“Whoever crawls across the finish line first, we’ll call him the Iron Man.” — Navy commander John Collins, before the first Hawaii Ironman in 1978.
The Ironman triathlon began as a 15-athlete event on Waikiki Beach to settle a debate. On Saturday, approximately 2,500 entrants take part in the 140.6-mile crucible with live coverage on NBC Sports. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.
It begins with a 90-minute show on NBCSN at 12:30 p.m. ET, just as the elite men’s race starts with the 2.4-mile swim at 6:35 a.m. local time. The women follow five minutes later. The Ironman Facebook page will have live streaming coverage.
Live reports on NBCSN and NBC air throughout Saturday, beginning at 2 p.m. ET. NBCSN airs a recap Sunday at 12 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
Live Update Schedule on NBCSN (ET)
8:30 p.m. (RACE FINISH)
This event was the idea of Hawaiians John Collins and wife Judy. He had read in Sports Illustrated that five-time Tour de France champion Eddy Merckx of Belgium was the world’s best athlete, which sparked conversation.
“It was an argument as to who was in better shape, runners or swimmers. I proposed that, possibly, cyclists were in better shape,” Collins said on the 1998 Ironman broadcast on NBC.
On Feb. 18, 1978, Collins and 14 others dove into the Pacific Ocean to settle it. Each competitor received three sheets of paper beforehand listing rules, a course description and, on the last page, one last motivator.
“Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!”
Collins has regrets from that day. That half a beer on the 26.2-mile run. That bowl of chili on the 112-mile bike.
Gordon Haller, a taxi driver, would win in 11 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds (Saturday’s champion will cover the course in a little over eight hours). The trophy, made by Collins, was an iron man.
This year’s race is headlined by defending champions Daniela Ryf of Switzerland and Patrick Lange of Germany, who own the course records.
Ryf, a 31-year-old who converted to the Ironman distance after placing 40th in the 2012 Olympic triathlon, is going for a fourth straight Kona crown to match Paula Newby-Fraser‘s female record. On July 8, Ryf won the Ironman European Championship by 26 minutes with a time that would have placed seventh in the men’s division.
Two-time U.S. Olympian Sarah True was the distant runner-up to Ryf at Europeans and is making her Kona debut after retiring from the Olympic distance. More on True’s transition here.
Australian Mirinda Carfrae owns three Kona titles and has made the podium in seven of her eight Kona starts.
Lange’s chances to repeat were boosted when countryman and 2008 Olympic champion Jan Frodeno withdrew with a hip fracture last month. Frodeno won Kona in 2015 and 2016, plus took this summer’s Ironman European title by nearly eight minutes against a field that included Lange.
Lange, 32, broke the Kona course record last year — 8:01:40 — with a 2:39:59 marathon, just off his run course record of 2:39:45 from the previous year. He ran the final mile in 5:37.
Runner-up Lionel Sanders of Canada, back for this year’s race, emerged from a drug addiction to become one of the world’s best athletes with most of his training done in a 10-foot-by-10-foot room dubbed “the pain cave.”
Then there’s Spaniard Javier Gomez, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist and five-time Olympic-distance world champion making his Kona debut. Gomez owns a pair of half Ironman world titles from 2014 and 2017.
Notable non-elite entrants include 2012 Olympic road race champion Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan and 1990s Tour de France veteran Laurent Jalabert of France. Vinokourov served a blood-doping ban a decade ago. In 2013, a French Senate report listed Jalabert as one of many cyclists to use illegal drugs in that era.
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