By Bill Plock
St. George Utah, May 1st 2021–For the last couple of years they have exchanged blows on social media and swapped Strava KOM’s on Mt. Lemmon, but yesterday they battled in person to very end. Sam Long and Lionel Sanders ran shoulder to shoulder for last three miles of IRONMAN 70.3 St. George, the North American 70.3 Championship. If it had been a 70.1, Sam may have won, but with an obvious final grimace, Sanders had one last kick and pulled away in the final turns and edged Long by five seconds.
Both men collapsed at the finish line where the emotion and pain of the effort was clear when they stood and embraced like two prize fighters with nothing else to give. The made for the movies ending culminated a day that saw Long and Sanders make up time on the bike putting them in position to chase down the leaders on the run that included Boulder’s Rudy Von Berg who finished fourth.
For Sam Long this was a breakthrough race. He knew that if he found himself in the exact position he did, that all his hard work had paid off. He knew Sanders was probably the one to beat and his respect (maybe admiration) for Sanders was obvious at the finish line.
During the broadcast, analyst and pro triathlete Dede Griesbauer (who did an amazing job) thought Long’s move near the top of the last hill about 3 miles out may have been too soon. He caught the pack on the hill and then slipped back near the top. Was his last match burnt? Nope, and he said when asked about it, “my plan all along was to push the final 3 miles. I knew they are downhill and that I can run down quite well. I was struggling to stay with them on the uphills so had to give it everything I had.”
On the down hill Long chased once again and caught Sanders and Daniel Baekkegard and for the final couple of miles it was just Sanders and Long, perhaps unfolding a new generation “Iron War”.
On May Day, a day in many cultures that celebrates laborers and hard work, Long’s hard work paid off. He is only 25 and has worked his way into the conversation of being one of the world’s best. Who knows, perhaps he can be the first American to win at Kona since Tim DeBoom did it in 2002. No doubt his future is bright.
When asked about the significance of this race, Long said, “This was absolutely a breakthrough race. The thing about triathlon and improving is it usually takes many small breakthroughs. But today was a huge breakthrough and even though I didn’t win it will elevate my performance.”
With triathlon season just kicking off, the bar has been set high for performance and frankly entertainment. That was a fun race to watch.
We hope to catch up with Boulder’s Jeanni Metzler who had an incredible race coming in second to Daniela Ryf and finished just three minutes back. Metzler came out of the water one second ahead and held a brief lead on Ryf but Ryf overcame her on the bike and held on to first for the rest of the race. Metzler made up time on the run but her three minute faster run than Ryf’s wasn’t quite enough.