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40 Stories – McCormack & Raelert – 2010

Iconic duels have been part of IRONMAN’s history for years. Some were so tense it was like they sucked the air out of the room as we watched them unfold on race day. They’ve shaped competitors and defined careers.

There was Dave Scott and me battling for years. Paula Newby-Fraser and Eric Baker traded victories in the ’80’s. Badmann and Bowden did the same a decade later. Daniela Ryf and Mirinda Carfrae have been the latest to swap titles. And in every historic duel there was always a critical point when the scales tipped in one athlete’s favor or the other.

One of the greatest duels of all time took place in 2010. It was between Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert. And what makes this a Top-40 Greatest Moment At IRONMAN was that there was a shattering instant late in the marathon when the fulcrum shifted from the day looking like even odds for both men to being completely lopsided. And when it happened, one of them was left with no hope of victory.

Both McCormack and Raelert had a locker room full of credentials amassed in their careers.

Macca had gone under 8-hours three times at IRONMAN Germany in Roth. That’s a lot of fast races! In 2011 Raelert would post a 7:41:33 at Challenge Roth breaking the world record on the same course that Macca had a career best time of 7:54:22. Needless to say, both men had a chance at victory in KONA.

The one bucket of secret sauce that McCormack had was that he’d won the IRONMAN in Hawaii once. That happened in 2007. A win at the IRONMAN World Championship is a leg up no matter how good everyone else is. Raelert was there trying to capture that same advantage.

Great duels play out over the day. It’s not a duel if the end script is written early in the race.

Close all day is the signature of a great duel.

The race between McCormack and Raelert was no exception to this. A gap of 9-seconds separated them out of the water (Raelert’s 51:27 to Macca’s 51:36). The cycling leg did little to shuffle the deck. Macca outsplit Raelert by a mere 36-seconds. But then came the marathon.

McCormack and Raelert were on a collision course. Macca came out charging. Raelert was slow to go. Chris McCormack knew Andreas was going to run fast so he tried to put time on him early before settling in and then just waiting for what he thought would be the inevitable.

“I was really pushing to keep Andreas at bay. I think I was pushing a little bit too hard. So I said let’s just consolidate and accept that he’s going to catch me. Stop running on fear and start running on brains.”

McCormack and Raelert were heading toward the same merge lane on the Queen K Hwy, but the onramp for Raelert was painfully slow.

Macca kept running. He kept waiting. Miles passed, but the inevitable wasn’t developing. Macca was leading going into the Energy Lab fully expecting Raelert to catch him in there. It didn’t happen…

“I came out of the Energy Lab and I still had 35-seconds on him. I was shocked! And I thought this is GREAT!”

Andreas Raelert would finally catch Chris McCormack with 3-miles to go in the marathon. It took Andreas three miles to close those final long 35-seconds that separated him from the only guy who stood in the way of him winning his first IRONMAN World Championship.

A great duel is one where the final outcome is held in suspense for a very long time.

Raelert finally, painfully pulled even with Macca. But he didn’t make it a move to charge into the lead.

It seemed to be more a moment of relief that the chase was over. But now he had to hope enough energy would come back into his legs to somehow unglue him from Macca’s side.

I was with the producer of the NBC show following this unfolding drama from the other side of the road. It was an Iron War flashback for me. Suddenly the hunter and the hunted were running side by side, and neither seemed to be ready to light their final stick of dynamite and take control of the race.

In 1989 Dave Scott and I ran step for step right out of transition after the bike. These two hadn’t been in direct contact until three miles to go in the marathon, but it still had the same aroma. There would be one last feature that both McCormack and Raelert knew would be the guillotine for one of them. It would be either the last long uphill. Or it would be the quad pounding descent on Palani Road just after that.

In 1989 I knew it was too risky to wait until the descent into town. So I made my move on the long upgrade just before it. For me it was the moment of truth that finally broke Dave Scott. McCormack and Raelert didn’t seem to mind taking the risk and having the downhill be their moment of truth.

Chris McCormack punished road, and Raelert, on that historic entry back into the town of Kailua-Kona.

He stepped up his cadence and opened up a gap on his rival that may have looked insignificant at the bottom of the hill. But the unseen destruction on Raelert’s quads trying to keep up was too much. He was never able to reengage that magnetic contact with McCormack. Chris McCormack did go on and with his second title that year. Andreas Raelert finished second.

The Moment of Truth

On the outside it looked like the moment of truth happened on that last long drop into town. But it didn’t. The race had been won a few miles before, and I saw it happen!

There was a moment, just a sliver of time, where something happened between McCormack and Raelert back out on the lava while they were still duking it out side by side that determined the race. It was a simple gesture that gelled every piece in a complex puzzle in one quick instant. It happened shortly after they had been running together side by side.

With about 4k to go in the marathon Andreas Raelert extended his hand toward Chris McCormack as a way of honoring them both, knowing that one of them would win and the other would not.

Raelert describes the moment:

“We had been very close together throughout the whole race. The gap between the two of us was never more than a minute. I think we both discovered similar emotions on our way to that point of the race.”
“On the one hand, I felt relief when I caught up with him with 10 kilometers to go. On the other hand, I was full of respect for both of us and for the way we had raced throughout the whole day.”
“Offering my hand to Chris for a handshake was just emotional, something I didn’t really think about before. I just did that. It was a moment when everything came back to its beginning for us, it was something like a re-start, just like: “Okay! Let’s do this now. Let’s see who’s going to take it all at the finish line!“

From the other side of the road I saw this happen. It was like time slowed to a crawl.

Chris McCormack looked to his left at the outstretched right hand of Andreas Raelert. McCormack took Raelert’s hand in what at first looked like an acknowledgement of the epic battle they were locked in. But then it happened. The moment that made this one of the Top 40-Greatest Moments At IRONMAN.

Chris McCormack locked hands with Raelert as we all do when we shake. But instead of greeting the gesture in the middle where Andreas had placed his hand, Macca in his shake yanked Raelert’s outstretched hand and arm just inches over and closer to himself.

The moment was subtle. But I immediately said to the producer of the NBC show, “Macca just won the race.” This was when they still had over 2-miles to go in the marathon.

It took me a while to explain what had just happened. But in that moment when Macca took Raelert’s hand and shook it as he pulled it toward himself, he also shifted all the energy of the race to himself. It was like he pulled Raelert’s energy into his camp and could now feed off of it.

You can see this moment at about 4:30 into this video:

At the IRONMAN World Championship, if you are going for it, you are walking on an extremely thin edge. Raelert was on that edge:

“People often ask why I didn’t just pass him in that moment. They tell me that I didn’t race smart at that point. To be honest, in that moment, I was 100% convinced that my final push will be better, that I will out-sprint Chris. No question.”
“Besides that, I was at my personal limit when I caught up with Chris. After more than seven-hours of racing at our maximum, it was sportsmanship. Thinking about this situation nowadays, I still think my decision in that moment was absolutely correct. That’s how I am, how I understand sports. If I get in similar situation, I think I would do the same again.” 

On one side of that fine racing edge is the realization of your greatest dreams. On the other can be complete devastation and collapse. The quest is to keep focused on the positive side and do everything you need to do to keep from going down the other. And this race, this duel between McCormack and Raelert in 2010, was just another affirmation of how impactful even the most subtle things can be in determining what the eventual outcome of an IRONMAN day will be.

Did Macca think he’d won in that moment? Probably not. Did Raelert feel he’d lost? He said absolutely not. But it was the defining moment of the 2010 IRONMAN in the men’s race. It would indeed take until the closing moments a few miles later before everyone else knew Chris McCormack would be the champion. But the switch was flipped by a handshake miles before.

See what Chris McCormack is up to by clicking HERE.

Check in on Andreas Raelert by clicking HERE.

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Photo Courtesy of: Bakke-Svensson/Ironman

 

 

 

 

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