To beat Frodeno, Lionel Sanders must ‘stop sucking at swimming’

Lionel Sanders again spoke of his desire to improve his ability in the water on Friday – re-iterating his desire to “stop sucking at swimming”.

The Canadian faces off against Jan Frodeno in the Zwift Tri Battle Royale in southern Germany on Sunday, a head-to-head battle over the full iron distance.

Lionel faces a monumental task to overcome Frodeno, who is regarded by many as the greatest long-distance male triathlete of all time. He knows that coming out of the water well behind the German leaves him with a slim chance of making up the gap.

Sanders’ efforts at aquatic improvement were highlighted in the recent PTO documentary ‘Beyond Human’, which sets the scene for the Collins Cup in Šamorín in August

In the documentary, he joined up with Team USA hopeful Heather Jackson for swim training in Arizona, the pair working under the expert tutelage of coach Justin Slade.

Lionel Sanders on swimming

“I’m a fan of Heather,” Sanders said. “We’re in the exact same boat. We’re team-mates in this goal of stop sucking at swimming.

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“I am the equivalent to a good six-year-old swimmer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t behave like biking and running. You want to run faster, try harder. Swimming couldn’t be further from that as far as I can tell.”

Sanders went on to reveal how the PTO 2020 Championship at Daytona last year fuelled his desire to improve through the water.

Lionel finished fourth in Florida, having clocked a time of 25:54 for the swim – more than two minutes slower than eventual race winner Gustav Iden.

“That Daytona race said to me, unfortunately, when you come out of the water three-and-a-half minutes down, back in the day maybe you’d have won. In this era, not with these guys. So it’s now or never for my career really.”

Sanders attitude ‘motivating’

Jackson admitted that Sanders’ approach to training has enhanced her own competitive streak.

“I started back in November, and I was working with Justin three times a week,” she explained. “And then Lionel Sanders joined us and [I] said I want to be here every single day”. 

“It’s very motivating to be training with someone that is so driven to be the absolute best in the world that day.”

Jackson explained how Sanders is constantly comparing himself to his rivals, and how that attitude has started to rub off on her.

“He knows splits that Gustav Iden, or these other male pros that he’s racing, what they do,” she highlighted.

“It constantly makes you be like ‘oh God what is Lucy Charles’ swim or Lauren Brandon’s. And now I am looking at that stuff because of Lionel’s influence.”

Lacking confidence

Swim coach Slade insisted in the documentary that it is Sanders’ and Jackson’s lack of conviction in the water which has held them back.

“The way I see them on a bike or running – super-confident. Yet both lack a lot of confidence in the water. From Lionel’s point of view – no feel. We need to develop feel for the water.

“With Heather, she really talked herself down to a point where she believed she was horrible at swimming and there was nothing she could do about it.

“If I can get her enjoying herself between repeats, those repeats inevitably are better and she’s going to be able to carry that into her race.”

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