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When Lionel met Mikal: Coaching change transforms Sanders

Canadian star opens up on coaching change that could transform his career.

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Lionel Sanders believes a chance bike ride with the Iden brothers back in August may have saved his triathlon career at the highest level.

When Lionel decided to go out for a ride with Gustav and Mikal during Collins Cup week in Slovakia, it was initially just for fun. But right there, a seed was planted.

By the end of that week in Samorin, Sanders and Mikal were seriously discussing how the Norwegian might come on board to take up the role as coach to Lionel.

Four months on, and the 33-year-old Canadian says the move transformed what could have been thoughts of retirement right now into dreams of one day claiming the gold-standard wins he craves.

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When Lionel met Mikal

Sanders recounted how the link-up with Mikal came about – he describes it as “an amazing turn of fate” – in the end-of-season recap on his YouTube channel. As ever, it was honest, searching and full of insight.

“We did a bike workout together (with Gustav and Mikal). It was a lot of fun, and what I observed was it would be nice to train with people a bit more.

“But then Gustav said to me ‘Do you have a coach right now?’ I said no, and he said ‘ Well why don’t you be coached by my brother’.

“I thought he was joking, so for the rest of the week we messed around – every time I saw Mikal, I said: ‘I’m waiting for that training plan’ and finally at the end of the week, he said ‘If you’re serious let’s have a coffee and talk about it’.

“So we did and we basically said, well let’s try it and see if we work well together. That will go down also equally as a very important change in my life and my career.

“He asked if I wanted insight and advice, I said ‘no, I’m ready to be coached – I don’t want to have advisers any more, I want to have a coach now. I’m ready to hand over the reins, and I trust you and you write the training.

“A whole cascade of things occurred when that happened, totally different training method – truly different – I was training the polar opposite of what science says is the proper way to be training.”

The excitement is evident in Sanders’ voice as he talks about the impact Mikal has had already. It’s a seismic shift.

“If I hadn’t met Mikal at Collins Cup, and then I had went and did the same season (in 2021) I have had – but without meeting him and learning what I know now – I would say I would probably be thinking about retiring now.

“These guys are doing things very differently, and what I was doing probably couldn’t be any more opposite to what they’re doing.

“So, I would have raced Gustav in Florida, and I would have finished probably 20 minutes down, completely out of contention, and then I would have sat here and been crying about it on this camera and saying ‘I’m going to do this and that’ and then I would have watched Kristian [Blummenfelt, at Cozumel] and that would have blown my mind and I would have been: ‘I think it’s over guys’.”

Sanders on 2022 and beyond

Thankfully for Sanders, he did link up with Iden, and now he is convinced that one day soon he will be able to compete with the very best at the world’s biggest races.

He admitted: “In meeting Mikal, and learning what I know now, it’s clear as day – ‘you don’t know what you’re doing, you are so backwards how you’re training, it’s comical actually’.

“With what I know, and with the people I have around me, I’m going to compete with everyone in the world – absolutely. I can do it.

“It’s gonna take a while, it might not happen by St George, it might not happen by Kona, it might take a couple more years – but I can be a contender on the world stage.”

Stuart Dick
Written by
Stuart Dick
Stuart is a graduate of the University of Sunderland with a masters' degree in Sports Journalism. He spends a lot of his time running and cycling around West Yorkshire, England.
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