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How One Hat Seemingly Conquered The Tri World

Heading into this weekend’s Collins Cup, headwear from a remote Taiwanese temple found in the dirt in Japan could be Team Europe’s secret weapon.

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Read all about it.

“Norwegian Athlete Wearing Viral Taiwanese Baseball Hat Wins Triathlon Again”

“Norwegian Wearer Of Taiwan Temple Hat Still Triathlon World Champion”

‘Triathlon Athlete’s Winning Streak With Taiwan Temple Hat Continues”

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. At least it is for Taiwan News, who have been avidly reporting the fortunes of Norway’s Gustav Iden ever since he scored an unlikely victory in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in France back in 2019 – wearing a cap bearing the name of a Taiwanese temple.

“I think I went from 7,000 to almost 30,000 Instagram followers from the Nice race – and most of the followers were from Taiwan because of the random hat I was wearing,” Iden said in an interview with tri retailer Neuff Red.

“It’s a life-changing story. It’s so unbelievable that I found this random hat in the dirt on the side of the road in Japan, and started wearing it. It went viral in Taiwan and suddenly I was a superstar over there. People go to that temple to worship the hat – it’s not about me!”

RELATED: Gustav Iden: Get to Know the Youngest 70.3 World Champ Ever

Ironman announcer Paul Kaye was on the microphone in Nice that day and the first to interview the Norwegian after he crossed the line. “Gustav was on my radar for a good race, but was big odds for the win. I remember thinking: ‘What an odd cap, it isn’t even made of tech material and definitely isn’t a sponsor I’m aware of,’” Kaye recalls.

“Considering how triathletes are so gear-conscious and ‘what looks good’-conscious, the cap made an impression. But if it brings you a World Championship win, don’t fix what ain’t broke!”

Translated, the writing on the cap namechecks the Puyan Shunze temple in Changhua County that was thought to be built in the 18th-centruy by the Chen family. It contains a statue of Xuanwu, one of the highest ranked deities in the Chinese religion of Taoism. Iden, on the other hand, is currently ranked number two on the PTO list.

But in September 2019 – while the Norwegian might have been on Kaye’s radar – riding a road bike, with just two Ironman 70.3s under his belt, and coming less than fresh from the ITU Grand Final in Lausanne, not many other observers were talking up the boy from Bergen.

Yet whatever higher powers the supersonic ballcap does possess, they appear to be enduring too. A $100,000 win in the PTO Championship in Daytona during the pandemic kept the winning streak going, and further triumphs in the Collins Cup and at St. George, where he retained his Ironman 70.3 title, followed.

After successfully winning his Ironman debut in Florida in November 2021, Iden even took to Instagram to tell his followers (now grown to more than 96,000, many of them Taiwanese): “Do you want to know something crazy? I have used the Taiwanese temple hat on six races over the last two years – and I have won every single one of them. The ones I didn’t win I didn’t wear the hat. I don’t really believe in luck. I believe in confidence. Where the confidence is coming from doesn’t really matter to me.”

Gustav Iden's lucky hat is front and center after winning the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.
(Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Since then, Iden has won the Challenge Championship in May and the PTO Canadian Open last month in Edmonton – making it eight from eight for the hallowed headcover.

RELATED: The Training Secrets Behind the Norwegians’ Phenomenal Ironman Debuts

But what happens when he doesn’t wear it? Well, we found out at a sprint distance World Triathlon Championship Series in Leeds, UK last year. Iden is normally a formidable presence in short-course racing and rarely out of the top 10 in WTCS events. On this occasion he placed 48th. And dead last.

Where one percent can make such a difference to results at elite level in triathlon, more research is needed to assess the marginal gains afforded by the Taiwanese headcovering.  But it is worth pointing out that Iden also didn’t wear the hat for the Olympic Games in Tokyo – where he finished eighth – and training partner and team-mate Kristian Blummenfelt took gold.

After the initial success in 2019, Iden was invited to participate in a marathon held in Tianzhong Township, Changhua County and even made the pilgrimage to the Puyan Shunze Temple to pay his respects. Or, more accurately, doff his cap.

Meanwhile, the hero’s hair-lid has also been fetishized on social media with many followers chipping in to pass on advice. These included wise words from “VS Hsu”: “Be sure not to wash the hat and you can win more. This is not superstition but just a conventional belief in my hometown, Taiwan.”

Or “Viniciussammarone”: “I know you love your crocs cause many of your pics you’re wearing them. Imagine what can happen if you use the crocs with your lucky hat.” Vinicuis ends his post suggestively, with an emoji of a rocket.

“Kusoshupeng” is another who knows the score, saying “All the gods will bless you to complete the game safely,” while “Realjustusrehkugler” and “Normanbayvel” both keep it simple with “Put the hat on in Paris 2024” and “Don’t take it off.”

On a technical point, Paris might be a no-go, as the hat has text promoting a temple and potentially breaching the International Olympic Committee blackout policy on political or religious symbolism, or personal sponsorship. Or outside assistance. Or all of the above.

Not everyone is convinced in the mystical powers of the Taiwanese temple hat though. The appropriately named “Michael Swimbikerun” says: “You know what all these races also have in common? No Jan Frodeno.”

But others are convinced, and Iden may not be the only athlete soon wearing the yellow-and-blue sun-ray deflector. Allan Hovda, a three-time winner of the infamous Norseman in Norway (the one triathlon where you might want headwear a little warmer than a sun cap) replied with: “Screw training, I need one of those hats!”

RELATED: How Gustav Iden Won His Second 70.3 World Championship

Tip of the 埔鹽順澤宮 cap

Iden is yet to lose a triathlon when wearing the Taiwanese temple cap. His roll call (or rather his hat’s roll call) of victories include:

  • September 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, Nice
  • September 2020 Ratingen Triathlon
  • December 2020 PTO Championships at Challenge Daytona
  • August 2021 PTO Collins Cup
  • September 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, St George
  • November 2021 Ironman Florida
  • May 2022 The Challenge Championship
  • July 2022 PTO Canadian Open

RELATED: What Does It Mean to ‘Train Like A Norwegian?’