As the World Ironman Championship in Kona approaches, the world has its eyes on 2015 and 2016 winner and German triathlete, Jan Frodeno. This man also claimed a gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Commentators speculate about who may knock him out of the #1 spot. Many are looking at fellow Germans Patrick Lange and Sebastian Kienle, the 2014 World Champion.
There is one man who doesn’t always make the cut in sports media predictions, but he should. It is Lionel Sanders of Canada.
Records are Made to be Broken
Sanders is the man who broke the Ironman long distance record with a finish time of 7:44:29 at Ironman Arizona 2016. He broke Marino Vanhoenacker’s previous record of 7:45:58, set in Ironman Austria 2011. Tim Don broke Sanders’ record this year with a 7:40:23 at the Ironman South American Championship in Florianopolis, Brazil.
Frodeno still holds the record if you include non-Ironman events. He clocked a 7:35:39 at Germany’s Challenge Roth in July, 2016. In the 2015 and 2016 Ironman World Championships, Sanders trailed the two-time winner at #14 and #29, respectively.
From Drug Addict to Serial Champion
Sanders began his triathlon career much later than Frodeno. While Frodeno made a name for himself during the Beijing Olympics, Sanders was still struggling with long-term cocaine and alcohol habits. It wasn’t until 2013 that he began beating the established pros in triathlons.
On 8th September 2013, Sanders won his first professional race, an Ironman 70.3 event in Muskoka, Ontario. The victory led him to set his sites on beating Frodeno in a fashion you would expect from your New Age, Law of Attraction obsessed aunt with the cylinder-shaped cob house in the backcountry. During his 2015 pieces of training, he stared at a wallpaper on his computer screen that showed him running side by side with Frodeno.
Like Bernie Sanders, He’s an Underdog to Be Reckoned With
This is the time when it’s fair to start comparing him to his namesake, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders. Between mid-2015 and April 2016, the relatively unknown Vermont Senator managed to close the party’s matriarch’s 60-point lead over him with a populist economic platform.
To the surprise of dismissive U.S. pundits, Bernie and Hillary were neck and neck by the summer. The race was so close that the Democratic National Convention became a war zone with two opposing factions.
In one corner were the mainstream Democrats who had crowned their inevitable winner years earlier. In the other were Bernie fans, who brought attention to voter registration anomalies and uncounted votes in Brooklyn, Arizona, California, and elsewhere.
Sanders Victories, 2013-2017
Lionel Sanders has continued to win competitions, the most recent being the Penticton ITU long distance triathlon world championship in August. He whooped the closest competitor by roughly 1.5 minutes.
Other victories include Ironman 70.3 Oceanside 2016 and 2017, the 2017 Challenge Family’s inaugural world championship race in Slovakia, Ironman Texas 70.3 2016, and Ironman Florida 2014. He claimed 1st place in 11 events in 2013 alone, the same number of events he competed in that year.
Don’t Let the Kona Losses Fool You
Despite making a 14th and 29th place in his two Kona races, it is his continual improvement over time that may make him a dangerous competitor against Frodeno this year. Sanders has become a symbol of self-improvement and the power of will within the past four years.
It seems there is a recipe for Sanders’ rapid advancement. As he states on his website, “From my experience, it appears that there are no limits, other than the self-created and imposed ones that only exist in your mind. I plan on spending my entire triathlon career testing this hypothesis.”