Spaniard Javier Gomez added to an already stellar career with a world title at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, passing American Ben Kanute approximately eight miles into the final leg of the race.
The win added to Gomez's career achievements as the most decorated International Triathlon Union racer in history. He holds a record five ITU world titles and 13 ITU World Triathlon Series wins. He also was the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Champion and a 2012 Olympic silver medalist.
"It was a really tough race," Gomez said. "Ben did a really amazing bike [leg], so I had to take some risks on the first lap [of the run]. I went faster than I should have, probably, but I wanted to catch him. Then I just tried to survive."
Kanute had one of the best showings for an American in an Ironman world championship event this decade. While the U.S. has dominated many age-group races, no American professional has won on the world championship level since Andy Potts at the 2007 Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
Few have come close since Potts' win a decade ago, but Kanute jumped in the Tennessee River with a mindset to gain a lead and hold off the field for an American win.
"This is how I race. My racing plan is not much of a secret to anybody who steps on the line with me," he said. "They know I'm going to push the swim and the bike. That, to me, is an exciting way to race, and I think that plays to my strengths pretty well."
For Ironman – which started in the U.S. and is now based in Tampa, Fla. – it was an important moment, Ironman CEO Andrew Messick said.
"Seeing the emergence of American athletes and seeing them not just come in second but race to win is really exciting to see," he said. "It's exciting to see American athletes on the start line with intentions to become world champions."
Heading into the final leg of the race, it looked as though Kanute had more to worry about than just staying ahead of Gomez.
German Sebastian Kienle came to the event as the most decorated Ironman racer in the field but was more than four minutes back of the leaders after the swim. That didn't seem to faze the German.
"I would say I had a bad swim, but for me that's a normal swim," Kienle said. "I hate to say that my normal swim is that far back, but the other guys are pretty d*** quick."
In the bike leg, he stomped on the pedals and passed racers with seemingly every pedal stroke. By the end, Kienle was in second and had sliced through a sizable portion of Kanute's lead.
He paid the price on the run, as 39-year-old Tim Don – who broke the Ironman world record in May – overtook him on the Walnut Street Bridge to finish third. Kienle finished fifth, one spot below Sam Appleton.
Gomez finished in 3:49:45. Kanute finished in 3:51:07, with Don rounding out the podium with a time of 3:52:00.
Gomez's victory made it a weekend sweep for the Bahrain Endurance team owned by the prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Nasser Al Khalifa. Daniela Ryf won Saturday's women's world championship on her way to becoming one of the most all-around successful Ironman female racers in history.
Al Khalifa, who raced in the 30-to-34 age group and placed in the top 20, said it was a big weekend for him, his team and his country.
"We are super proud to have raised our nation's flag over here," Al Khalifa said. "Everyone knows now about Bahrain, so I think it is 'mission accomplished.'"
A new race format proved beneficial to the Bahraini team, allowing them to feature Ryf's win.
It the first time the Ironman 70.3 race took place over two days. The sheer size of the event – the largest in Ironman 70.3 history with more than 4,500 registered athletes – and Ironman's wish to put more of a spotlight on the women's race led to the decision.
Athletes welcomed the change, with many saying it made the race more fair. However, they were aware of the extra strain it put on the host city, with an extra day of road closures and volunteers.
"It's more spectacular having your own space," Gomez said. "Especially for the women, the race is more fair because they race their own race without having pro males or age-groupers that can affect the result of the race. They have the full attention, and then we have the full attention the next day. It's great. I know it's more work for everyone involved, and I want to thank the volunteers and everyone involved."
It's a format Messick believes Ironman will continue to use moving forward. The next two Ironman 70.3 World Championships – one in South Africa and the other in Nice, France – are already announced and will feature split races. Unless there's an unforeseen problem, the race will likely continue to use the format for world championships moving forward, Messick said.
McCallie School graduate Ryan Schumacher returned to Chattanooga to compete in the 25-29 age group race. Schumacher moved to Chattanooga to attend the school, and his family loved the city so much they followed. They now live in the Scenic City and have volunteered for Ironman events.
He expects the world championships to be his final amateur race before turning professional. Now that he's had the chance to compete for a world championship in his age group, he said, he plans to mail his paperwork to officially turn professional soon.
Schumacher didn't have the race he hoped for, bonking toward the end of the run and snagging a penalty for drafting during the bike leg, a common theme for the day. He finished 87th in his age group but was optimistic about the overall experience.
"The home-course advantage is a true thing," Schumacher said. "For, like, three quarters of the run I felt great once I settled in after the penalty. Every corner I went around there were people calling my name and shouting for me. Chattanooga in general has really shown up for these Ironman events."