By JOE FERRARO
No more unexpected injuries. No more struggles on the bike.
That’s what Australia’s Pete Jacobs experienced during a runner-up finish at last year’s Ironman world championship, and he wouldn’t let it happen again.
He’d be supremely fit the next time around, he thought, and that fitness would get him something he wanted badly: the title of world champion.
That’s exactly what happened Saturday in Kailua-Kona as Jacobs erased a deficit of more than 8 minutes to overtake Belgium’s Marino Vanhoenacker and win the Ironman World Championship in 8 hours, 18 minutes, 37 seconds.
Great Britain’s Leanda Cave followed suit in the women’s race, coming from more than 3 minutes behind to catch Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen in the 24th mile of the 140.6-mile triathlon’s marathon leg and winning her first title in 9:15:54.
“If all went to plan, I knew I was in good enough shape to win,” Jacobs said. “I had an amazing bike ride — I can’t believe the ride that I had. I just felt really good on the bike — surprisingly really good.”
Jacobs also showed plenty off energy during the marathon leg, and it came in the form of a boisterous celebration during the final two miles of the race.
The 31-year-old passed Vanhoenacker in the 15th mile of the 26.2-mile run, just before heading into the Natural Energy Lab, which serves as the turnaround point of the marathon. Then his lead grew to more than 5 minutes by mile 20, and he comfortably ran down Palani Road before heading south on Kuakini Highway.
After looking over his shoulder and seeing no one, Jacobs gave high-fives to spectators on the side of the road, pumped his left fist in the air while displaying a wide grin, high-fived some more fans as he made his way onto Alii Drive from Hualalai Road and accepted a small Australian flag he held in his left hand. Then he raised both arms in exultation as he crossed the finish line.
“I’m in love with this sport, in love with this race,” Jacobs said. “I’m so lucky to have this opportunity to do what I do and have a good day.”
Germany’s Andreas Raelert finished second — he was also the runner-up in 2010 — with a time of 8:23:40, and Belgium’s Frederik Van Lierde placed third (8:24:09). Two more Germans — 2012 Ironman 70.3 champion Sebastian Kienle (8:27:08) and 2005 Ironman world champion Faris Al-Sultan 8:28:33 — rounded out the top five.
Defending champion Craig Alexander, a three-time winner in Kona, placed 12th (8:40:49), while Vanhoenacker, who started walking near the Natural Energy Lab, did not finish.
“I didn’t think I was going to catch Marino,” Jacobs said. “I was writing my loser’s speech. I was writing, ‘The better won on the day. He just had a phenomenal race.’ But once we hit the Queen K, he came back really quick. He started walking, and he went from 5 minutes to zero in a matter of kilometers.”
American Andy Potts, who placed seventh overall (8:31:45) was the first triathlete who completed the race’s 2.4-mile swim, getting out of the water at 50:32. Estonia’s Marko Albert was close behind (50:47), and a large pack that included Jacobs, Alexander and Al-Sultan followed.
Jacobs surged into the lead during the ensuing bike leg by mile 45 and stayed in front before Vanhoenacker took control by mile 60 and steadily built his comfortable lead of 8:28 going into the race’s second transition area.
The women’s race was much tighter even though Cave, Steffen and the United States’ Mary Beth Ellis all spent 4 minutes in penalty boxes for drafting during the bike leg.
Cave first took the lead from the women’s fastest swimmer, Amanda Stevens (55:09), near mile 10 of the bike. From that point on, Cave and Ellis virtually shadowed each other for much of the race, cycling within seconds of each other on the bike and running side by side on the run.
“We’ve not raced each other this whole year,” Cave said. “We’re just really going on what we see (on) each other’s results on paper. We’ve not really physically raced each other.
“We were testing each other out on the bike and on the run.”
Ellis entered the bike-to-run transition seconds ahead of Steffen but then served her drafting penalty, giving Steffen a lead of 3:38 over Cave going into the run.
Ellis recovered, catching Cave 11 miles into the run, and Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae, the 2010 champion, caught up with them by mile 17.
Then Cave made her move, pulling away from Carfrae and running down Steffen. Throughout the run, race officials gave Cave the information she wanted: she was shaving seconds in each mile she ran. The 34-year-old’s competitive spirit grew when she saw Steffen by mile 23.
“I saw the time gap getting closer and closer, and when I got within a minute of Caroline, I’m like, right, she’s going down,” Cave said. “I think when someone has a target on their back and you’re coming towards them, it’s so much more motivational to go and pass them. And when you do, you just like to dig deep to hold onto it. That’s pretty much what I did.”
Minutes later, Cave displayed a look of disbelief when she crossed the finish line.
Steffen placed second (9:16:58), Carfrae took third (9:21:41), Germany’s Sonja Tajsich finished fourth (9:22:45) and Ellis was fifth (9:22:57). At age 45, six-time world champion Natascha Badmann finished sixth (9:26:25).
“I’m overwhelmed,” Cave said. “I’m sky-high now, and I’ll probably be sitting up there for quite some time. I don’t know if I’ll come down for some time.”