Widely known as Frodo, there are plenty who consider that Germany’s Jan Frodeno should be known simply as The G.O.A.T…The Greatest Of All Time.
When you consider his record over the last 15 years - and the fact he is still at the very top of his game - he would have to be a part of those armchair debates which sports fans love to have.
For Frodeno however, such plaudits provide little motivation in maintaining his desire to strive for even greater success as he moves into his 40th year. “Feel free to judge” was his response to asking what his legacy will look like. “I just enjoy what I do, I want to have great races and enjoy great races.”
Frodeno has provided us with plenty of those great races during his career, and all indications are that there are a few more chapters of the story to be written yet.
For a man who has achieved so much international success, it is no surprise that he really is a global athlete. Born in Cologne, brought up in Cape Town, currently living in Girona, married to an Australian and with a favourite holiday destination of New York. Whether it’s food, art, culture, training or racing, Jan Frodeno is able to adapt and find happiness and success.
Medals, Championships and record-breaking
Ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, few had predicted that Frodeno was a genuine contender for Gold. After all his team-mate, Daniel Unger, had won the ITU World Championship a year earlier, while in Olympic year his long-time rival Javier Gomez (ESP) had dominated the season with World Championship success along with a further four ITU World Cup victories.
Did Jan start that day at the Ming Tomb Reservoir believing he could win? “Yes, genuinely I did. It was a long process to get there, a lot of mental repetition to get in tune to believing it, because believing you can do it is the first step. I’d been lucky early on to be around people that instilled in me that losing starts at second place.
“As harsh as that reality may be, it really is true for sport in many ways. I realised it was one day, one race and I’ve got one hour and 55 minutes of a chance, so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”
Frodeno remembers vividly the moment that he knew Gold was possible, towards the end of the run.
“There was the noise of the motorbikes around, the helicopters in the air, but all I could hear was Bevan Docherty, Javier Gomez and Simon Whitfield breathing hard next to me. It was a very surreal moment. That was the first time I knew what it was like to truly be in the zone and good to go.”
Sprinting away from the 2000 Champion, Simon Whitfield to become Olympic Champion proved his self-belief and preparations were justified.
While he conquered the biggest event that short-course triathlon has to offer, his success since going long has cemented his position as one of the greatest athletes we have seen.
Always an athlete motivated to race on the biggest stage possible, his full-distance debut in 2014 comprised of arguably the two biggest races the sport had to offer - the IRONMAN European Championship in Frankfurt and the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.
Both would yield Bronze medals, while he also collected Silver at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, sandwiched between those performances.
If 2014 was good, 2015 would be spectacular. Frankfurt? Gold. Kona? Gold. IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship? Gold. He became first athlete, male or female, to have won both Olympic Triathlon Gold and the IRONMAN World Championship. More records would soon follow.
For 2016 he announced that he would race Germany’s other summer full-distance legend, Challenge Roth, with the goal of setting a world-best time for the iron distance. He did that in style too, by more than five minutes, and his 7:35:39 time that day is still the best on record.
Any doubts that such an effort would impact his chances come October on the Big Island of Hawaii were answered in style. He led home a German clean sweep of the men’s podium, followed by defending champion Sebastian Kienle and Patrick Lange for back-to-back IRONMAN World Championship titles.
Setbacks… and bounce backs
Train, race, win… you could be forgiven that thinking it was all coming easy for the 6ft 4-inch German. Jan, like all elite athletes though, is not immune to failure.
“If you are challenging yourself enough then you will lose or fall short somewhere along the line, even if it’s just in a training session… if you are looking for the limits, then you have to fall short at some point.”
Challenging the limits, seeking improvement - that is what drives Jan Frodeno. Winning is great, but it is the fear of underperformance which drives his punishing training schedule.
Seeking a third consecutive IRONMAN World Championship in 2017, and the prohibitive favourite to do so, Frodeno found himself trailing well down the field. It proved to be a humbling wake-up call. “I was overly busy that year, not being committed to the cause… I got a receipt from my body that I was not ready to race at the level I wanted.”
“You only lose if you don’t learn”, and Frodeno has learned through his long career not to make the same mistakes over and over again. The result? He came firing back to form in 2018, winning the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Port Elizabeth, heading a podium of all-time greats with Alistair Brownlee and Javier Gomez in second and third, respectively. For many, it was the greatest triathlon race of all time and arguably the best performance of his career.
Frodo was ready now for Kona redemption after that 2017 misery, but it was not to be. A sacral fracture in his lower back just days after his South Africa heroics meant he couldn’t even start.
Focussing on his recovery and not dwelling on what could have been was more than rewarded in 2019. Another unbeaten season and another Frankfurt/Kona double came complete with a new course record in Hawaii, en-route to a third IRONMAN victory on the Big Island.
After that, time to kick back and relax and you can be sure that will involve coffee, the thing he says he can’t live without… most likely his own Frodissimo brand, of course!