Gustav Iden has never shied away from admitting he is confident in his own abilities, and now he has said he thinks he is different from other triathletes because he is “smarter” than them.
Since coming into triathlon, he, along with fellow Norwegian and training partner Kristian Blummenfelt, have dominated men’s races across all distances, and now he has spoken out more about his journey to the upper echelons of the sport, and revealed just how far he thinks he can go.
“We had nothing”
“When I started with Triathlon Norway, we had basically nothing,” Iden explains, recounting the beginning of his journey, “so I was the first athlete or the first generation on a national team together with Kristian.”
“It was nothing before us, really. It was absolutely nothing.
“It was a cyclist, that’s what I was supposed to be. That’s what I kind of looked [at] myself as, a cyclist.
“But I knew that to be a cyclist I had to sacrifice my run training and I actually really enjoyed running.
“To win like Tour de France or whatever, you have to be on a bike for six hours a day and there is no time for running.
“I really didn’t want to sacrifice my run training. So, triathlon it was.”
From there, Iden explained, there was no turning back. He found himself thrust into the path of becoming a professional triathlete- the uniform quite literally forced upon him.
“I got an invite to have an open, national camp in Oslo together with, I think, like 12 other youngsters who were within the reach of becoming a triathlete,” Iden said, “[It was a] a crazy journey because I think of those 10 people, we had four in the Olympics.
“The payout from that meeting is just insane. It was just like a weekend in Oslo where we basically got handed a team kit and ‘said you’re going to become a triathlete, you just need to learn how to swim. That was in 2010.
“A crazy journey from having absolutely nothing in Norway in terms of triathlon, to having maybe the best team ever.
Ahead on and off the course
The Norwegian Train of Iden and Blummenfelt is powered by science, and Iden stresses that their country’s training programme is miles ahead of anyone else.
“We have made a lot of progress in the science aspect,” he explained, “I think in the future we will publish our own scientific papers on the training we have done.
“Some of the things we’ve done are truly next level and I think some people don’t really understand how far ahead we are in terms of some of our training.
“It’s not kind of like a talent thing that made us good, it was just a really, really good culture that made us such an amazing team.”
For Iden, such a hardworking culture of fitness began long before triathlon came into his life.
“We are really an active family,” Iden, born in Bergen, said, “I started cycling because my sister and my brother did it; they’re both older.”
“My father was really pushing an active lifestyle and my mother was also racing. Driving around the whole summer for me and my brother and sister to have all the races.
“We drove to Sweden and over the mountains to Oslo all the time to have all the competition that we wanted.
“I’m really, really, really happy that they did that for me because I understand now how much of a sacrifice it is for them, to really do everything for their children, but I’m so happy that they did.”
A symphony of racing
Sometimes to achieve greatness in one aspect of your life you must sacrifice another potential path, and Gustav Iden is no different.
“I used to play a lot of music,” he revealed, “I was in a band with my brother and sister and we’re actually quite good musicians.
“But it was never a question, for me, if I wanted to do some music or sports. For me, sports was always more fun.”
But whilst he might not play anymore, he still feels the same stepping up to the start as he did on to the stage.
“I’m not only here to win,” he said, “I’m here to entertain as well and I think the music background is part of that.
“I also used to get really nervous before playing because you know a lot of people are looking at you.
“That’s something that’s always with me, still. That it’s kind of scary to show yourself in a race.
“If you do something wrong, everyone will see it. The bigger star you are, I think more eyes are on you.
“It can be a bit scary to really, really put yourself out there as an athlete and do your best to perform a race day. And it’s not like I am silent in my expectations for the race.
“When you say that, you kind of set yourself up for criticism if you don’t win. That’s something I’m willing to live with.
“You have to be honest with your real ambitions to really perform. If you have the self-belief that you’re going to win, I think it’s a good thing to just say that you’re going to win.”
To declare oneself the best is undeniably bold – and yet when you have a track record like Iden, you can’t help but feel he he’s earned the right to think that way.
“I knew six years ago that I was going to be the best,” Iden explained, “I may become across a bit arrogant in my ambitions, [but] every single life advice you get from everyone is just be yourself.
“To live like a fake lifestyle where I’m fake humble, or fake anything, I think that would be extremely tiring.
“It’s best to just be open that you kind of are arrogant and you kind of are looking at yourself as the greatest athlete, and so far I’ve been backing it up quite okay.
“I’m different because I’m smarter than the rest: to just have the overview during a race, even it’s a sprint distance or IRONMAN distance, you really need to pay attention to your nutrition, power numbers, aerodynamics, pressure in the tyres.
“It’s so many variables and I think I have a good ability to take all the information and sort it and then just [make] the right decisions at every point of the race.
“I think that’s something I do in training as well and I think that’s what make me special.
“I’m smarter than a normal triathlete.”
It is a remarkable statement, but one that he truly believes- at least, when it comes to most of his competitors.
“I met Kristian the first time before the national team camp in Oslo in 2010,” Iden said, speaking of his training partner and friend, “we went to the same high school, so it’s been a long relationship and it’s still growing.
“Kristian is a special person. I think we complement each other quite nicely.
“On race day, it’s a hard combination; we are teammates but we’re also competitors.
“We try to maximize our own potential. If he wants to do something on a bike I would let him go.
“But I would never let him win or anything like that. It’s mostly to play on each other’s strengths and really maximize our performance together.”
Gustav Iden cannot simply be content with just being good at Triathlon. For him the aim is the highest level possible, and that means dethroning the man widely believed to be the greatest of all time – Jan Frodeno.
“To be called the greatest of all time, you have to prove yourself,” he said, “never have any weaknesses.
“Whatever course it is, whatever condition it is, you are able to win.
“So far, Jan has been closest to being the greatest of all time, but hopefully I can show him it’s not easy to have that title forever.
“I think I’m the present of triathlon- and also the future.”