It’s safe to say that as well as providing a whole host of dramatic moments, this season also provided multiple races in which the winner came as a surprise to virtually everyone in the triathlon community.
From the fast and furious races in the Super League and World Triathlon Series to the endurance battles across the PTO Tour events and the IRONMAN calendar, there were upsets at every turn. Underdogs and outsiders established themselves on the biggest stages.
After a lot of debating and negotiation, we’ve managed to narrow the list down to our top ‘I didn’t see that coming’ moments, as part of our 2022 Year in Review series.
Join us as we recall the most unexpected wins across the triathlon calendar in 2022. Enjoy!
A tale of two Canadians
Since 2012, only four different men had ever won IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside. As well as the Americans Ben Kanute and Andy Potts, triathlon legend Jan Frodeno and fan-favourite Lionel Sanders were the only men to have ever reigned victorious in California.
At the start of April, Oceanside offered the perfect opportunity for triathlon fans to see who was fit and ready to race ahead of the St George IRONMAN World Championship in a month’s time.
With a star-studded field including defending champion Kanute, two time winner Sanders and double Olympic Gold medallist Alistair Brownlee, the race was set to be a match up between some of the biggest names in the sport.
Jackson Laundry, however, was not an athlete who was talked about as a potential winner prior to the race. In March, the Canadian had opened his season with seventh at CLASH Miami, where he was more than three minutes adrift of the likes of Kanute, Jason West and Sam Long.
Fast forward to T2, where after the bike of his life, Laundry exited alongside Kanute and Brownlee, before running away from the two pre-race favourites for victory, as two-time winner and fellow Canadian Sanders beat out Rudy Von Berg in a sprint finish to make it a Canadian 1-2.
Don’t count me out
This next pick may be a controversial one. Yes, she is arguably the best female triathlete ever. Yes, she has been the undisputed “GOAT” of the long course world for the best part of a decade. But Daniela Ryf‘s win in St George at the IRONMAN World Championships still took many in the triathlon world by surprise.
Leading into the race, her last two championship results had been 13th at the IRONMAN World Championship in 2019 and 11th at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in 2021. At 35 years of age, people could be forgiven for starting to wonder if the Swiss great was on the decline.
Ahead of the race, defending IRONMAN World Champion Anne Haug was tipped to run away with it, with strong cyclists Kat Matthews and Lisa Norden among those favoured to make an impact on the challenging bike course, with plenty of inclines including the likes of Snow Canyon in Utah.
Ryf, ever the professional, showed no signs of worry in the lead up to the race, and from the gun reminded everyone why she is, for many, the GOAT. Out of the water in fourth, the Olympian quickly made her way to the front of the race alongside Matthews, before quickly dispelling the Brit as she powered away from the field.
Out on the run, Ryf was one of only three women to run under three hours, as she took the tape by an astonishing eight minutes, also beating the defending champion Anne Haug by twelve minutes, in a performance that will go down as one of the most dominant in long course history.
Whilst much was made of Ryf’s form ahead of the race, she left no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was the undisputed great as she picked up her fifth IRONMAN World Championship title in style.
The Norwegian method
At the height of the season, Mikal Iden was the most sought after man in long course triathlon. The Norwegian, brother of IRONMAN World Champion Gustav Iden, had recently taken on athletes such as Lionel Sanders, and rose to prominence as he featured regularly on the Canadian’s YouTube channel.
In podcasts, articles and YouTube videos, hundreds of age groupers and professionals alike found inspiration in the details of Iden’s training philosophy and methods, which were quickly coined as “The Norwegian method” following the successes of Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden.
Another athlete alongside Sanders who decided to take the leap of faith with Iden at the start of the year was American Collin Chartier, whose results prior to this year included a win at Challenge Salou in 2021 and third at IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder in the same season.
At the inaugural PTO US Open in Dallas, however, Chartier turned heads, as he took the tape in remarkable fashion. He beat the likes of Magnus Ditlev, Sam Long and Sam Laidlow on a second hand bike as an athlete with just a single sponsor, Wyn Republic, to his name.
His race, which caused Mikal Iden’s stock to skyrocket further, provoked predictions of a Kona victory.
In the end, Chartier finished 35th in Hawaii, but his race in Dallas sees him sitting #16 in the PTO Rankings at the end of 2022, a massive move from being only #152 two years ago! His ability in the heat at the US Open will see him tipped as one of the favourites for years to come at races in hot and humid environments.
An American dream
Without a podium on the Big Island since 2016, and no winner for over two decades, American long-course women were in desperate need of a hero when the IRONMAN World Championship returned to Kona in October.
With Lucy Charles-Barclay back to fitness, Daniela Ryf set to defend her title, the German duo of Laura Philipp and Anne Haug looking fierce, plus Olympic silver medalist Lisa Norden finally getting to grips with the IRONMAN distance, the chances of an American on the podium seemed slim.
However, Skye Moench‘s fourth place at St George offered some hope, as did the presence of former Kona podium finisher Heather Jackson, whilst Chelsea Sodaro, in her first season back since the birth of her daughter, also offered hope.
The BMC Pro Triathlon Team athlete, who qualified in second at IRONMAN Hamburg, 18 minutes behind winner Philip, had also finished a fine third at the PTO Canadian Open. Still, she wasn’t considered by many to be in the same league as the likes of Ryf, LCB and Haug when it came to the full distance. At least, not yet.
Off the bike on the Big Island, British fans held their breath, as Charles-Barclay exited T2 within striking distance of Ryf, and was quickly into the lead at the start of Ali’i Drive as the Swiss legend showed signs of faltering.
Fifth starting the run, little thought was given to Sodaro, until Palani, where after overtaking Ryf to move into second, the American began to make inroads into LCB’s lead. By mile nine, Sodaro was leading, and that lead just grew and grew, as she came home to roars from the home crowd, taking the tape by over seven minutes to give America their first female winner since 1996.
Allez Les Bleus!
Everyone, and I mean everyone, became a Leo Bergere fan after witnessing the heart-warming moment that he was told in his post race interview following WTCS Abu Dhabi that, “Yes, you are the World Champion.”
The Frenchman entered the race third overall in the WTCS series, knowing that he needed to take the win to maximise his chances of snatching the title, and hope that Alex Yee finished no better than fourth and Hayden Wilde no better than sixth.
Whilst not a foregone conclusion, with plenty of people aware that Bergere could win, the pre-race favourites were clearly Yee and Wilde. The pair had both won WTCS events this season and raced side-by-side in every event they’d competed in.
Bergere, by comparison, had never topped a WTCS podium, and was often viewed as the understudy to fellow countryman Vincent Luis, who won at WTCS Bermuda and was the ITU World Champion in 2019 and 2020.
On race day, however, the 26-year-old executed his race to perfection, as he got in the breakaway with teammates Luis and Pierre Le Corre, before recording the second fastest run of the day to take his maiden WTCS win. Behind him, Yee was out-sprinted for third by Jelle Geens, whilst Wilde was passed late in the run by Matt Hauser in the battle for fifth.
Bergere took the world title by the narrowest of margins, meaning Les Bleus had now been crowned the men’s ITU World Champions in three of the last four seasons, and look perfectly poised to deliver when the 2024 Olympics comes to Paris in 18 months time.