Photos courtesy Ironman.com
By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Gustav Iden has emerged from the imposing shadow of Norwegian stablemate Kristian Blummenfelt to tear up the Kona record books and rewrite the formula for Ironman World Championship success.
The 26-year-old has smashed the overall 226km course and 42.2km marathon records to win in a sensational 7:40:24, beating home heroic Frenchman Sam Laidlow by exactly two minutes with Blummenfelt (7:43:23) rounding out the podium.
Iden slashed (an unofficial) 10mins 49sec off the previous course record of 7:51:13 set by Jan Frodeno when the German legend won the last race in Kona in 2019. The 2020 race was cancelled while Blummenfelt won the 2021 edition which was postponed till this past May and moved to Utah due to the pandemic.
With a ridiculous 2:36:15 split, Iden also eclipsed the previous Kona marathon best set by Patrick Langer in 2016 by 3mins 30secs.
“That was so freakin’ hard,” said Iden who became the first Kona debutant to win since Belgian Luc Van Lierde in 1996.
“The last 10K, I was worried about the legend of the island killing me. Everything was going smoothly till I caught Sam Laidlow, the legend, and then when I passed him, oh my god, the island really, really tried to put me down, but I think my hat must be stronger than the legend of the island. That was so, so epic.”
For reference, Iden races in a lucky hat bearing the name of a Taiwanese temple that he found on the side of a road in Japan and wore to his first 70.3 win in Nice in 2019. He’s had great success since and joked that everything had gone to plan on Sunday except that Blummenfelt “should have come second”.
“We will have to try again later I guess,” he said before immediately rethinking. “I’m not sure if I’m coming back here. This was too hard.”
Illness forced Iden, a two-time 70.3 world champion, to sit out the Utah worlds, robbing triathlon fans of a mano o mano with Blummenfelt.
The much-vaunted Viking showdown played out for much of the bike-marathon in Kona but what few had figured on was Laidlow laying down the race of his life to split the Norwegians.
It took Iden till 5km from home to overtake the gritty 23-year-old who has British roots – and now also the new Kona bike course record. His 4:04:36 split for the 180km eclipsed Aussie Cam Wurf ‘s 2018 record by 4mins 30sec and blew the race wide open.
Laidlow then doubled down with the marathon of his life, in the vicinity of 11 mins faster than his own PB, to hold on to second place.
“Phew, I was just loving it to be honest, I’ve been dreaming this since I was four or five so to be leading the race till 30-what, 35, 36k on the marathon is something special,” Laidlow said, fighting back tears and pausing for cheers that he thought were for another finisher but were instead for him.
“It’s just my style of racing. I’ve been inspired by Jan [Frodeno], it’s truly amazing the way he races and has dominated for years so yeah, I want to lead in like he does. I’m only just getting started.
“Just to be within two minutes of Gustav and beating the Olympic champion… honestly, I can’t put words on it. I really want to thank my Dad and my Mum and my Brother cause they’ve believed in my crazy ambitions.”
Blummenfelt also beat the old marathon record with a 2:39:21 split but the reigning Olympic Games champion could only doff his cap to his countryman, but not before needing medical assistance to recover from the exertion.
“That was a brutal run. I knew Gustav would be fast on the run and yeah, he was flying. I tried to do whatever I could by being tactical, not taking any pulls there on the front and hoping I had something left,” Blummenfelt said. “Coming out of Energy Lab, I got a little gap at the aid station and I guess he just let me believe I had a chance. I guess he was just playing with me and he just went.”
Blummenfelt admitted he had underestimated Laidlow too, like pretty much everyone.
“We sort of let Sam go because I believed it would be a battle between me and Gustav but I was quite surprised when we suddenly got feedback that [Laidlow] was five minutes in front. He was really smashing it hard on the bike there on the Queen K and really running well and I thought we would catch him but he was just running so well.”
But this day, Ironman’s day of days, belonged to Iden. Conquering Kona used to be all about mind over matter but now the Norwegians have lifted the bar to previously unimaginable heights with a scientific and data-led approach initially boohooed by triathlon traditionalists. As it turns out, Iden towed Laidlow, Blummenfelt and fourth-placed Aussie Max Neumann to times that beat Langer’s previous mark.
“I executed my plan quite well actually…today I was supposed to really push from Energy Lab and Kristian was pushing out of the hill of Energy Lab and I waited a few minutes more and pushed when the wind changed.
“And, yeah, I think my plan was quite solid for a rookie because apparently you can’t win here the first time.”
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