The IRONMAN African Championship took place in Nelson Mandela Bay yesterday, 2 April. There are few words that could describe the atmosphere in Port Elizabeth as over 15,000 people took to the streets to display their support. PRO competitor Susie Cheetham (UK) summed up the vibe perfectly when she mentioned finding the continuous ‘braai’ aroma for course of the event very distracting!
In one of the most well-earned races of his career, USA’s Ben Hoffman (‘The Hoff’) was the first man to cross the finish line in just 07:58:39. He not only defended his title from last year, but set the first historic sub-8 hour time on the African continent. “I am ready” was all that he said at the start line, and ready he proved to be.
His win did not come easily. The pressure to stay ahead of Nils Frommhold was felt from the start and resulted in a nail-biting gap in the last few kilometres. With only 8km to the finish line and a mere 13-second separation, all the commentators could ask was “who wants it most?”
Although Frommhold came second, he will be pleased to have joined Hoffman in dipping below the 8-hour mark with a time of 07:59:30. David McNamee took third place, his best performance in long distance racing, and will be a contender to be reckoned with in the coming years.
The final outcome of the day was at no point set in stone. It was Australia’s Josh Amberger who dominated the swim and effortlessly left the chasing group of Harry Wiltshire, Frederik Van Lierde, Kyle Buckingham, Nils Frommhold and Eneko Llanos behind as he barreled onto the beach. Amberger’s push in the final stretch ensured that he was first out of the water with a swim split of 48:02. On his tail was the UK’s Harry Wiltshire (+0:03) followed by Csoke Balazs (+0:59), Frederik Van Lierde (+1:02) and Nils Frommhold (+1:03).
Things were shaken up on the bike when Australia’s Cameron Wurf took the lead. Hoffman, Josh Amberger and Nils Frommhold chased to close the gap and remained close for much of the duration of the ride. Hammering it out on the final stretch, Wurf managed to maintain his slender lead to secure the fastest bike split of the day with a time of 4:20:11. The former Olympian was followed closely by Frommhold (+2:00), Hoffman (+2:03) and Amberger (+5:52).
It was only on the run that the Hoffman and Frommhold matchup became most evident. They wasted no time in overtaking Wurf, who did not appear comfortable, and caught him after just 2.5km. Wurf maintained third position until shortly after the 8km mark before being overtaken by David McNamee.
It was a happy day for South African supporters, and our hearts exploded to have Kyle Buckingham cross the finish line fourth (just missing the podium), and James Cunnama round off the final top ten.
The first female to cross the finish line was reigning IRONMAN World Champion Daniela Ryf in a time of 08:47:02. With seven IRONMAN titles behind her name, she was an image of consistency and seemed to have saved her energy in all the right places. “This win is a bit of a miracle to be honest”, said Ryf after admitting to have suffered from a back injury right before the race.
In second place was defending champion Kaisa Lehtonen, who despite being unable to retain her title, smashed her winning time from last year with a new personal best of 08:52:26. Third to finish was UK’s Susie Cheetham after a solid performance of 09:04:49.
Ryf immediately set the pace at the start of the swim with North American Champion Julia Gajer, Kaisa Lehtonen and Susie Cheetham close behind. Ryf was first out of the water in 53:47 followed by Gajer (+0:06) Lehtonen (55:29) and Cheetham (+0:08).
Gajer took the early lead on the bike in a good transition with Cheetham and Lehtonen chasing to close the gap, and Ryf not far off. The battle to stay ahead between Gajer and Cheetham after the 43km mark left Lehtonen and Ryf playing catch up. None were willing to back down, and the four remained as the leading women’s pack for the majority of the race.
After the first lap many thought Ryf would exert more dominance, but the World Champion used her calculated pace to charge for the lead after 133km, and after a fast last quarter entered T2 with a 3:30 advantage.
With Ryf looking strong, Lehtonen was always going to be the biggest threat with her running ability. The fight for third place was on as Gajer overtook Cheetham to move into third place. Despite several attempts by her competitors to close the gap, Ryf was unbeatable in her consistent pace to the finish line. Although she was unable to successfully defend her 2016 title, Lehtonen secured a well-deserved second place and a sub-9 result. Last year’s runner up, Cheetham, managed to round out the women’s podium in third place.
Final results (swim, bike, run)
Top 10 Men:
- Ben Hoffman (USA) 00:49:14 04:22:33 02:42:52 07:58:40
- Nils Frommhold (DEU) 00:49:05 04:22:31 02:43:43 07:59:30
- David McNamee (GBR) 00:49:09 04:28:45 02:45:36 08:07:31
- Kyle Buckingham (ZAF) 00:49:15 04:28:38 02:47:09 08:08:58
- Jan Van Berkel (CHE) 00:49:12 04:28:41 02:50:46 08:12:35
- Boris Stein (DEU) 00:53:57 04:23:49 02:54:05 08:16:12
- Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 00:49:05 04:28:32 02:57:02 08:19:10
- Giulio Molinari (ITA) 00:49:07 04:28:34 02:59:16 08:21:09
- Andrej Vistica (HRV) 00:53:53 04:34:43 02:50:01 08:23:21
- James Cunnama (ZAF) 00:49:10 04:28:47 03:02:46 08:24:42
Top 10 Women:
- Daniela Ryf (CHE) 00:53:48 04:50:50 02:57:27 08:47:02
- Kaisa Lehtonen (FIN) 00:55:29 04:53:03 02:59:10 08:52:26
- Susie Cheetham (GBR) 00:53:56 04:57:43 03:08:36 09:04:49
- Astrid Stienen (SHN) 01:01:07 05:01:42 03:16:52 09:24:37
- Gurutze Frades (ESP) 01:00:37 05:11:20 03:08:02 09:24:59
- Katja Konschak (DEU) 00:53:57 05:09:48 03:15:01 09:25:40
- Alexandra Tondeur (BEL) 00:58:37 05:08:06 03:13:09 09:26:29
- Jeanne Collonge (FRA) 00:59:47 05:04:58 03:16:09 09:27:18
- Nikki Bartlett (GBR) 00:58:40 05:03:09 03:19:59 09:27:49
- Katharina Grohmann (DEU) 01:10:04 05:05:47 03:08:56 09:29:2
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