Lionel Sanders Takes Triathlon Mainstream in New National Ad

Over the holidays, if you're paying attention, you'll see a new ad playing all over the country on TV and online with Serena Williams, NBA star Jayson Tatum, and some triathlete…

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“I don’t know if you can really recognize me, but I hope the shots are cool and maybe some people do some research and then look into triathlon,” said Lionel Sanders. The 2017 Kona runner-up is featured in the new national Gatorade campaign called, “You Fuel Us, We Fuel You.”

It’s not the first time a triathlete has been used in a national ad campaign. In 2005, Gatorade ran an ad campaign around Chris Legh’s collapse at Kona. (Watch for some vintage-looking TV.) Nike used trans triathlete, Chris Mosier, in their “Unlimited Courage” campaign and chocolate milk’s ad campaigns have been so ubiquitous it’s almost hard to remember that it *isn’t* actually a triathlon product.

Non-endemic sponsors—i.e. companies sponsoring triathletes or triathlons that are not inherently triathlon companies—have come and gone over the years. Bud Light was all over the Bud Light U.S. Triathlon Series in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In the 2000s, Toyota backed a number of races and athletes, like Sarah Haskins and Hunter Kemper. Subaru still plays big in Canadian triathlon. In other countries, actually, triathletes consistency command mainstream audiences. The Brownlee brothers chase each other for this tea ad. And Jan Frodeno is always riding around in his Mercedes-Benz and shooting ads for Breitling (a fancy watch company). But here in the U.S., it’s become rare to see a triathlete in a national ad campaign. We just aren’t household names.

So why pick Sanders then?

“We are so proud to be a partner of Lionel’s and continue to be amazed by his unmatchable work ethic, dedication and true passion for the sport,” said Andrew Hartshorn, Gatorade Chief Marketing Officer.

The Gatorade Endurance team told Sanders they picked him out of their line-up of endurance athletes (which includes triathletes Ellie Salthouse and Luke McKenzie) because he’s know for analyzing everything and being “pretty scientifically driven,” he said.

Certainly, the Canadian has developed a reputation for experimenting and studying the minutiae of the sport. Sometimes even overanalyzing, he joked.

In fact, he started working with Gatorade Endurance on accident. After he dropped his bottle of nutrition during an Ironman a few years ago, he had to rely on what was at aid stations—Gatorade Endurance. He ended up having none of his usual no GI issues and the race went so well that he decided it was time for more analyzing and experimenting. Since Gatorade Endurance wasn’t available in Canada at the time, he had a friend get him some.

Now, in a race, he drinks about two bottles/hour while biking and about two cups at each aid station on the run. He also went to the Gatorade Science Sport Institute this summer to do some testing and some baseline analysis in Kona conditions.

In typical Sanders fashion, though, there are some more questions he has, more things he wants to figure out—things he plans to head back to the lab to work on. (The head of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute did a dissertation on age-group athletes in Kona, so Sanders emails or calls him with questions.) The new questions: When he’s consuming massive quantities of fluids does it create an internal fluid imbalance? Does that have performance consequences? They measured the rate at which he was burning fat-to-carbs, but how does that data change in a less taxing or more taxing bike position? If he’s training right, then that number should move so that he’s burning more fat. Can they analyze the new data?

The ad campaign, itself, is all about analyzing data and how the company uses science. It will start on Christmas Day (as people contemplate resolutions) and will run on ESPN, Freeform, Bravo, TBS, FX, Discovery, USA and TNT, as well as on all the social media platforms and with some corresponding print ads.

Will it get more people into triathlon? Maybe. Was it really fun to film on a completely closed Highway 1 like a “real deal Hollywood movie production”? Absolutely.

“I got a glimpse into how the super athletes live,” said Sanders, with movie trailers and caterers and staff. In case you were wondering, that is not how triathlon shoots typically roll.

See the ad below.

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