Who is the top triathlete in the world? While that may seem like a pretty straightforward question, it is a lot more complex than it appears. Since differences between triathlon distance and gender make comparisons challenging, this list includes the most talented triathletes across the board.
All 8 triathletes presented in this list compete at the absolute top of their respective distances and have inspired triathletes across the world with their extraordinary exploits of endurance and perseverance. With many of the 2020 triathlons rescheduled or postponed due to COVID-19, the triathletes included below were chosen mostly based upon achievements during the 2019 season.
In no particular order, here are the current top 8 triathletes:
1. Jan Frodeno (GER)
Those familiar with triathlon know that this man needs no introduction. Just like many other pro triathletes, Frodeno started his career in short-course distance. He had an extremely successful short- course career, highlighted by winning the 2008 Olympic triathlon in Beijing. Years later, shortly after a disappointing 6th place finish at the 2012 Olympic race, Frodeno switched to long-distance triathlon and never looked back.
Before the 2019 season, he was a 2-time winner of the Ironman World Championship (2015, 2016), and 2-time winner of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship (2015, 2018). He is the current world record holder in the long Ironman distance, set in Roth, Germany in 2016 with a jaw-dropping time of 7:35:39 hours.
In 2019, Frodeno chose to forego defending his title at the 70.3 World Championships to fully direct his focus on the full Ironman in Kona later in the year. When the day finally came, he was able to exceed his expectations by winning his third Ironman World Championship title in record-breaking fashion. He took down his German teammate, Patrick Lange’s, record by more than a minute to set the new bar at 7:51:13. Frodeno describes his experience that day as,
“A day I was dreaming of. A day I was always working for—when you feel that just everything falls into place.”
2. Anne Haug (GER)
After picking up two third-place finishes in 2018 in both the full-distance Ironman and the 70.3 World Championships, Germany’s Anne Haug was hungry for more. After suffering from injuries early in the 2019 season, she nearly missed qualification for Kona. Luckily, she was able to prepare enough to snag a last-minute ticket to Kona after winning the Ironman in Copenhagen.
At that 2019 World Championship in Kona, Haug was one of the outside favorites, because all eyes were on the four-time defending champ and course record holder, Daniela Ryf. While Ryf could not quite meet expectations that year, Haug was able to finish victorious ahead of Lucy Charles-Barcley and Sarah Crowley after an incredible chase down on the run (2:51 marathon!).
3. Gustav Iden (NOR)
This 23-year old Norwegian talent burst onto the scene at the 2019 men’s 70.3 World Championships in Nice by dominating the star-studded field and crowning himself the youngest 70.3 World Champion ever. With the help of his supreme bike handling skills and the fastest run split of the field (1:08 half marathon!), he was able to hold off well-renowned triathletes such as two-time Olympic Champion Allister Brownlee, Sebastian Kienle, and Bart Aernouts.
Before his big victory in Nice, Iden had primarily been successful in the short-course circuit with two 4th place finishes, the first at ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne and at again at the Tokyo test event in August. Iden remains focused on Tokyo 2021, but in a press conference in November 2019 Iden admits that he, “would love to go long distance and do an Ironman, and then try really, really hard to win the Ironman World Championship in Kona one day too.”
4. Mario Mola (ESP)
Three-time World Champion (2016, 2017, 2018) Mario Mola has been a top contender in the ITU series for over a decade. After winning three consecutive World Championships, his winning streak came to an end in 2019 after finishing 2nd behind training partner Vincent Luis of France. With this 2nd place finish, combined with a win at the WTS Abu Dhabi in March, and three additional 2nd place finishes in the final four WTS events, he more than deserves his spot on this years’ top performer list.
He currently leads the pack for the ITU Individual Olympic Qualification Ranking and is widely regarded as a top contender for Olympic Gold in Tokyo 2021.
5. Javier Gomez (ESP)
Born in 1983, this 5-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the Olympic distance is the oldest short-distance triathlete on this list, but he is nowhere close to quitting. Javier Gomez has a lot in common with his fellow Spaniard Mario Mola, as he was the first athlete in history to win three consecutive world titles (2014, 2015, 2016), just before Mario Mola did. Both athletes are some of the most well-rounded triathletes, as neither has an obvious weaker discipline.
In 2019, Javier Gomez displayed great ability across distances by winning the ITU Long Distance World Championships, while also finishing second in the Olympic distance WTS race in Bermuda. Gomez further scored five top 10 finishes to close the season third in the overall WTS rankings.
6. Vincent Luis (FRA)
In 2019, Frenchman Vincent Luis ended Spain’s six-year streak of world championship victories by winning his first world championship at the Lausanne Grand Final. In addition to nabbing the victory in the most important Olympic distance race of the year, he was also able to finish 1st at the 2019 WTS of Yokohoma.
Thanks to his victories and strong performances throughout the season, he has gained his spot at the top of WTS standings, relegating Mola and Gomez to second and third respectively.
7. Katie Zaferes (USA)
This American professional triathlete had an incredible 2019 season. After finishing 5th in 2015, 4th in 2016, 3nd in 2017, and 3rd in 2018, she was finally able to climb up to the top of the podium in 2019.
She dominated the first part of 2019 with multiple WTS event wins in Abu Dhabi, Bermuda, Yokohama, and Montreal. Even after an unlucky fall in the Olympic test event in August that broke her nose and required 23 stitches in her mouth, she was able to rebound quickly by winning the WTS Grand Final in Lausanne. Thanks to her consistent peak performances throughout the year she was able to finally secure her first world championship title.
8. Allister Brownlee (GBR)
Even though this two-time Olympic Gold medalist (2012, 2016) has been plagued by injury during much of the 2019 season, he still more than deserves his spot on this list. After turning 30-years-old in 2018, Allister ventured outside of the Olympic distance, and has participated in different races and distances with great success. In the 2018 and 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, he was able to pick up a pair of second-place finishes behind long-distance legend Jan Frodeno (2018) and youngster Gustav Iden (2019).
Later in 2019, he competed in his first full Ironman world championship in Kona, in which he fell short at the end. Allister pushed the pace early on in the race and found himself in third place during the first miles of the marathon. However, as the heat became unbearable, he quickly fell back to 21st, finishing more than half an hour behind the champion Jan Frodeno.
In a recent interview by PTO hub in June 2020, Allister admits he is now shifting his focus even more to the long-distance races, as he hopes to, “win titles in the 70.3 (half Ironman World Championships) and especially in Kona (full Ironman World Championships) this year.”
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