Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman: O’Donnell’s anticipated Kona debut

Tim O'Donnell (Photo courtesy of Ironman)

(Shawn Skene checks in with Tim O’Donnell, as he builds up to his first appearance in Kona)

When Tim O’Donnell declared he was abandoning his Olympic aspirations in January of this year and would focus on the Ironman World Championship, fans, media and his competition took immediate notice.

After a stellar short course run and outstanding performances at the Ironman 70.3 distance over the last two years, everybody knew the 30-year-old was the “real deal,” and would have an immediate impact in Ironman racing.

With eight long years since an American (Tim Deboom) won the Ironman World Championships, he has quickly become America’s next great hope.

O’Donnell appears comfortable with the high expectations placed upon him – possibly even thriving on the excitement and using it as motivation as his first date with Kona looms.

“I am OK with the hype in terms of the next American to fight for the win,” O’Donnell says of the early anticipation and build-up towards Kona. “While I love being under the radar, even with the hype I think I still will be an unknown in the Kona battle.

“I consider myself a slow learner and I know that mastering a race like Kona can take some time, so I am not too worried about not living up to the talk, this year,” O’Donnell says. “I have had a fantastic season and I think my potential is a known. I am going to prepare to win, as I do for every race, this year. If I do not have a great race, it will be a learning experience and another tool to help me win in the future.”

O’Donnell has been at the top of both the Kona and 70.3 Pro Ranking charts, and this is a testament to how talented and versatile an athlete he is. The former Olympic hopeful opened his 2011 season with a win at the inaugural Ironman 70.3 San Juan.

His outstanding Ironman debut netted him a second to the talented Ironman veteran, Eneko Llanos, at the first-ever Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas. In the Texas heat and humidity, O’Donnell put on display his superior running abilities by recording the fastest run of the day, and came up only 90 seconds short of Llanos’ winning time.

Assessing his 2011 season, O’Donnell says, “I am really happy with my 2011 season, but it also feels like it’s been a bit of a roller coaster year for me. My fitness levels have never been so high prior to San Juan and I was unbelievably fit. But then I struggled with a stomach bug between that race and Texas 70.3 and New Orleans 70.3. I feel like those races didn’t do justice to my fitness level.

“I bounced back with Ironman Texas, which I felt was a fantastic Ironman debut, but I also had to learn how to manage the fatigue that comes with Ironman. The biggest surprise for me was the recovery process post Ironman Texas,” he says. “It took me a solid month to feel better after that race, possibly because so much of the run is on concrete.

“After taking a break from racing I came into the 5150 Boulder Peak with long course strength and had my best showing ever on that course, but wasn’t able to back it up the following weekend in Vineman,” O’Donnell says. “It has been a big learning year for me and I hope that I have been smart enough this season to be ready to race well in Kona.”

When asked if he has had to sacrifice some short and middle-distance race speed as result of his Ironman concentration, O’Donnell says, “One would automatically expect that with Ironman training comes a loss in speed. I feel that the strength I have gained with Ironman training is actually a benefit for shorter races. Going into 5150 Boulder Peak I was very worried that I would not have the gears but, with a little speed tuning in the weeks leading up to the race, I ended up having my fastest bike and run splits ever on that course. I mentioned this to Tim DeBoom the week after the race and he was not surprised. He told me if you have natural speed it won’t go away with Ironman training, as long as you don’t ignore it.”

O’Donnell announced in late July his sole attention for the remainder of the year will be on the Ironman World Championship in October and has elected to not race in the Marine Corp Ironman World Championship 70.3 in September.

“I am going to pass on Vegas, it is a world championship and it is going to take a lot of energy out of the racers. It is hard to get fully focussed on multiple key races and to do well in Kona, and I think you need to be completely focussed so I’ll be fully committing to Kona,” O’Donnell adds, sounding like a seasoned Ironman veteran.

O’Donnell headed north to Viterra Ironman 70.3 Calgary in late July to end his final block of racing before commencing his Kona preparation in Boulder, Colo. where he makes home.

“I did not know what to expect leading into the race after a very disappointing showing at Vineman (two weeks prior), but I wanted to still give Calgary a shot,” he says.

“The cold water of Ghost Lake was a shock at 6:10 AM when the race started, but I was able to warm up after a few hundred meters and found myself in second. We exited the water along with a few other competitors and I started turning the screws right away. With a quick transition, I gapped the front group and did not look back. The 94km bike course is rolling and fast – I debuted the Argon18 E-118 and it did not disappoint. By 56 km I had 3:39 advantage on the field and kept cranking. I entered T2 with over four minutes and aimed at running steady and controlled into my second win at Calgary.”

After feeling “horrible” on the bike at Vineman, O’Donnell was able to carry away from Calgary not only his second win there, but the knowledge that he is still riding well leading into his Kona build up.

O’Donnell’s highly anticipated debut in Kona signals a changing of the guard in Kona. With Chris McCormack’s absence due to his Olympic ambitions, the untimely retirements of Rutger Beke and Normann Stadler and Tim Deboom’s pursuit of other triathlon challenges, the competitive landscape has been drastically altered for this year’s showdown on the Big Island.

O’Donnell is representative of the new era about to hit the Island. O’Donnell has the tools capitalize on this change and, in October, we will see if he can make the anticipated impact that many expect.

(Skene can be reached at

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