Fact: Watching sports is best when you feel emotionally invested in the outcome.
There’s nothing worse than watching a sporting event where you can’t get behind a side. This happened to me last year when my favorite hockey team’s two biggest rivals, the Calgary Flames played the Vancouver Canucks, played each other in the first round of the playoffs. Cheering for either team was a true “kiss your sister” scenario, so all I could do was hope for a long series with lots of injuries. Still enjoyable, but not as entertaining as actually caring who wins.
Sometimes it’s easy. At the Olympics you cheer for your country. Done. When your kid is playing you cheer for your kid. Boom. But when you don’t have “a horse in the race”, as they say, things get a little more complicated. Sometimes you can choose a side by following your emotions. Take last year’s Super Bowl where I enthusiastically cheered for the Seattle Seahawks because they’d never won before, and I felt like their fans deserved it. That was a one day contract though, because this year I enthusiastically cheered against the Seattle Seahawks because they’d won the year before. Turns out that feverishly cheering against a team is just as good as cheering for one.
Sometimes you have to turn off your brain and follow your gut. Take this year’s US Open where I started off hoping for Roger Federer because he’s old and never wins anymore. However, halfway through the match the crowd was pro-Federer and being disrespectful to Novak Djokovic so I switched and cheered for Djokovic, which was a good call because he won and I felt pretty good about it.
Does it make sense to switch like that? No, but who cares. Not only does it not have to make sense, in many ways the less sense it makes, the more fun it is.
This brings us to the issue at hand: The Ironman World Championship on October 10 in Kona, Hawaii. If you have a rooting interest in both the men’s and women’s races, then this article is not for you. Sorry to have wasted your time. Go watch videos of crazy kittens. This article is for the rest of you. Those who like triathlon enough to pay attention, but not enough to have “a horse in the race.”
If you’re the kind of person who likes to cheer for a person who will win, you have two obvious choices in both the men’s and women’s fields.
On the women’s side you have two-time defending champ Mirinda Carfrae and last year’s runner-up Daniella Ryf. It’s almost impossible to predict who will win, but it is easy to say that Ryf will come off the bike with a sizable lead. Last year 15 minutes wasn’t enough as Carfrae erased that deficit and added a 2 minute cushion to it over the marathon. What will the gap be this year? Has Ryf’s run improved? Whatever happens, it’s setting up to be a great race.
On the men’s side the consensus seems to be that the race will be between two Germans, uber-biker and defending champ Sebastian Kienle and uber-runner Jan Frodeno, 2012 Olympic Champ, last year’s 3rd place finisher, and this year’s half ironman world champ. If Frodeno can come off the bike within 10 minutes of Kienle we’ll all be in for a show.
In the women’s field anyone but Carfrae or Ryf would be an upset, but that doesn’t make everyone else an underdog. The men’s race is definitely a little more wide open, with probably 5 or 6 guys who could win and people would say “yeah, I should have seen that coming.” Here are two real underdogs I’ll have my eye on:
For the women I’m going with Dede Griesbauer. Everything about Dede says “she’s not going to win this race”: she’s old, she’s never finished Kona higher than 7th (and that was 8 years ago), and while she does have a Wikipedia page, it’s in German. A win is a very very long stretch, but I’ll be pulling for Dede to crack the top-10.
On the men’s side my underdog pick is Matt Chrabot. Simply put, this guy should not be doing this race. Only 13 days removed from finishing 2nd at Ironman Chattanooga in the closest Ironman podium in history, where there was a meter between 1st and 2nd, and 3rd was only 8 seconds back. As Chrabot noted in this weeks TRS podcast, he’s going into Kona just to “recon” the course, and sounds like he’s 50/50 on whether he’ll even attempt the run. However, how cool would it be if he somehow managed to pull out a great performance?
There are very few Kona champs who would have been considered “dark horses” before the race. Usually this year’s champ was on the podium last year. However, there is nothing more satisfying than making an off-the-board pick that turns out.
Somehow or another Jeff Symonds has managed to become “the other Canadian” behind Lionel “sure thing” Sanders and Brent “the man” McMahon. Even Cody “who?” Beals gets more love than Symonds. So why root for him? He’s tough as nails (he won Challenge Penticton in 2013 after a significant crash on the bike) and a super cool dude.
He has a chip on his shoulder, a gap in his teeth, and he runs with a head bob and grimace that shows exactly how much he’s hurting. It would be awesome to see that head bob in super slow-mo on NBC this fall. History tells us that rookies don’t win, but I wouldn’t bet against Symonds. (I also wouldn’t bet more than $5 on him, but I’m pretty cheap.)
Mary Beth Ellis is one of the best Ironman triathletes… outside of Kona; inside Kona she has never had a great race. She has all the tools to get it done but has never managed to bring it together on the island. Could this year be the year? Probably not, but I’m pulling for her.
Ridiculously good looking
If cheering for an athlete because s/he is good looking is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. If you’re of a like mind, the two most beautiful people in Kona are Jan Frodeno and Angela Naeth.
Lets start with Olympic gold medalist Jan Frodeno. Check out this video from Oceanside 70.3 earlier this year. Jan is the 3rd guy in the line.
In case you missed it, here’s the money shot:
Then we have Angela Naeth. Here’s a link to her image gallery. Just look at the pictures, there’s really nothing to say.
BONUS: here are a few other “looks” you can root for:
Looks like he’s twelve: Brent McMahon.
Looks like he’s going to die: Jeff Symonds.
Looks like Wayne Campbell: Heather Wurtele.
Looks like she could kick your ass (and you’d like it): Daniella Ryf.
Looks like you might be a better athlete than him: Viktor Zyemtsev.
Personality matters too. It might not get you on the Bahrain Endurance 13 team with Frodeno, or help you land Redbull as a sponsor, like Naeth, it can get you mentioned in the shortest section of this article.
If you want to cheer for the triathlete who has the best combination of personality and ability, look no further than Heather Wurtele. She is, in no uncertain terms, the coolest chick in triathlon.
— James Lange (@james_lange) August 1, 2015
On the men’s side you can’t go wrong with Tim Don. Quick witted and quick footed with a Side-show Bob mop and a ballin high-pitched British accent. Solid dude.
Sometimes the best thing to cheer for is a record breaking performance. Here are a few records I’ll have my eyes on:
- Jan Frodeno is looking to be the first Olympic gold medalist to win at Kona, and this could be his only chance, as 2012 gold medalists Nicola Spirig and Alistair Brownlee are poised for successful long-distance careers post-2016, and Javier Gomez Noya may even win both the Olympic Gold and Kona next year.
- The women’s run record has been broken two years in a row, both times by Mirinda Carfrae. The current record is 2:50:26 and the smart money is on Carfrae needing to go sub-2:50 to have a shot at Ryf.
- The women’s course record is 8:52:14 set in 2013 by Carfrae, and depending on the weather during the bike I have every expectation that that mark is within reach.
- The men’s run record has stood since Mark Allen won the Iron War in 1989. However, his mark of 2:40:04 could be challenged this year. Frodeno, Symonds, Lionel Sanders, Ben Hoffman, and Ivan Raña are 5 guys with the ability to go after it, but it will take a race like 1989 where two or more guys push each other on the run.
One of the perils of picking a few athletes to root for is that Kona is an extremely finicky race. Drafting penalties, flat tires, poor nutrition, heat exhaustion, and a host of other calamities can all derail a triathlete’s day. If you have all your eggs in one basket, you can be left with 7+ hours of racing to watch with no one and nothing to cheer for. So, it’s always nice to have a contingency plan of random events to cheer for during the race. Here’s a few things I’m hoping to check off my list:
- Mirinda Carfrae blows by her lesser half (retired sailor Tim O’Donnel) on the run, just like she did last year.
- Lionel Sanders finishes the swim.
- This happens (and no one gets hurt).
- The announcers let us know exactly who does and doesn’t put socks on.
- I really do wish Melissa Hauschildt well, but I also kind of hope that she leads the run and gets blisters like she did at Ironman Melbourne earlier this year. I was losing it when she sat down at an aid station to apply Vaseline to her feet and then she went on to win. Epic.
- The announcers acknowledge the 50 women to Kona issue.
Now that you’ve stocked the stable with a few horses, let’s up the ante.
Fantasy triathlon is the best way to elevate your rooting interest in the race to new levels. By putting down just a few dollars you will immediately find yourself living and dying on the fates of your 10 triathletes. Individual aspects of the race will gain a new significance. You’ll find yourself using the online tracker to figure out how many people “your guy” in has passed on the run and the battle for 7th and 8th will have you on the edge of your seat.
Unfortunately I can’t even pretend to know anything about assembling a successful fantasy triathlon line-up, I’ll leave that to the pros over at fantasytriathlon.com. However, be sure to round out your team with a selection of favorites, underdogs, dark horses, pretty faces, and nice personalities, then sit back and cheer for them like you’re life depends on it.