Lionel Sanders didn’t need to race at IRONMAN Florida on Saturday, but he had one very special reason for doing so – he wanted to be there on the day Gustav Iden did his first Ironman.
The 33-year-old Canadian had already wrapped up spots for next year’s two IRONMAN World Championship races in St George (May) and Kona (October). The lure and “privilege” of racing Iden on his full-distance debut though was too big to turn down.
In the end the pair produced a great battle, racing together until around 17 miles into a blistering marathon. Then Iden pulled clear as Sanders slowed, and claimed a convincing victory by just under six minutes.
Both men delivered great run times – Iden an eye-popping 2:34:51 on his full-distance debut, Sanders a 2:40:43. Gustav also broke the race record time of 7:46:28 set by Joe Skipper in 2019, clocking 7:42:57.
Afterwards Sanders, now coached like Gustav by Iden’s brother Mikal, paid tribute to his rival – saying “dude is legit” – and reflected on “a great battle”.
Sanders ‘thought he had’ Iden
He said: “I was all in, I was going for the win and I was either gonna win or I was gonna walk the second half and I went for it, I didn’t walk the second half but I also didn’t win.
“It was a great battle, this guy is tough as nails and to be honest with you, I thought I had him. I thought I had you Gustav, were you faking me? Were you faking me a little bit?
“This guy is moaning and groaning for the first 10 miles, I was like ‘this guy’s gonna drop in two seconds’ – no, it didn’t happen.”
It absolutely didn’t happen, and post-race Sanders lavished high praise on the two-time 70.3 World Champion.
“I wanted to see Gustav first-hand, I didn’t really need to come – I have my Kona spot, I’ve got my St George spot. But I could not miss the opportunity to race this guy – this is the guy who we’re going to be racing for many many years to come. I don’t know why he wants to do ITU – I don’t get it.
Gustav the one to beat now
“This is definitely the guy who is going to be the one to beat for many years to come in long-course. I had the privilege to see his first one and they’re only gonna go up from here so I got a lot of work to do.”
Saturday’s race had begun with challenging conditions for the swim, and without that Iden and Sanders would have gone even faster.
Lionel admitted: “Tough day out there so congrats to everyone who started and finished! If you didn’t make the swim cutoff, props to you as well, that was probably the hardest swim of my professional career!”