At Ironman Worlds, Kristian Blummenfelt eyes an all-time sports feat

Kristian Blummenfelt

Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt bids for one of the most ambitious doubles in the 140.6-mile Ironman World Championships on Saturday.

Blummenfelt, 28, will try to become the first triathlete to win an Olympic gold medal and an Ironman world title in the same year span. The first Ironman World Championships to be held outside of Hawaii — in St. George, Utah, to be exact — stream live on Peacock starting at 8 a.m. ET.

The Kentucky Derby on Saturday evening (on NBC) will showcase the most exciting two minutes in sports. Earlier in the afternoon, the most grueling eight hours in sports will finish.

The Olympic triathlon distance is 32 miles, taking an hour and 45 minutes. The Ironman is a separate beast. Fractionally, the difference is comparable to a 10,000m track race versus a marathon.

German Jan Frodeno is the lone triathlete to win Olympic gold (2008) and an Ironman title (2015, 2016, 2019) over the course of a career. He followed the traditional trajectory of a longer transition up to the Ironman distance, debuting almost a year after his last elite Olympic-distance race and taking another year after that to win the famed Kona world title.

Blummenfelt, after winning Olympic gold on July 26, made his Ironman debut on Nov. 21. And in that first 140.6-miler, he clocked the fastest time in history over the Ironman distance: 7 hours, 21 minutes, 12 seconds, despite having diarrhea for three days leading into the race and taking two bathroom breaks during the marathon run.

It was 6 minutes, 41 seconds swifter than Frodeno’s record from last July.

There is debate whether Blummenfelt’s time should be considered a world record. There was a strong swim current benefitting the Cozumel competitors. Blummenfelt, who said the swim is the weakest part of his race, completed his 2.4 miles in the water six minutes faster than Frodeno did in his previous record.

The Ironman brand doesn’t use the term “world record” anyway due to the variance of courses around the world, plus the seasonal changes in conditions within each course.

Blummenfelt stresses that championships are more important than times, but when pressed, he considered that Cozumel effort as the fastest Ironman in history.

“It’s not like the swim was down a river. It was in the ocean. and the fact that the condition was great, there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said this week. “And as long as it’s an Ironman-branded race, and it’s approved before the race to be an Ironman race, it’s nothing I can do.”

Blummenfelt dropped to 10th place in a half Ironman in Dubai in March.

But his chances of winning in St. George — on a hilly course unlikely to produce record times — are boosted by the absences of Frodeno (Achilles) and another German, two-time Ironman world champion Patrick Lange (shoulder). Then on Friday, fellow Norwegian Gustav Iden, the half Ironman world champion, reportedly withdrew due to illness. As did Brit Alistair Brownlee, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist.

“Kristian is actually the favorite,” Iden, whose 70.3 world title came at St. George last September (where Blummenfelt was 26th, hopes punctured by a flat tire), reportedly said Thursday. “I’m giving out the percentages to everyone, and I think I gave Kristian a 30 percent chance of winning.”

Asked what makes all of this possible — Olympic gold medal, followed four months later with an Ironman distance record and now, potentially, an Ironman world title — Blummenfelt points first to genetics: a larger lung capacity than the average human, and a bigger heart. His highest recorded VO2 max — a way to measure aerobic fitness — was “just about 90,” putting him among the top endurance athletes in history (including several fellow Norwegians, cross-country skiers or cyclists).

Blummenfelt also noted the well-publicized advances in scientific testing and data collection — including feces — that helped Norway, the world’s best winter sports nation, become a force in men’s triathlon over the last several years.

“That makes it easy to turn around the energy system to be fine-tuned for longer distances,” he said.

Blummenfelt first felt the itch of ambition as a young swimmer in fjord-surrounded Bergen.

“Bergen is a city of rain,” he said. “We have not good ski conditions, and it’s on the West Coast, so it’s not much winter sports in the city.”

He trained in the same pool as Alexander Dale Oen, who was nine years older and in 2008 won Norway’s first Olympic swimming medal.

“The fact that one day, I could see him on TV at the Olympic Games, and then two weeks later, he’s joining us for training camp, the connection made it easier to believe that I can get there, too,” Blummenfelt said of Dale Oen, who died suddenly while at an Arizona training camp in April 2012.

It was also in 2008 that a swim coach suggested Blummenfelt try a sprint triathlon. He soon became, at 15, the oldest member of the start-up national team.

Norway had no Olympic triathletes. His initial plan was to make his Olympic debut in several years in 2016, then win it in 2020. He even guaranteed gold in Tokyo back in 2018, when he had yet to win a top-level World Series race.

Then, in a sponsor video published in July 2020, Blummenfelt set out his ultimate challenge: win the Olympics, the World Series season title, Kona and one other Ironman all in one year. He checked off the first two last summer.

For Blummenfelt, the one-time change of venue from Kona to St. George doesn’t minimize the prestige of the world championships, which are taking place for the first time since 2019.

“Of course, Kona is something very historical, unique and something great we have in triathlon,” he said. “But I think when we are finally now back again, with a world championship, we have to embrace the race.”

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw

Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They meet in Friday’s semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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IOC board recommends withdrawing International Boxing Association’s recognition

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Boxing

The IOC finally ran out of patience with the International Boxing Federation on Wednesday and set a date to terminate its Olympic status this month.

While boxing will still be on the program at the 2024 Paris Games, the International Olympic Committee said its executive board has asked the full membership to withdraw its recognition of the IBA at a special meeting on June 22.

IOC members rarely vote against recommendations from their 15-member board and the IBA’s ouster is likely a formality.

The IOC had already suspended the IBA’s recognition in 2019 over long-standing financial, sports integrity and governance issues. The Olympic body oversaw the boxing competitions itself at the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021 and will do so again for Paris.

An IOC statement said the boxing body “has failed to fulfil the conditions set by the IOC … for lifting the suspension of the IBA’s recognition.”

The IBA criticized what it called a “truly abhorrent and purely political” decision by the IOC and warned of “retaliatory measures.”

“Now, we are left with no chance but to demand a fair assessment from a competent court,” the boxing body’s Russian president Umar Kremlev said in a statement.

The IOC-IBA standoff has also put boxing’s place at the 2028 Los Angeles Games at risk, though that should now be resolved.

The IOC previously stressed it has no problem with the sport or its athletes — just the IBA and its current president Kremlev, plus financial dependence on Russian state energy firm Gazprom.

In a 24-page report on IBA issues published Wednesday, the IOC concluded “the accumulation of all of these points, and the constant lack of drastic evolution throughout the many years, creates a situation of no-return.”

Olympic boxing’s reputation has been in question for decades. Tensions heightened after boxing officials worldwide ousted long-time IOC member C.K. Wu as their president in 2017 when the organization was known by its French acronym AIBA.

“From a disreputable organization named AIBA governed by someone from the IOC’s upper echelon, we committed to and executed a change in the toxic and corrupt culture that was allowed to fester under the IOC for far too long,” Kremlev said Wednesday in a statement.

National federations then defied IOC warnings in 2018 by electing as their president Gafur Rakhimov, a businessman from Uzbekistan with alleged ties to organized crime and heroin trafficking.

Kremlev’s election to replace Rakhimov in 2020 followed another round of IOC warnings that went unheeded.

Amid the IBA turmoil, a rival organization called World Boxing has attracted initial support from officials in the United States, Switzerland and Britain.

The IBA can still continue to organize its own events and held the men’s world championships last month in the Uzbek capital Tashkent.

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