Triathlete of the Year
Talk about an up and down season. Heading into the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mooloolaba, Australia, triathlon fans were quick to call out Lionel Sanders as one of the race favourites.
It made sense. All year long he’d been doing nothing but win Ironman 70.3 events. In January he won the Panama 70.3 race. He won in Oceanside (California) and Texas in April. In May he took the Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship in St. George, Utah, over two-time 70.3 world champion Sebastian Kienle. In June he won in Mont-tremblant.
He was even able to take on the German juggernaut in style at the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Wiesbaden, where he finished second. It all seemed to bode well for a big day down under.
It’s one thing to win races with smaller pro fields, but when you put 30 or 40 of the world’s best into a race, things become very different. Sanders’s typically weak swim in Mooloolaba left him well behind the lead group and, despite his normally strong bike, Sanders was never able to get near the front of the race. Fiercely disappointed with his ninth- place finish, Sanders contemplated skipping the Ironman World Championship in Kona.
He didn’t, but had another disappointing day, finishing 29th.
Things started to look up, though, at the Island House Triathlon in the Bahamas. Sanders took on some of the speediest in the sport and finished an admirable 10th. Then came the magical day in Arizona.
Sanders had one of the best swims of his life, coming out of the water in 53:45 and in 16th place in the pro division. He followed that swim up with a 4: 04:38 bike split and a 2:42:31 marathon, enough to set a new Ironman best time of 7:44:29, breaking Marino Vanhoenacker’s record set in Austria in 2011 by almost 90 seconds.
Sanders says he’s going to take a break from Kona next year to really focus on his swim and truly be prepared for championship racing. If he can continue to improve his swim, he’ll certainly be in a position to do just that. Despite a tough time at the two world championship events, all the other impressive achievements make it a no-brainer – Lionel Sanders is our male triathlete of the year.– KM