IRONMAN has a cruel wisdom that we may never really understand or agree with. Events transpire on race day that in the moment can seem abhorrent.
Great athletes can be crushed under some quirk in their strategy. Wins can be withheld from athletes who seem to be more than worthy and deserving of titles. But one of the oddest, and at first glance tragic, mysteries in IRONMAN’s grand plan happened in 2004.
It was a slow hard year for everyone. The woman who came out on top at the end of it was Germany’s Nina Kraft. The heavy favorite, Four-Time IRONMAN World Champion Natascha Badmann, came in second almost 17-minutes later. It was a gap that was almost unexplainable.
After everyone had gone home and was starting to look toward the next year we would know the reason why Natascha had been beaten by such an incredibly large margin. It was EPO. Yes, an IRONMAN World Champion tested positive for one of the most infamous performance enhancing drugs in the world.
Natascha Badmann had accepted her defeat with class on race day. She came across the finish line with her signature look of knowing she’d given her best and honored the race and the Island in the process. The news of the drug test threw that all into a tailspin.
Badmann had been robbed of victory. We were all robbed.
It was given back to her in the record books, but there would be no photos of her breaking the tape as first across the line. There would be no record of her running back out into the crowd in appreciation for their support. We would not hear her thoughts about the experience. And she would not be garnered with the winner’s traditional royal lei.
The awards the next night is always the final star moment on an effort deservedly earned. In 2004, a false champion got the spotlight and the microphone to address the crowd. The true champion, Natascha Badmann, would never be heard. And anyone who has heard Natascha speak at the awards knows what a treat it is. She always honors the spirit of the race and the Island. Her words are always gracious and humble. She’s funny and engaging. She’s a true hero. Yes, in the moment it was an extreme tragedy.
A year later Natascha Badmann would return to Kona.
She was filled with a huge reservoir of unfinished business and an unending supply of fire that none of us will ever really know the full force of. But what we saw by the end of the day in 2005 was a champion returning to the top of the world for a sixth time.
My win in 2005 was a very special one because for the first time I changed my mental focus. During my preparation Toni (my coach) felt that a different focus would help overall with my main focus, which was to give my best possible performance. So we started to program a new word. In prior years – as people who were at the awards know – I focused on the eagle and imagined I was flying, which especially helped me in the brutal winds of the years 2001 and 2002.
Going into the race in 2005 in knew that the female competition was extremely strong. The race itself had components I’d never experienced before. First and most I got my fist penalty ever! Unbelievable. I got it before Kawaihae, after passing a group of about 12 athletes.
The second surprise of the day was that I didn’t come off the bike first. What had been my strength in the past years wasn’t my strength this day. The third and probably most “destroying” fact about it was that I was back 10-minutes from the leader. I was not back 10-minutes on just anybody. I was back 10-minutes on Michelle Jones!
With this knowledge in my backpack the start of my run didn’t really feel easy. Actually from this point of view it was impossible to win. I made a short calculation and I would have to run 15-second per kilometer faster than her to even catch her at the finish line. Just impossible.
Knowing my body will do what my mind tells I focused on my new word. I was running effortless and enjoying the island of Hawaii with it’s beauty and all the joy it brought to me. I was thankful and in deep respect of what my body was able to do. What seemed to be impossible turned changed and did become possible. I was able to win and as always after a victory – it seemed to be the best moment in my life.
Looking back many years later I’m still impressed by that day and how it was possible – I will never forget it!
The last time she actually had the chance to own that platform was in 2002. And now, at age 38, Natascha Badmann joined a rarified club of athletes who won the IRONMAN World Championship 6-times. The only person to win more was Paula Newby-Fraser.
Here is a short video of her coming into the finish. You’ll see the joy she felt:
There’s three things that make this a Top-40 Greatest Moments At IRONMAN.
The first is winning six times. That needs to be recognized and honored. The second was winning at 38-years of age. That made her the oldest champion in history, man or woman. It would not be until Craig Alexander won at 38 in 2011 that anyone else would join that club of one that she was now owned solo.
But what really makes this such an amazing moment is having to endure a year of emotion knowing she’d won in 2004, but never got the chance to be crowned with the sacred winner’s lei. It was knowing she’d be fueled with frustration and disappointment, but that she was able to maintain enough clarity and focus to not let it rip her apart and go crazy with training that could have just as easily cost her another victory. Natascha Badmann earned a true champion’s honor with her title in 2005 perhaps more than any of her other five.
Here’s the quirk that may have been IRONMAN’s wisdom working.
If Natascha had won in 2004, who is to say she would have had the drive and desire needed to put in the work another year to become a champion again in 2005? If Nina had won cleanly, who’s to say what kind of a roll she would have gotten on and maybe prevented Natascha from ever winning a sixth title.
But from what I have seen over the years IRONMAN is always writing it’s script on the tablet of life perfectly. In the end, the world will remember Natascha as one of the greatest champions every in the history of IRONMAN. Most will never know about the missed opportunities of 2004. Natascha Badmann will always be a face that comes to mind when you think of a champion who completely embraces the race with happiness and joy.
To see what Natascha is up to these days click HERE.
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I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.