Josh Amberger shocked the world last year when he emerged first out of the water during the 2017 Kona World Championship. He returned to the big island of Hawaii in 2018, but no longer as an up-and-comer stunner. His rivals knew they’d be hard pressed to match him in the water, and Josh knew that his race day would become more grueling with each passing minute. His is a story of tenacity, maturity, and focus, and it's one of the most unique to come out of Kona 2018, one he shared with us in the days following this year’s biggest race...
“Last year I swam a bit quicker than I did [this year]. The reason why is because I found myself too far in front last year, and in a race like Kona, no one is ever going to win the race off the front for the whole day.”
Josh Amberger is the faster swimmer in the sport of triathlon, and it’s a sure bet that he’ll always be first out of the water. Such was the case last year at Josh’s Kona debut, but his youthful exuberance resulted in a fading of speed by the day’s end. One year later, Josh approached Kona with a new game plan to better manage his energy reserves across all three legs of the race.
“I led the swim the whole way, and I kept it comfortable the whole way, and I was quite happy to have some company out of the water. It was a perfect scenario.”
Josh found himself amidst a group of competitors following the swim leg, which eventually whittled down to a pack of four athletes on the bike. Josh knew he’d have to dig deep to maintain a strong position heading into the run.
“The transition [to the IA Disc bike] has been smooth. It feels like it’s a definite upgrade in terms of stiffness, and obviously the disc brake advantage has lots of benefits for safety. I’m really happy with it. I got off the bike in third place, and I rode 10 minutes quicker than I did last year. After seeing those numbers off the bike, I was super confident I was still well in the race and in contention for, perhaps, a top five finish.”
Josh wasn’t the only Felt athlete who posted a stellar bike split on the day. Daniela Ryf would go on to win her fourth consecutive World Championship in the women’s division, as well as break the Kona bike course record aboard her IA Disc.
“I’ve been dealing with a niggling [injury] in my ITB for the better part of three months, since Ironman Frankfurt. I’ve had very minimal running. Unlike my swimming, my running is not very natural for me. I need to train at it a lot, so I hadn’t had the opportunity to do so leading up to Kona.”
Josh’s plan was to maintain a strong position at the front of both the swim and bike legs in anticipation of a tough run. He did so admirably, and proved that he’s a competitor to watch to future Kona glory. But a nagging leg injury cropped up again, and Josh was forced to abandon the race about 10 miles into the run.
“Your mind is the most powerful thing you have as an athlete. If you’re constantly trying to train through injury and train through pain, you’re probably going to find yourself sick of the sport because that injury isn’t going away. As a professional, I need to be mindful that this is my job.”
Had a similar situation occurred last year, Josh may have stubbornly fought through the pain but would have potentially been sidelined with a longstanding injury. His decision to recognize the severity of the situation and to have the maturity to make a mindful decision for his health and long-term ambitions is a sign that Josh has his eyes set on big results in the future. If the stars align for Josh next year and he remains injury-free, look for him to reach the Kona podium.
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Josh Amberger is one of the fastest rising stars in triathlon. The Australian has won a slew of major races, including the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship, and he has been first out of the water at the two previous Kona World Championships. In his own words, he breaks down his most recent race at Ironman Vitoria.
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