Seventy-one Belgian triathletes will plunge into the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean from Kona Beach in Hawaii, U.S.A. on Saturday for the final of the Ironman triathlon circuit. This will be a new record for Belgium’s participation in the event, which is the 40th Hawaii Ironman competition. The previous participation record, 54, was set in 2015 and equalled in 2017.
Three Belgian professionals are taking part this year: Tine Deckers (40) for the women and male contenders Frederik Van Lierde (39) and Bart Aernouts (34).
Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf looms large among the women. Winner in the last three editions, her domination of the sport has been overwhelming this season. Unbeaten this year, the four-time world champion on 70.3 (semi-Ironman) and European champion with a time of 8 hours, 38 minutes and 44 seconds in Frankfurt, she is the evident favourite.
With the issue of first place all but settled, the question on all lips now is who will make off with the number two spot. The 2017 runner-up, 25-year-old Briton Lucy Charles, is the best swimmer among the women. She will certainly try to gain as much time as possible before the racers switch to the cycle, and then go all out in the footrace.
This last segment is a marathon, and both Ryf and Charles will have to look out for Miranda Carfrae (37), who holds the record in this discipline at Kona (2:56:51). After giving birth to a baby girl in August 2017, the Australian is making her comeback on the Hawaiian island, where she has struck gold on three occasions.
The sole Belgian female professional to tackle the 3.8 km swim, 180 km cycle race and 42.2 km footrace, Tine Deckers, from Leeuwen, will be taking part in her seventh Ironman. Her best result is the 12th place she won twice, in 2009 and 2011. She will be determined to complete the race after dropping out in her last two attempts, in 2015 and 2016.
The race appears much more open among the men, especially after two-time German winner Jan Frodeno withdrew because of injury. The most likely favourites are also members of the German squad, titleholder Patrick Lange, and 2014 winner Sebastian Kienle, but the two Belgian top contenders are anything but pushovers.
Frederik Van Lierde won in 2013 and this season he made off with the Nice Ironman for the fifth time, while Bart Aernouts was victorious this season in Hamburg. Both Belgians are serious outsiders, as is Spain’s Javier Gomez, a five-time former world, short-distance, champion.
“This year, I’m not going with an objective in terms of placing,” Van Lierde explained. “My aim will be to do an intelligent race and finish with a good feeling,” added the triathlete from Menen, who plans to retire in 2020.
The 2018 edition of the Hawaii Triathlon will kick off on Saturday at 6.35 a.m. (6.35 p.m. Belgian time) for the male pros, while the women will follow 5 mns later, at 6.40 a.m. The first arrivals are expected at about 2.30 p.m. (2.30 a.m. on Sunday morning in Belgium).