If you’ve visited Babbittville in the past, you know that it’s a great place to ride, run, and swim because the wind is always at your back, the roads are always smooth as silk, and the ocean is always warm and crystal clear. Another reason to visit Babbittville is to meet some of the very special athletes who call our quaint little village home and who we get to interview for our shows. These athletes constantly amaze us with their ability to perform at the very highest level. When we take a look back at the season that was 2015, a number of great performances – and great athletes – stand out:
The Dominators: Germany’s Jan Frodeno won the Ironman European Championship at Ironman Frankfurt against a stacked field including 2014 Ironman Frankfurt and Ironman World Champion Sebastian Kienle and followed that up with the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and the Ironman World Championship. Frodeno became the first man or woman to win both an Olympic Gold Medal -2008 in Beijing- and a Gold Medal in Kona as well. His was an epic season and he kicked it off by setting a new course record at Ironman Frankfurt with his 7:49:48 and knocking off Kienle, the man who beat him at both Ironman Frankfurt and at the Ironman World Championship the previous year.
Jan Frodeno’s fellow dominator, Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf, not only matched Jan by breaking the course record at Ironman Frankfurt to win the European Championship with her 8:51:00, she also won the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Austria, the Ironman World Championship in Kona, plus a million dollar bonus for winning the Triple Crown: Challenge Dubai, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and Ironman Bahrain. It just might be the greatest year any triathlete has ever had when you take into account not only winning the most prestigious titles in the sport, but also taking home that sweet million dollar check as well.
Our Olympic-Format Dominator was the unbeatable Gwen Jorgensen, who finished 2015 by winning her second straight ITU World Championship, this time in Chicago. Gwen went undefeated in WTS races for the season -the first time that has ever happened- and has now won an unbelievable 12 WTS races in a row.
Flora Duffy, a two-time Olympian from Bermuda is more than just our Off-Road Dominator. She’s also definitely our Most Versatile Endurance Athlete as well. On the ITU/WTS Circuit in 2015, she took third in Abu Dhabi, fifth at Gold Coast, fourth at Stockholm, and second at Edmonton. When we move to off-road triathlon, she has won 12 of her last 13 XTERRA events since the beginning of 2014, went undefeated in 2015, and won both the 2014 and 2015 XTERRA Off-Road Triathlon World Championship Title and 2015 ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship.
Josiah Middaugh was racing the XTERRA Off-Road World Championship in Maui for the 15th time. At the age of 37, if he was ever going to win that elusive first World Title and our Better Late Then Never Award, this might just be the year. After having one of his best ever swims in Maui, he ended up crashing twice on the bike and once more in the run. But it didn’t matter. His boyhood buddy was Ryan Shay, who tragically died back in 2007 during the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials. Ironically, while looking for running shoes online before the Maui race, Middaugh spotted the Saucony Shay and bought a pair to race in. Was it the shoes? Was it finally his turn to win? No matter. As Middaugh ran his way to his first XTERRA World Championship, he also became the first American to win that title since Michael Tobin back in 2000. Ryan Shay would be proud.
Our Breakthrough Athlete of the Year ended up with six WTS podiums in 2015 – five of those second place finishes. Katie Zaferes is a former steeplechase star from Syracuse University who turned pro in 2013, had two top ten finishes at WTS races in 2014, and then put together a huge breakthrough season in 2015, and ended up as the fifth ranked female triathlete in the world and the leader in the clubhouse for the third and final spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team where she would join Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah True.
Eric Lagerstrom was making his Escape from Alcatraz debut last June 7th. Andy Potts was racing the event for the tenth time and going for his seventh win. As they headed toward the finish they were side-by-side and it would be natural to feel intimidated by the man whose name had become synonymous with the race. But Eric wasn’t. The Olympic hopeful simply dug deep, outsprinted the legend and won the biggest race of his life by two seconds, 2:02:06 to 2:02:08. It was definitely our Breakthrough Performance of the Year.
Our Female Race of the Year occurred in Kona, Hawaii on October 10th. Cherie Gruenfeld, 71, was racing her 21st – and final – Ironman Triathlon World Championship and her toughest competitor that day in her age division was 70-year-old Natalie Grabow. After nearly 14 hours of racing, Gruenfeld spotted Grabow under the glow of a streetlight as the two were heading toward the top of the climb we call Mark Allen and Dave Scott hill. Seeing her target up ahead, Gruenfeld accelerated, caught Grabow with about 1.2 miles to go, and won her 13th – and final – Ironman World Championship age group title by a mere three minutes and 14 seconds. Their times? 14:06:40 for Natalie and 14:03:26 for Cherie.
Our Male Race of the Year came at the ITU World Championship in Chicago in September. Off the bike together, fellow Spaniards Javier Gomez and Mario Mola moved quickly to the front of the pack and put together legendary run splits as they battled back and forth the entire way. The 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist, Javier Gomez, who finished the season ranked number one in the world, ran an unbelievable 29:06 10K off the bike….and lost. Mario Mola ran 28:59 – yes, 28:59 – to win his first world title. What a classic race!
Six-time Ironman World Champion Mark Allen has watched a lot of races in his career. So when someone comes off the bike in 20th and runs their way up to seventh or eighth, it can be deceptive. Were they really a threat to win the race that day, or did they put together a nice run after a typically mediocre bike ride? What impresses the man we call ‘The Grip’ is when an athlete has the guts to go for it, to seize an opportunity to be great and doesn’t fear the moment. He saw that in an athlete he coaches this year in Kona. That athlete, our Fearless Athlete of the Year is Timothy O’Donnell.
O’Donnell lost the lead on the bike, and was actually holding tight onto second place until Andreas Raelert caught him in the last few miles of the marathon. The third place finish was his first podium in Kona and now he has had the experience of leading the most important race in his sport. After tasting the lead, Timothy O’Donnell is anxious to move up two spots in 2016 and become the first American to win in Kona since Tim DeBoom in 2002.
Germany’s Andreas Raelert raced in the first ever Olympic triathlon in 2000 where he took twelfth. Four years later he took sixth in Athens. Eventually he stepped up to the Iron-distance and in 2011 put together the fastest time ever for the distance at Challenge Roth back in 2011 with a 7:41:33. He also took third at the Ironman World Championship in his debut there in 2009, and followed that with a silver in 2010, a bronze in 2011, and another silver in 2012. But then he dropped out in 2013 and in 2014 he was 859th after suffering through a 5:16:44 marathon. When he returned to Kona for the seventh time at the age of 39 in October, people wondered if he could still be a factor. A factor? The guy wins our Comeback Athlete of the Year Award for his second place finish at the Ironman World Championship where he overcame perceptions, age, and a flat tire and a crash on the bike on the way back from Hawi.
For our Celebrity Athlete of the Year, you don’t have to look much further than the star of Goonies, Lord of the Rings, and Rudy: Sean Astin. The man not only ran the Boston Marathon in April in order to raise money for the Martin Richard Foundation, he also committed to doing the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, raised $25,000 for his charity #run3rd, and finished in 15:30:31. Plus, the fans were all chanting Rudy! Rudy! Rudy! to greet him at the Ironman World Championship finish line.
Michellie Jones has done it all in her amazing career. The Australian took home a silver medal from the first ever Olympic Triathlon in 2000 in Sydney, and that was followed by an Ironman World Championship title in 2006. She is the only woman in history to have an Olympic Medal and an Ironman World Championship medal as well. This summer, at the age of 45, Michellie Jones took on a new challenge when she teamed up with sight-impaired triathlete Katie Kelly to try and help her not only qualify for the first ever Paralympic Games Paratriathlon that will be held in Rio a few weeks after the Olympics, but also take home a medal. The two teamed up to win the ITU Paratriathlon World Championship in Chicago in September and they are definitely our Female Team of the Year.
Our Male Team of the Year is, without a doubt, brothers Noah and Lucas Aldrich who have now completed five triathlons together. Legendary athlete ‘One Arm’ Willie Stewart introduced the boys and their parents to the sport of triathlon, and at every race they do together, Noah is the pilot and Lucas is the always-smiling motivator. As Willie has said many times, their team is powered by love.
Magdalena Lewy-Boulet won the San Francisco Marathon back in 2002, made the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon team by finishing second in the trials, ran her marathon PR of 2:26:22 in Rotterdam back in 2010, and was a member of the bronze medal winning U.S. team at the IAAF Cross Country World Championships in both 2010 and 2011. This summer she decided to step up in distance and run her first ever 100 mile trail race. Magdalena wins our Best Debut Award by winning the legendary Western States 100 in a time of 19:05:21 in her first attempt at the distance.
You wouldn’t think of Robbie Maddison as an endurance athlete, but his goal is to do the Ironman one day and his training regime for jumping his motorcycle over the Great Wall of China includes swimming, riding, and a little bit of running. The Aussie daredevil, this generation’s version of Evel Knievel, is always on the lookout for the next huge challenge and this past summer he decided to take on something extra special when he took his specially designed motorcycle to Tahiti to see if he could ride 20 foot surf.
His was one of our favorite Babbittville interviews of all time, especially when he walked us through how he nearly drowned during the filming of the Pipe Dream video that has now had close to 21,000,000 YouTube views. The video is amazing and the interview is even better. Robbie Maddison is in a category of his very own as our Xtreme Athlete of the Year.
For our Good News and Bad News Award, how about America’s record holder at the steeplechase, Evan Jager? He was at the Paris Diamond League race on July 4th and going against the very best steeplechase athletes on the planet. The 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist, and multiple world championships were represented in that field. Evan Jager’s personal best – and American Record – stood at 8:04.71. But on this particular day, he was proving to be ‘the man’ and was leading the way as he emerged from the last water jump. Then, with the finish line in sight, Jager clipped the final hurdle and went down. The bad news? He was passed for the win and took second. The good news? He took four seconds off of his personal best and went 8:00.43, the fastest time ever for an American at the world’s most brutal track and field event, the steeplechase.
When you are dealt lemons, it’s important on race day to simply suck it up, dig deep and win our Making Lemonade Award. No one did that better at the Ironman World Championship than Canada’s Jeff Symonds. With 30K left in the Ironman bike ride during his first trip to Kona in October, the guy whose motto is Get Ugly realized that his left crank wasn’t functioning and that he’d have to ride the last 30K of the bike pedaling with just one leg. It was like a parade of athletes going by him during those last miles of the ride and it would have been easy enough to simply drop out. Not Jeff. He came off the bike in 94th with a 5:04:05 bike split despite the challenges of the last 18 miles, put together the third fastest marathon of the day, 2:50:15, and ended up in 23rd with an 8:52:18.
Carlos Moleda, a Navy SEAL who was paralyzed when he was shot in the back by a sniper during a mission, had won four Ironman World Championship titles in the handcycle division going into the October 10th race. But in 2015 he was 53 years old and he knew that Father Time was not on his side if he was hoping to win title number five. He trained with a coach for the very first time this time around and felt he was in his best race shape ever. So when he won his fifth Ironman World Championship title on October 10th, he may have been the only one who was not surprised. Of course, once you are a Navy SEAL, and trained to overcome any and all odds, you are a Navy SEAL for life. He went 1:49:24 for the swim, 7:09:24 for the handcycle and 2:24:51 in his racing chair, for a total time of 11:32:34…at the age of 53. For his huge race in Kona, Carlos Moleda is the winner of our No Limits Award for 2015.
Thanks as always for your amazing support of our Babbittville Radio shows and podcasts on iTunes and on Babbittville.com. Also, thanks so much for watching our Breakfast with Bob interviews in 2015 from Challenge Dubai, Challenge Denmark, The Leadville 100, The ITU World Championships in Chicago and, of course, from Kona where we showcased 62 interviews from Huggo’s with the world’s best on our Babbittville YouTube Channel.
If you are gearing up for the 2016 season, make sure to have your headset with you when you’re training and take our interviews with the world’s greatest endurance athletes along with you. I guarantee they will help make your workouts more enjoyable than ever before!
[box style=”media”] Follow any of the blue links to interviews with each of our Athletes of the Year. [/box]