Ironman 70.3 World Championship: Gustav Iden retains title

The Norwegian backed up his 2019 success by defending his Ironman 70.3 World Championship crown in St George, Utah, with USA's Sam Long in second and Denmark's Daniel Baekkegard in third

ST GEORGE, UTAH - SEPTEMBER 18: Gustav Iden of Norway finishes first in the Men's Pro portion during the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship on September 18, 2021 in St George, Utah. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

Norway’s Gustav Iden defended his Ironman 70.3 world title with an emphatic victory in St George, Utah.

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The 25-year-old might have been a surprise winner in Nice in 2019, but there were few raised eyebrows this time as he pushed to the front on the 56-mile bike leg and ran away from the field over a hilly half-marathon to take the tape in 3:37:13 – 3:55 clear of second-placed American Sam Long.

Following a triumph in the PTO Championship in December and a dominating Collins Cup outing over 100km in Slovakia where Iden was just seconds from the day’s fastest time, he can justifiably lay claim to being the No 1 middle distance athlete in the world.

“It feels so good,” he said. “I was worried out of the swim, but caught the first group quickly and it was an easy bike ride until I really pushed hard in the last half-an-hour. I dug myself quite a big hole and was unsure how fast I could run, but I ran well and I’m super happy to remain world champion.”

After a disappointing Collins Cup performance, Long was elated with second, and Denmark’s Daniel Baekkegard capped another solid performance with third.

Being familiar with the course seemed to help. Long finishing in the same position as he did during the Ironman 70.3 St George race on almost the same course in May, with Baekkegard making amends for a disqualification on that occasion when he had been handily placed.

Another pre-race favourite, Olympic and World Triathlon champion Kristian Blummenfelt suffered a mechanical issue in the latter stages of bike that led to a replacement front wheel. He cruised in on the bike and would eventually finish 27th..

There was no British success on the men’s side either. With Alistair Brownlee absent, both Elliot Smales, who dropped out on the bike, and George Goodwin in 30th place, had days they won’t wish to dwell on.

Race week temperatures had been pushing mid-30s celsius, but dropped to a more comfortable 20 degrees on race morning, with rain and hailstorms blowing in during the run leg.

USA’s Ben Kanute – runner-up to Spain’s Javier Gomez in 2017 – led out the swim with a small front group including Sam Appleton, Baekkegard and Blummenfelt.

There was little to choose between the leading men as they approached midway through the bike, with Iden, Germany’s Fred Funk and Denmark’s Magnus Ditlev all having worked their way into contention.

Iden, who finished eighth in the Tokyo Olympics, was first into T2 with a 1:58:59 bike split, a full 45sec ahead of Ditlev, with Funk 1:51 behind, followed by Eric Lagerstrom Jackson Laundry, Appleton, Baekkegard, Kanute and Long, whose 2:00:49 bike split had brought him back into contention for a podium position.

With much of his focus being on short course racing, Iden’s only other Ironman 70.3 victory came in 2016 in Norway, and it was going to take a lot more than a hailstorm to curtail his progress as he continued to stretch away from the field.

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Long was on the charge, catching Baekkegard and Ditlev, and pulling away on the downhill sections to secure his first Ironman World Championship podium, with Baekkegard hanging on to do the same in third ahead of compatriot Miki Taagholt and Canadian Laundry.