Sebastian Kienle: Background, career highlights, quotes

A three-time Ironman world champion – once at full distance, twice at 70.3 – Sebastian Kienle has been a fixture of the Ironman scene for the last 10 years or more.

He’s a key cog in the German domination of long-course racing, but here’s how it all began…

Who is Sebastian Kienle?

Credit: Josef Salomon/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

Sebastian Kienle fell in love with triathlon when he was just eight years old and, despite being of such tender age, immediately knew that becoming a professional triathlete was an overriding career goal. His destiny, almost.

Kienle first started competing in triathlons at the age of 12 and, by the time of he reached his early twenties, he was already a double Xterra champion.

The German’s overwhelmingly strongest discipline is the bike, with his ability on two wheels – often far greater than those around him – being the main reason why Kienle has become so well-decorated in long-course racing.

In 2012, his bike leg set him up for his capturing of the Ironman 70.3 world title in Las Vegas, in the process claiming a course record time. It was a feat he repeated the following year: another world title, another course record.

He hasn’t been at all shabby when it’s come to the full distance either. After a bronze in Kona in 2013, Kienle followed this by grabbing gold in 2014 – his third Ironman world title.

Since then there have been two more podium finishes in Hawaii, along with three Ironman European championships golds and a Challenge Roth title.

Having declared that his retirement will come at the end of 2023, there’s still the prospect of another Ironman world crown to add to the trophy cabinet. When you can generate as much power and speed as Kienle can on the bike, it would be a brave soul to bet against it.

How old is Sebastian Kienle?

Sebastian Kienle was born on 6 July 1984, making him 37 years of age.

Sebastian Kienle’s career highlights

Kienle wins DATEV Challenge Roth 2018 (Credit: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

August 2009: A maiden Ironman title, won on home turf

Victory at Ironman 70.3 Germany in Wiesbaden – ahead of compatriot/recently crowned world champion Michael Raelert and Switzerland’s Matthias Hecht – delivers qualification to the world championships. Kienle’s journey towards the top table of long-distance triathlon is gathering pace.

September 2012: Kienle conquers the world, mainly on two wheels

Kienle takes his first Ironman 70.3 world crown in Las Vegas, thanks to an extraordinary bike leg on which he reels in, and powers away from, the leading riders at an extraordinary speed. Indeed, his split is more than five minutes quicker than anyone else.

This helps him to not only have enough of a gap on the half-marathon to hold off Craig Alexander, but to also set a new course record in the desert of 3:54:53.

October 2012: Just outside the medals in Kona

A month later, Kienle goes long at the Ironman worlds in Kona and, after suffering from a puncture, finishes fourth, behind the Australian Pete Jacobs, Germany’s Andreas Raelert and the Belgian Frederik Van Lierde.

September 2013: Kienle remains 70.3 world champion

A successful defense of his Ironman 70.3 world title in Las Vegas, the final year of the event being in Nevada. And it’s another course record, shaving 33 seconds of his winning time of 12 months earlier.

October 2013: Bronze in Kona shows upward progression

Kienle improves on his previous best in Kona, making the podium this time around, behind Van Lierde and the Australian Luke McKenzie. In McKenzie, the German meets a rare beast: someone who can go as fast – a little faster today, actually – than he himself can.

July 2014: The new thirty-something is the king of Europe

One day into his thirties, Kienle takes his first Ironman European champion title in Frankfurt, demolishing the course record, helped – of course – by a bike leg that’s more than eight minutes inside the previous best split.

October 2014: A third world title – this time it’s the big one

Kienle wins his first Ironman World Championship in Kona, 2014 (Credit: Paul Philips)

Three months later in Kona, Kienle takes his first – and, to date, only – full-distance Ironman crown. The margin of victory over the silver medallist, the USA’s Ben Hoffman, is a comfortable five minutes, and one largely due to yet another storming bike leg that sees him take a full ten minutes out of the next-fastest rider. Fellow German Jan Frodeno completes the medallists.

October 2016: Kienle bags the full set of Kona medals

Having finished a disappointment eighth when attempting to defend his world title in 2015, Kienle (left) returns to the podium a year later when he takes silver. Joined on the podium by Frodeno and Patrick Langeit’s a German 1-2-3.

July 2017: A third European Ironman crown

After a second victory in 2016, Kienle makes it a hat-trick of titles at the Ironman European championships in Frankfurt.

July 2018: Kienle takes his maiden victory at Challenge Roth

Despite not posting the fastest bike split at the 2018 edition of Challenge Roth (that honor went to Australia’s Cameron Wurf, who set a new record for the leg), Kienle pulls back the two-minute margin separating them within the first 5km of the run, after which his maiden victory in his homeland event is assured.

October 2019: A fourth top-three finish in Hawaii

Credit: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images for Ironman

Showing that there’s still life in the old dog’s legs, Kienle (right) claims his fourth appearance on the Kona podium, coming home in the wake of Frodeno and the USA’s Tim O’Donnell.

Sebastian Kienle in quotes

On the magic of triathlon: “When looking at the 100-meter sprint, it’s only about time, or winning or losing the race. You never have the feeling of accomplishing something when you have the finished it.”

On winning Kona in 2014: “If you believe you have won the race too early, then you are probably going to lose it. It’s all about holding back and not letting any emotion get to you. Then at the finish line you can let it go.”

On how fatherhood has affected his triathlon career: “Now it’s hard for me to travel, even for a few days. But it’s a great motivator. In the past, I needed an hour to get ready for training. Now I do it in five minutes.”

What’s next for Sebastian Kienle?

Kienle wins Ironman European Championships Frankfurt in 2017 (Credit: Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images for Ironman)

After a DNF at Challenge Roth in 2021 due to ongoing Achilles problems, Kienle has acknowledged that he’s a mere mortal whose career needs “some sort of finish line”.

He’s named the end of the 2023 season as just that, giving him two serious tilts at regaining the Ironman world title in 2022 (after the rescheduling of the postponed 2021 edition of the race), before that final that Kienle acknowledges will be “the farewell world tour”.

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