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It took nearly all day for decisive moves to be made, as the men’s field at the Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah largely appeared to be calculating how hard they could afford to go on a hot day on a tough course—and many paid for their choices later. But once Olympic champ Kristian Blummenfelt turned it on just before halfway through the run he moved his way quickly through the field and took the lead at mile 18. He crossed the line in 7:49:16 to win his first Ironman world title just 10 months after winning the Olympic title, then embraced his coach, collapsed just past the finish, and was carted off to medical.
“That was a tough day,” Blummenfelt said, after he eventually was able to return to the finish area.
“Kristian is not at 100% today; he’s at 90%, so when I woke up this morning I didn’t know what to expect,” said coach Olav Aleksander Bu—referencing the cold and respiratory infection that had hit both Blummenfelt and teammate Gustav Iden, taking Iden out of the race before it started.
But a hard course—with over 7,000 feet of elevation on the bike and 1,400 feet on the run—and hot, windy day kept everyone guessing and played in Blummenfelt’s favor. “I think the race dynamics today have played out completely differently than what you’d expect at a normal world championship,” said Bu.
“It was like a giant individual time trial and everyone played their strengths to the best of their ability,” said popular Canadian Lionel Sanders, who took second after a sprint in the final quarter-mile to overtake third place Braden Currie.
For hours, a front group out of the swim stayed together all the way through the bike and into the start of the run. Sam Laidlow, Daniel Baekkegard, Kyle Smith, Currie, and Florian Angert came out of Sand Hollow Reservoir around 47:30 and then stuck together. A bit over two minutes back was the Norwegian 28-year-old Ironman world record holder. Another two-and-a-half minutes behind him was a big group that included the uber cyclists Cam Wurf, Sanders, and American Sam Long.
As the front group of five pulled away, Blummenfelt found himself in no man’s land—behind the front pack, but ahead of the large chase pack—and so he appeared to make a decision to wait to be caught by Wurf and settle in, noting he wasn’t feeling great at first on the bike. “Luckily I was able to jump on the train of Cam Wurf,” Blummenfelt said.
The duo pushed on the long climb on the first lap up to Veyo, which comes around mile 70 of the bike leg, to break away from the group around them. Sanders bridged up to them on the second climb through Snow Canyon at mile 100. Yet, even with their combined firepower, Blummenfelt and Wurf couldn’t make up time on the front group. All three came into T2 4:20 down, with Long another 1:50 back.
Sanders changed his kit completely and Wurf quickly fell back on the run, but it was at mile 9 that the move finally came. Blummenfelt distinctly picked up his pace and started to work through a field that was blowing up ahead of him. As the front group fell victim one-by-one to the heat and hills, only New Zealand’s Currie stayed ahead of the Norwegian.
“He knows how to pace himself,” said coach Bu, out on course. “And we’re seeing the results of that now.”
Ultimately, Blummenfelt’s 2:38:01 marathon was the fastest of the day and too much for anyone else to hold onto.
Behind him, as the temperatures rose to the high 80s and the hot wind picked up, the unshaded run course provided little respite, and the men’s field deteriorated from the early efforts. Numerous athletes in the back half dropped out, while those who were still moving forward were able to pick off places. Sanders worked his way into third, but appeared too far back to close the five minutes to Currie—until the final half-mile.
As they neared the finish the two gritted their teeth and looked to both be fighting to hold onto pace. And on the last out-and-back stretch, with a quarter-mile to go, Sanders finally seized second place and sprinted for the line, looking over his shoulder.
“That was the most insane race I think I ever participated in,” said Sanders, who’s 2:42:25 got him across the line 16 seconds ahead of Currie.
“I’m well-cooked, but stoked,” Currie said.
|Men's 2021 Ironman World Championship Results|
|Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR)||7:49:16|
|Lionel Sanders (CAN)||7:54:03|
|Braden Currie (NZL)||7:54:19|
|Chris Lieferman (USA)||7:57:51|
|Florian Angert (BEL)||7:59:35|
|Leon Chevalier (FRA)||8:01:41|
|Daniel Baekkegard (DEN)||8:02:06|
|Sam Laidlow (FRA)||8:02:56|
|David McNamee (GBR)||8:04:36|
|Ben Hoffman (USA)||8:06:38|