At 7:00 AM on October 8, 2011 a gun shot rang out over Hawaii’s Kona Bay and the usually quiet and serene waters were instantly transformed into a mass-spectacle of thrashing and churning as the 2011 Ford Ironman World Championship got under way.
Over 1,850 athletes, ranging in age from 18 to 81 years old, and representing more than fifty countries worldwide competed in the triathlon described as “the sport’s greatest race.”
The term “greatest” isn’t really fitting though. Words such as “demanding” and “strenuous” are equally inadequate. Even “triathlon” seems a little too light for the occasion. The Kona Ironman World Championship is in a world of its own. It is a punishing 3.8km swim, followed by a grueling 180km cycle, and finished with a marathon-length 42km run. (FOOTNOTE: Since number and figures can often be confounded in print a far more relatable example would be to identify the Kona Ironman as very nearly the equivalent of swimming, cycling and running your way from Canberra to Sydney.)
It seems amazing then, when you consider that Australia’s Craig Alexander, at the age of 38, reached the finish line in 8hr 3min 56sec, and achieved what a very small minority of Australia’s dedicated sports-press described as “arguably the greatest single performance in Australian triathlon history.”
Reasons for acclamation were obvious, if not Hall of Fame worthy. At the 2011 Ford Ironman World Championship Alexander finished 12 seconds inside the previous – and considered untouchable - course record of 8:04.08 set by Belgian Luc Vand Lierde in 1996 and in the process became only the fourth person in the history of the race to win at Kona on three separate occasions (2008, 2009, and 2011).
For years, and regardless of titles, Alexander had been labelled a runner and relentlessly criticised for his riding. In 2011 Alexander set the fastest bike split of the top 15 before running to the Ironman Hawaii all-time record. (FOOTNOTE: His 2011 bike split was also the fifth fastest bike split in the history of the race.) In addition, and because breaking records seems to come relatively easily to Alexander, he also became the oldest male winner of the Kona Ironman World Championship. And don’t for a second believe any rumours about retirement. According to the man himself he has the potential – and most importantly the desire – for another two seasons of competing at the highest level.
To top it all off, Alexander is, by all accounts and to anyone lucky enough to call him a friend, an extremely humble, down-to-earth, dedicated family man, with wife, Nerida and his two children, Lucy and Austin supporting him every step of the way. It seems fitting then to finish with a passage from an op-ed piece Alexander himself wrote to his two kids in 3/GO Magazine.
“First and foremost sport is for fun and for health… Sport is about respect. Respect for yourself, your body, and for your competitors. Be gracious and humble and don’t be scared to succeed or fail. It is all part of the journey, and you will learn equally from both. Sport is also a lot like life. Do your best, set yourself some goals, and most importantly have fun along the way.”