Jan Frodeno competes for the third title at the hardest triathlon of the world

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A man of iron

This article was originally published in the Daimler blog.

On Saturday, the new “Man of Iron” 2019 will be crowned in the small town of Kona in Hawaii. The competition on Hawaii is the oldest and also the toughest triathlon competition in the world, and Kona is the considered to be mecca for triathletes.

The athletes who line up at the start must master three long-distance disciplines in succession: swimming for 3.86 kilometers, then riding a bicycle for 180.2 kilometers, and finally running a marathon — that’s 42.195 kilometers — in tropical heat and humidity, against competitors who are the absolute triathlon elite. It’s a battle of attrition. In this competition, the athlete’s iron will is pitted against the limits of the human body’s endurance.

One of the competitors will be Jan Frodeno, a global Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador. Frodeno is one of the world’s most successful triathletes, and he knows exactly what he will be up against in Hawaii. In 2015 and 2016 he left his competitors behind and was the first man to drag himself across the finish line. By contrast, 2017 and 2018 were years he’d rather forget.

Now, in 2019, he has had a strong season so far and is once again regarded as one of the favorites. Frodeno says he’s “really up for it.” He gives the impression of being relaxed but focused. Mercedes-Benz visited him at his training camp in his adopted home in the city of Girona in Spain at the end of August. The purpose of the visit was to deliver Frodeno’s new special EQC Edition 1886. Who is this “man of iron”?

Who is the athlete Jan Frodeno?

Jan Frodeno was born in Cologne in 1981 and grew up in South Africa. He started his sports career at the age of 15 as a swimmer. Frodeno has the perfect physical requirements for his sport: He’s 194 cm tall, his shoe size is 45, and he has an arm span of 198 cm. His nickname is “Schlacks” (Slim).

In 2000 Frodeno watched the triathlon competition of the Summer Games in Sydney on TV and was immediately hooked. Eight years later, at the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, Frodeno stood on the winners’ podium himself. He was the first German triathlete to win the gold medal. This victory was followed by countless other titles.

However, in 2010 Frodeno’s world looked very different. That was the year when he almost experienced a burnout. As a result, he made changes in his training workload and his private life. He listened more closely to his own body, allowed himself to take rest periods, and toned down the high expectations he had imposed on himself.

After the Summer Games in 2012, he decided he needed a “change of scenery,” as he puts it. He moved to the city of Girona in Spain. “This is the perfect place to live if you’re into triathlon,” he says. “Here I can very easily combine swimming, cycling, and running. On top of that, there’s a great quality of life and fantastic food. What more could you ask for?” In Girona, Frodeno laid the foundation of his victories, which have made his name immortal: He was the first triathlete to win not only the gold medal in Bejing (in 2008) but also the competition in Hawaii (in 2015 and 2016).

Jan Frodeno and the competition in Hawaii

When Hawaii is mentioned, Frodeno’s eyes light up. “Winning in Hawaii once again would be fantastic! I envision it as an opportunity to become part of the history of this discipline and of this extraordinary race.” However, the “myth of Kona,” has also brought him the most bitter hours of his career.

His victories in 2015 and 2016 made him world-famous. In 2017, after having a strong season, he started out in the toughest competition of the world as one of the absolute favorites — and he failed. His body went on strike. Triathletes only give up if they are forced to do so. Frodeno’s back was the problem — his muscles cramped up.

His German competitor Patrick Lange charged past him to win his first Ironman title. When Lange outstripped Frodeno in the third and last discipline, the marathon, and moved ahead to second place, Frodeno spurred him on to victory, shouting, “Patrick, man, he’s dying! Get him!” (He was referring to Lionel Sanders from Canada, who became the second-place winner of the race.) Frodeno reached the finish line, racked with pain, more than an hour after Lange.

The greatness of an athlete is revealed in defeat — and in one of his most abject athletic defeats, Frodeno revealed his greatness in a thrilling moment for the sport (video: here). When asked how he deals with upsets like these, he explains, “I always look at the lesson learned, not at the defeat.” Because of an injury, he was unable to compete in 2018. That makes it all the more important to have reliable partners like Mercedes-Benz in tough phases like these.

The Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador Jan Frodeno

Frodeno is a fighter, a resilient athlete who always bounces back. He makes success his top priority. And he wants to make a comeback in 2019. His career in sports could be titled “All the miles that make you stronger” — and Frodeno, who is now 38, has certainly racked up plenty of miles. His determination to always strive to be the best, his magnanimity in defeat, and his down-to-earth personality make him a credible and authentic brand ambassador of Mercedes-Benz.

He has borne the title of Brand Ambassador since his victory in the Games in 2008. Back then, every German winner was given a vehicle by Mercedes-Benz, and this is where his passion for the brand began. “Mercedes simply makes great cars!” says Frodeno with a grin. He especially likes the vehicles’ design and their top performance.

Frodeno is married and has two children, so a car is indispensable. But an automobile means a lot more to him than mere mobility. He feels that his car is a piece of freedom. “I live in a district where I don’t have to travel far to get to the sea or the mountains — even though I don’t live directly on the coast or in the mountains,” he says. “My car gives me the freedom to explore these beautiful places.”

Frodeno is a vegetarian who feels close to nature, and he cycles frequently, above and beyond his training sessions. He’s delighted to have received an EQC, and he approves of the overall trend toward electric mobility at Mercedes-Benz. “The EQC is more than just a compromise solution,” he says. “Driving it is a lot of fun, and the acceleration is simply brilliant.”

For Frodeno, sustainability is an important issue in principle, and he practices a sustainable lifestyle — with regard to his environment, his body, and the way he manages his expectations regarding himself.

When asked how long wants to pursue titles and how long his body will allow him to do so, Frodeno says it’s an open question. Too many external influences, such as injuries, would play a role in such a decision. Frodeno approaches each new year as though it were an Olympics year. He prepares for the athletic high points and doesn’t want to plan for too far into the future.

In his opinion, being a professional athlete is a privilege, and he feels that “in spite of all the rough going, it would be very, very difficult to find another job in this lifetime that is as great as this.” Nowadays Frodeno no longer approaches his competitions as doggedly as he used to — he no longer has to prove anything to himself. But even if he wins yet another victory in Hawaii, he’s still not ready to retire from sports. “I don’t want to become a sports co-commentator just yet. Standing on the sidelines is not my thing,” he says. “I want to be an active participant and really show what I’m made of during the final kilometers.”

Frodeno is smiling, but that doesn’t diminish the sense of determination you can hear in his words. You can feel what it means when this man says he’s “really up for” Kona. Here at Mercedes-Benz, we too are “really up for” Kona. The Group is behind you! Jan, let’s see a repeat of 2015 and 2016!

Manuel Müller

In the Sports & Branded Entertainment Communications team at COM / MBC, Manuel Müller is responsible, among other things, for activating the Mercedes-Benz sponsorship activities in various sports such as golf, tennis, riding, eSports, etc. For Mercedes-Benz he was allowed to accompany the training of Jan Frodeno and was impressed by its discipline and training intensity.

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