KAILUA-KONA, Hawai`i (Oct. 8, 2022) – The male pros took the stage on day two of the 2022 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship on Saturday, October 8. Norway’s Gustav Iden swam with the lead pack, biked confidently, and ran a course-best 2:36:15 run to claim his first IRONMAN World Championship. Iden’s race made history as he became the first Norwegian and first male rookie since the debut of professionals to win the IRONMAN World Championship with the fastest overall time this race has ever seen, in 7:40:24.
At the cannon blast, a stacked men’s field set off into the sparkling water of Kailua-Bay. By the turnaround buoy, the main pack had formed, led by Germany’s Florian Angert and Great Britain-born Frenchman, Sam Laidlow. Olympian and reigning 2021 IRONMAN World Champion Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR), Robert Wilkowiecki (POL), Jesper Svensson (SWE), Josh Amberger (AUS), Daniel Bækkegård (DNK), Sam Appleton (AUS), Gustav Iden (NOR) and others all kept pace at the front.
Though it looked like the large group might split just before the turn, the likes of Braden Currie (NZL) and Tim O’Donnell (USA) didn’t let that happen. The size of the group meant fewer possibilities for breakaways and a more tightly-packed group going out onto the bike than usual.
A massive group exited the ROKA swim course together, with just 1:30 separating the top 20 men heading out onto the FULGAZ bike course. A second group trailed them about a minute behind, containing Pieter Heemeryck (BEL), Arnaud Guilloux (FRA), Bradley Weiss (ZAF), Tim Van Berkel (AUS), and Patrick Lange (DEU).
Pre-race favorite Lionel Sanders (CAN) exited the water over four minutes back with past IRONMAN World Champion Sebastian Kienle (DEU), Joe Skipper (GBR), and Cameron Wurf (AUS) all following.
The large group tackled the weaving section of the FULGAZ bike course through the town of Kailua-Kona, setting the tone for a particularly fiery race. Over the opening miles of the bike, Australia’s Max Neumann made an initial surge but it was 23-year-old rookie Sam Laidlow who would treat fans and followers to one of the most tenacious performances we’ve seen on the island.
Laidlow maintained contact with the front of the race, only briefly losing the lead to Magnus Ditlev (DNK) at the halfway point. As if reinvigorated after Hawi, Laidlow began to put the power down and pull away from the advancing Norwegian duo of Blummenfelt and Iden, and the steady Australian, Max Neumann.
Svensson, O’Donnell, Bakegaard, and Wurf put on pressure from behind, at one point bridging up to only 30 seconds back of Laidlow. They weren’t able to match the Norwegian train moving through the field, however, nor rival the courage of the young leader up front. By the 80-mile point, they’d fallen to almost five minutes back of the leaders, fading to more than eight minutes back going into the second transition.
With only 30 miles to go, Laidlow hit his sweet spot, pulling away from the rest of the field by two, then four, then five minutes. Fans watched in awe as he entered the second transition over six minutes ahead of the Norwegians everyone had picked for a decisive victory.
Laidlow was jubilant running into the second transition, clearly enjoying the healthy buffer he’d worked so hard for over the past 112 miles and over much more experienced athletes. He soaked up the energy from the crowd as he passed through, and was out onto Ali’i Drive a full six minutes ahead of Iden and Blummenfelt. Behind them, Neumann, Wurf, Chevalier, Kienle, and O’Donnell set out, getting ready to chase.
Training partners, countrymen, and friends, Iden and Blummenfelt began to run stride for stride, shoulder to shoulder on a joint mission. They set a faster pace than the leader’s from the initial miles, and bets began to fly as to how soon they’d catch the leader. By the four-mile point, they’d chiseled down their deficit to five minutes, and by the five-mile point, had put another 45 seconds into Laidlow.
Viewers online said it was just a matter of time. But approaching the legendary Natural Energy Laboratory, Laidlow’s lead looked less in jeopardy than many had predicted. The Norwegians were now three minutes back, and Laidlow was able to keep them at bay until mile 20 when Iden began to pick up his pace.
Behind the Norwegians, Neumann held steady in fourth, while Kienle, Joe Skipper, and Magnus Ditlev, who’d served a five-minute penalty near the end of the bike and came off the bike in 11th, moved up the field.
Over the long stretch of the Queen K back up to Palani Road, Iden dropped the hammer to a sub-5 minute mile pace, pulling up to just two minutes behind Laidlow. Blummenfelt struggled to keep pace, while Neumann only appeared to be getting stronger. Iden, now in chase mode, caught Laidlow at mile 22 and made a gentlemanly pass, with a pat on the back and a handshake.
The crowd watched as the future of IRONMAN racing unfolded before them, on a day of historically fast running as the three rookies charged toward the finish line. Iden turned onto Ali’i Drive with the confidence of a world championship almost in hand and crossed the finish line in 7:40:24 — almost 10 minutes ahead of Jan Frodeno’s 2019 course best time. With a new run course best under his belt as well (2:36:15), Iden was crowned the 2022 VinFast IRONMAN World Champion, adding the accolade to his 2019 and 2021 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship titles.
“That was so hard,” Iden said at the finish line. “The last 10 kilometers, I was worried about the legend of the island killing me. Everything was going pretty smoothly up until I caught Sam. Then when I passed him the island really tried to put me down. I’m so proud of Sam and Kristian.”
Laidlow held on courageously for second place two minutes back, blocking the Norwegian one-two expected from this race. Blummenfelt crossed the finish line in third just a minute later in his first attempt on the Big Island course. Neumann held on for a close fourth, with Skipper finishing fifth another nine minutes back. On the day, the top four all finished under the previous course best, with the top 10 all finishing under eight hours.
“Gustav was running quite hard from the beginning, maybe a few seconds too fast so every time he forced me to the front, I just had to slow it down a little bit but that is when we were running the same pace as Sam [Laidlow]. Every time he was in the front we were catching on. I thought our only chance was to playing my cards really well but it didn’t work. Still happy to be on the podium,” said Blummenfelt regarding his third-place finish at the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship after claiming the 2021 version in St. George in May.
“I executed my plan quite well,” Iden shared. “I was supposed to push from the [Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority], and Kristian was pushing, but I waited a few minutes more and pushed when the wind changed. I think my plan was quite solid for a rookie because apparently, you can’t do well here the first time. I can’t only blame the conditions, I think people are in pretty good shape as well.”
“I was just loving it to be honest,” Laidlow said at the conclusion of the race. “I’ve been dreaming of this since I was four or five years old. To be leading the race until 35 kilometers on the marathon is something special. I’ve been inspired by Jan [Frodeno] and the day I do win, I want to lead like he does. I’m only just getting started. To be within two minutes of Iden, and beat the Olympic champion, I can’t put words on it. I want to thank [my family] for supporting my crazy ambitions.”
Past IRONMAN World Champion, Sebastian Kienle who raced in his final IRONMAN World Championship race said, “I feel absolutely awesome. When I made the announcement that this was going to be my last race in Kona, I wanted to try to win another title and during that time it seemed possible. If everything goes right, there is still a chance. The sport just developed so quickly in the last two and half years, in this little more than a thousand days since we’ve been here the last time. Before the race I never would have thought I would have made [the top-five] but this was my fastest time. Obviously, we had some really fast conditions, but the race was more than 15 minutes ahead of me and I like to see that honestly. It is a good way to retire.”
Top-5 Pro Men
1 Gustav Iden (NOR) 48:23 4:11:06 2:36:15 7:40:24
2 Sam Laidlow (FRA) 48:16 4:04:36 2:44:40 7:42:24
3 Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) 48:20 4:11:16 2:39:21 7:43:23
4 Max Neumann (AUS) 48:25 4:11:30 2:40:14 7:44:44
5 Joe Skipper (GBR) 52:55 4:11:11 2:45:26 7:54:05