When Norwegian triathlete Gustav Iden was crowned 2019 Ironman 70.3 world champion in Nice, the last thing he could have imagined was becoming a household name in Taiwan.
After all, most Taiwanese cared little about Ironman events or even knew what they involved, and it made no difference to them that with his win in France, he became the youngest ever Ironman world champion at the age of 23.
What did catch their attention, however, was the baseball cap he wore as he crossed the finish line in Nice. It showed the name of a Taoist temple in Changhua County in Chinese characters, making him a local star and the cap from Puyan Shunze Temple (埔鹽順澤宮) a must-have.
The temple, which honors Xuantian Shangdi, one of the higher-ranking Taoist deities, made only 500 caps to give away to worshipers for free in 2019, but has given away about 370,000 since Iden was seen wearing it in Nice in September 2019.
According to Iden, he found the cap on the ground in Japan before the Tokyo Olympic test event earlier in 2019.
“Just thought it looked cool, so I cleaned it up and started to use it,” he said in an interview after winning the race in France.
But what has prompted the craze for the temple cap in Taiwan goes beyond its look or the fact that a foreign athlete wore it; it is in high demand because of the supposed luck it has brought the Norwegian ironman.
Including his breakout win in Nice, Iden has 10 wins in 10 races in which he has donned the temple’s cap.
His latest win fueled by Taoist gods came in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in October, a 225-kilometer journey comprised of a 3.8-km swim, a 180-km bike ride, and a 42-km run, that Iden completed in a record time of 7 hours, 40 minutes, and 24 seconds.
At the Tokyo Olympics triathlon, a shorter race with a 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bicycle ride and a 10 km run, Iden was not wearing the hat and he finished eighth.
Coincidence? Who’s to say, but giving the Puyan Shunze Temple gods all the credit for Iden’s exploits may be stretching it.
Leading up to the Nice win in 2019, Iden had World Cup wins in Lausanne and Weihai and a second-place finish at an Ironman 70.3 event in Bahrain in 2018 and high finishes at triathlon events in 2019, so he was an ascending athlete in the sport.
But many Taiwanese have embraced the story of the good-luck cap, and when Iden was invited by Changhua County to visit the temple later in 2019, he was greeted like a rock star, with thousands of people gathered to see him.
He was also named an honorary citizen of Changhua during that trip for bringing the county international attention.
Recalling that visit, Iden, who is currently in Taiwan for a week, told CNA in an interview Friday that the experience was “overwhelming.”
“We visited a town hall where I saw way, way, more people than I thought was going to be there. Just the whole experience the first time was like a hurricane.”
Iden and his training partner Kristian Blummenfelt, who won Olympic gold in the Tokyo triathlon, are currently visiting Taiwan at the invitation of Iden’s sponsor, Taiwan-based bicycle designer and maker Giant Manufacturing.
During their stay, the two will visit Pingtung as special guests for an Ironman race before again visiting the Puyan Shunze Temple on Sunday and then leaving Taiwan on Monday night.
Born in Bergen, Norway, in 1996, Iden has had tremendous success in the sport over the past three years, with Ironman 70.3 world titles in 2019 and 2021 and the Ironman world title in 2022.
Yet his first taste of real fame came in Taiwan thanks to the lucky cap, he said.
“Actually, back home, I feel like people don’t really know who I am. But here, I have more fans than in Norway,” he said, down to even local taxi drivers.
According to Iden, when he was in a taxi earlier Friday, his Taiwanese helpers told the driver that Iden was the guy famous for wearing the Changhua temple cap, and the driver immediately responded by saying “I know who you are,”
“It’s absolutely insane,” the Norwegian said.
His fame has reached other parts of the world. During the October race in Hawaii, Iden said he saw many others in the race wearing the same cap, and it made him happy to see that his story was uniting people.
“For me, it’s like a symbol of tribes, and it’s reaching all around the world.”
The lucky cap also gave him the chance to sign with Giant.
“Ever since I learned that the cap was from Taiwan. I thought it was so natural for me to sign with Giant. It’s been a fairy tale and, yeah, we’ve grown so much together since.”
Though it seems the cap has given him so much in recent years, Iden said he did not believe in an outside supernatural power.
“It is crazy how I never lost with it. But I think the superpower kinds of comes from believing in yourself.”
He feels that everyone has that power within themselves and they just need something extra to help draw it out of them, “whether it comes from a lucky hat or a bracelet or whatever.”
“I hope my hat can bring some superpowers from within to many people,” he said.
His current visit gave him more time to spend in Taiwan, and he found it to be a great place for professional triathletes to train, with its high mountains and surrounding seas.
But there was one catch, Iden said — the heat of Taiwan’s summers.
“It can be a bit limited in training because it’s hard to train in the middle of the day [in Taiwan]. You have to use the whole day for training or you don’t have enough time.”
Even as his trip was winding down, Iden was already thinking of his next visit to Taiwan.
“I think for my next time, I’ll spend even more time in the mountains, especially since I haven’t seen anything on the East Coast,” he said.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel