of the medalists are back, as is last year's fifth place finisher Andreas Boecherer. (Lange appears to be the heir apparent to the next wave of brilliant German performers.)

Australia, the US and Canada all have athletes who could contend for the win in Kona in October, but their success will be dependant on the Europeans faltering. It doesn't look like we'll see the German (on the men's side) or Swiss (for the women) domination end any time soon.