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Wellington deserves limelight

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Eleanor Oldroyd Eleanor Oldroyd | 14:12 UK time, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

I'm feeling rather smug about the clairvoyant skills of 5 live Sport's "And Another Thing" at the moment.

Last Thursday, we interviewed Ironman triathlete Chrissie Wellington in our discussion about whether world champions in smaller sports get the credit they deserve - in comparison to the Jenson Buttons of this world.

And then five days later - she was named Sportswoman of the Year 2009 at the annual awards ceremony in London, thanks to votes from readers of the Sunday Times.

Chrissie recently became world champion for the third year running in her uniquely demanding discipline - which features a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon. And she broke a 17-year-old world record while she was at it, coming home in eight hours 54 minutes and two seconds.

That's right - she was in the water, on the bike, or pounding the streets for just short of nine hours. I sometimes struggle to stay awake for that long during the day.

Chrissie WellingtonWellington powers up a hill on her way to the Ironman world title

I always expect to blub at awards ceremonies, and when Chrissie collapsed sobbing into the arms of her mother as she came off stage, I have to confess to shedding a tear or two myself.

Earlier over lunch we'd been chatting about achievements over the last few years - she only gave up her job as a civil servant to concentrate full time on her sport at the start of 2007.

I got the impression that she was simply delighted to be there, just across the table from Victoria Pendleton, world and Olympic sprint cycling champion, and a few tables away from world heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis, probably the favourite to carry off the main award.

But Wellington beat them both to the title - and her surprise was genuine, and a delight to behold.

The menu at the David Beckham Academy in Greenwich was a bit of a contrast to Chrissie's usual diet on competition days - a mixture of energy gel sachets, and the odd power bar. In fact, we agreed it was a perfect "Ladies Who Lunch" lunch.

A light starter and main course of chef's salad of artichoke, winter vegetables, soft boiled quails eggs and truffle dressing, was followed by a steamed fillet of halibut with chestnut ravioli, buttered spinach, pumpkin puree and smoked bacon cream. And then there was a socking great chocolate fondant pudding to finish.

England's women cricketers win the Twenty20 World CupEngland's women cricketers celebrate after winning the Twenty20 World Cup

I can reveal that the two world champions at my table didn't hold back. But then, it emerged that Pendleton's a bit of a Nigella Lawson on the quiet. She told me with great pride about how she'd been busy making jam with raspberries she'd grown herself in her garden in Cheshire, in the jam-making cauldron passed down through generations of her family.

She and her mum told me the secret of success is keeping the jam at exactly the right boiling point for long enough for it to set. It was just the kind of preserve-making precision you'd expect from an elite athlete.

Other big winners on the day were the England women's cricket team, who took team of the year for their all-conquering run in 2009, and their star bowler Holly Colvin, named young sportswoman of the year. Claire Taylor - the ICC's woman cricketer of the year - accepted the trophy on behalf of the team, who are in the West Indies at the moment.

And I had the chance to tell Claire that, in my view, her recognition as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year this year was the most brilliant and significant moment in women's sport in the last 25 years.


  • Comment number 1.

    A deserved winner.

    I listened to the 5 Live interview with Chrissie and cringed as Steve Bunce indulged in some semantic tedium with his ignorant definition of what is a "minority sport".

    It was just awful and swallowed up a big chunk of the interview that could have been spent discussing far more interesting things about Chrissie's career and training.

  • Comment number 2.

    While there should be no taking away from what is a very impressive achievement, I do not agree that people who have success in "Minority sports" should be given the same status in awards ceremonies than people in majority sports because it is so much harder to excel in a sport which many people compete in (e.g. football, tennis, rugby, cricket) than it is for something like the Ironman. So, for me, an award such as this should have gone to Claire Taylor because her achievement in not only winning two world cups but gaining serious acknowledgment (being named one of the five wisden cricketers of the year) in a sport which is very male dominated and still has much chauvinism at the upper end of it. So, in my opinion, she should be named sportswoman of the year for what she has done for women's sport.

  • Comment number 3.


    Do you actually know how hard an Ironman is?

    I do think that 'minority' sports don't get the exposure, and therefore respect that they, and their athletes deserve. Cycling for example, Cavendish, Wiggins's tour this year etc.

  • Comment number 4.

    In response to chivalousleftarmer's commet about Triathlon being a minority sport, it would be intersting to know how many female cricketers there actually are, and I confess I have no idea, but I do know that every weekend during the summer there are literally thousands of people taking part in Triathlons. These may not all be full Ironmans, but Ironmans are the pinacle of the sport, at much shorter distances from Sprint Triathlons to Olympic distance to 1/2 Ironman, events each week attract hundreds if not thousands of active competitors. The London Triathlon itself attracts over 13,000 triatletes.

    I firmly believe that all sports should be represented, and where true greats such as Chrissie Wellington emerge, we should all join together to celebrate and reward her achievements rather than debate "my sport's bigger than yours" so we should have won

  • Comment number 5.

    People seem to be confusing large participation with a high standard of competition.

    Yes, lots of people play cricket and tennis, and most of them play it to a mediocre standard because these are easier sports to participate in than the blood and thunder and the epic effort it takes just to complete a Iron Man, let alone race one at the highest standard.

    Go and look at the men and women racing at the top end of Iron Man. They are relentless and intensely competitive. The training and racing is savage. You will not believe the limits these athletes are exploring and how regularly they are push themselves to breaking point and beyond. It is brutal. To win just one of these races is immense and requires you to beat amazing, driven, perfectly prepared competitors and perform under intense physical and mental pressure.

    I look at some top level cricketers (Smith, Kallis, UI Haq, Ranatunga etc) who look horribly overweight yet still are regarded as "international athletes". I then listen to people say they are more deserving of accolades than Iron Man competitors (who in superhuman condition) just because more people happen to play cricket.

    Top level competitors in mainstream sports would shake with fear if they had to try and put in the training and go through the pain that Iron Men competitors do.

    Chrissie Wellington is an awesome competitor and it is right that this has been recognised with her award.

  • Comment number 6.

    Wow! well done BBC for some coverage on Chrssie's fantastic win in Kona last month, living in North America I was able to watch some of the race live. Totally inspiring stuff, take note she beat 'chicked' most of the men pros including winner and runner up of Iron man UK this year!!!!
    Anyway, perhaps Triathlon is a minority sport in the UK but not here or many other parts of the world not totally obsessed with Football, cricket and Motor racing! I'm not going to harp on about this sport being better than that etc. Just gonna say; who is Steve Bunce? ignorant, rude or both? cutting of poor Chissie mid sentence and talking over her, spoiled a good interview. Chivalrousleftarmer comments NO COMMENT! Glad to see some of the non tabloid British sporting public voted for her, well deserved win!!! Finally, just had a look at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year website, some great sports stars on the list - COME ON BBC WHERES CHRISSIE?

  • Comment number 7.

    Fully deserved - Chrissie is awesome and truly inspirational - let's get her to BBC Sports Personality of the Year next month!

  • Comment number 8.

    What wasn't mentioned in the article is that Chrissie is UNDEFEATED at Ironman distance (~8 races) in the last 3 years. She also has come 2nd (overall, including men) at the Alpe d'Huez triathlon!

    As to whether she has worked hard to get where she is, I was at a talk she gave the other day and she said her approximate training hours were 4-6 hours per day, 7 days per week!


  • Comment number 9.

    How dare people try to define between sports? Any person representing our country, their county or even just their clubs in ANY kind of sports should be recognised.

    Chrissie is the strongest competitor ever. She is dedicated, talented and very humble. She deserves her success, but she also deserves some recognition from our Country. If she was a tennis player or a golfer, she would now be seen as a heroine, but because of the 'minority' sport, she's not.

    I was so disappointed for her that she wasn't in the top 10 of Sports Personality. There was only a slight reference.

    To me, Chrissie is an absolute inspiration. She is the best Sports Person GB has, and I will continue to recognise that and follow her great success.

    Good on you Chrissie!

  • Comment number 10.

    And now Chrissie has just knocked a jaw-dropping 27 mins off the world best time for Ironman - Chrissie has just finished overall 7th at Quelle Roth Ironman and finished in a sub-8:20. This represents a seismic shift in what is possible in endurance sport.


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