Still in his early twenties, Sam Laidlow’s greatest day has to be his recent silver on his Kona debut. The Frenchman has only just begun…
Who is Sam Laidlow?
Although still only 23, Sam Laidlow has already registered race wins across the triathlon board: at sprint, Olympic, half-Iron and long-distance. But it’s in long-course racing where his heart and ambitions – along with his formidable talent – truly lie. His recent silver at Kona confirms this.
Born in Bedfordshire, at the age of two Laidlow moved to the south of France with his parents, growing up in the Pyrenees where his father Richard set up a triathlon coaching business.
Competing in his first triathlon at the age of just four, the young Laidlow’s future was all laid out. After modest success at spring and Olympic, the decision was made to up the distance, with his father – the first Ironman coach in France – guiding his progress.
The year 2019 was when the world started taking notice, with 20-year-old Laidlow winning The Lakesman in the fastest time an iron-distance UK-based race had ever been completed, followed by a top-10 finish in Barcelona at his first Ironman.
After a Covid-shaped break, a silver at Ironman UK in 2021 confirmed Laidlow had retained his form. The following May, he finished in the top 10 on his Ironman world championship debut at the delayed 2021 event.
The summer of 2022 saw him take part in the three flagship PTO events, finishing fourth at both the Canadian Open and the US Open. These performances were somewhat more praiseworthy than Laidlow’s showing at the Collins Cup, where he was the slowest male athlete, finishing nearly nine minutes adrift of his nearest rival.
His time was even more embarrassing as, prior to the race, he’d criticised the swimming abilities of Sam Long and Lionel Sanders, dismissing them as “duathletes” and confidently predicting that he, “a nobody”, was going to beat them.
But embarrassment turned to pride in October 2022 as Laidlow put in the greatest performance of his career on his Kona debut. Having smashed Cameron Wurf’s bike course record by four and a half minutes, he led the race into its closing stages, where he was overtaken by eventual winner Gustav Iden.
However, his ride had put enough of a buffer between him and reigning world champ Kristian Blummenfelt who had to settle for bronze. All three – plus fourth-placed Max Neumann – finished inside Jan Frodeno’s course record. The world of Ironman changed that day.
How old is Sam Laidlow?
Sam Laidlow was born on December 23 1998, making him 23 years of age.
Sam Laidlow’s career highlights
May 2016: Victory in the Vendée
Laidlow breaks the tape at the EUT Junior European Cup race in L’Aiguillon sur Mer near La Rochelle to record, at the age of 17, what will be his best-ever performance in an individual sprint triathlon.
May 2018: Winning goodbye to Olympic racing
In his native south of France, Laidlow claims victory in the Triathlon de Carcassone. With his focus increasingly on long-course racing, the win will represent the high-water mark of his short Olympic-distance career.
June 2019: Lethal in the Lakes
Laidlow’s decision to convert to an endurance athlete bears fruit in Cumbria where he wins The Lakesman in a time (8:21) faster than anyone has previously completed a long-distance triathlon in the UK.
October 2019: Top 10 on Ironman debut
Laidlow makes the short hop across the border to Catalunya, where his first Ironman experience awaits. He puts in a performance full of promise by finishing seventh in Barcelona.
August 2020: Maiden half-Iron success
After Covid-affected disruption to the race calendar, Laidlow stays local for the Triathlon de la Montagne Noire. His victory is his first at half-iron distance.
May 2021: Joy in Girona
A new season, a new race and another victory. Laidlow leads the field home at the 140.6INN International Triathlon in Girona – aka the Spanish long-distance championships – finishing a clear 10 minutes ahead of his nearest rival.
July 2021: Silver at Ironman UK
Laidlow follows up his Girona success with second place at Ironman UK. He finishes nearly nine minutes behind homeboy Joe Skipper, but holds off his French team-mate Leon Chevalier by just seven seconds.
However, this most promising of seasons ends disappointingly with DNFs at both the World Triathlon Long Distance Championships in the Netherlands and Ironman South Africa.
May 2022: Top 10 at Ironman worlds
Despite another DNF, this time at Ironman Texas, Laidlow recovers sufficiently to claim eighth place at the delayed 2021 Ironman World Championships in St George, Utah. At 23, he’s the youngest pro competitor in the race.
July 2022: Top fives in two new PTO races
Laidlow throws himself into PTO races with enthusiasm, coming home fourth in the inaugural PTO Canadian Open in Edmonton, where his scalps include Sanders and Kyle Smith. He repeats his fourth place at the PTO US Open in Texas in September.
Between the two events, Laidlow also takes part in the second Collins Cup, but his pre-race big talk isn’t converted to success on the course. He’s the slowest male competitor by some distance.
October 2022: A record-breaking Kona debut
In his first Ironman since the World Champs in May, Laidlow puts in a stupendous performance and is leading the race going into the final miles on the run. Although eventually overhauled by Iden, no-one has ever completed Kona’s bike leg so swiftly; Laidlow has taken five minutes out of the previous best.
It’s not the only record to fall. The first four finishers (Laidlow holds on for silver, defeating reigning world champion Blummenfelt into the bargain) all finish inside Frodeno’s course record.
Sam Laidlow in quotes
On his family being his motivation: “Lots of parents would say ‘Go and get a proper job’. There were moments when I wanted to quit but they said, ‘We think you’ve got it in you’.”
On being drawn against Sam Long and Lionel Saunders at the Collins Cup, whom he previously referred to disparagingly in a self-written rap: “I’ve won nothing compared to these two guys and I’m still going to beat them. A nobody is going to beat them.”
On taking silver on his Kona debut and finishing inside the previous course record: “I’m pretty speechless. I’ve dreamt of winning this race. Today I put eight or so minutes into Jan [Frodeno’s] record, but it wasn’t enough.”
What’s next for Sam Laidlow?
At the age of just 23 – and already the second-fastest finisher in Kona history – the world of Ironman is there for Laidlow’s taking.
A world title will surely be his at some point over the next few years, during which time he will doubtless forge a brilliant rivalry with the Norwegian pair Gustav Iden and Kristian Blummenfelt, both of whom already have Ironman World golds in their collections.
Top image credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Ironman