BBC BLOGS - Matt Slater
« Previous | Main | Next »

Chrissie Wellington - triathlon's iron duchess

Post categories:

Matt Slater | 11:04 UK time, Thursday, 4 August 2011

She is an unbeaten, three-time world champion, who holds every meaningful record in her event, but could probably walk down any British high street totally unnoticed. To say Chrissie Wellington has a low profile is akin to suggesting Joey Barton has an opinion, Darren Clarke gets thirsty or Lewis Hamilton is in a hurry.

Quite why the greatest female triathlete in history is so unheralded in her own land is a mystery to me, her stats are staggering. She routinely beats the best women in the world by an eternity, is usually only bettered by a handful of the men's field and possesses the five quickest women's times for the Ironman distance.

To put that in context, Paula Radcliffe has four of the five best marathon times but would be mobbed if she popped out for a pint of skimmed milk.

Wellington's best time for 26.2 miles, by the way, was beaten by only four women at last year's London Marathon. But they had not already swum 2.4 miles and cycled 112 miles.

Given all this, I probably should not have been surprised by her reply to my request for "five tips for amateur triathletes". "Sure," she said, "I can give you 50!"

But before I get to those, let me fill in some more of Wellington's remarkable back story, because her tale is an inspiration to anybody convinced they haven't found their vocation yet.

"I didn't set out to be a sportsperson," Wellington told me over the phone from her training base in Boulder, Colorado.

"I liked sport at school but it was more of a social thing. I made the teams but I didn't shine and I certainly never dedicated myself. I was focused on getting good grades. I was determined to be an A student."

And a first-class student and one with distinction and...you get the idea, she didn't fail many exams.

Those good qualifications got her a government job, working on international development projects, a long-standing passion.

It was around this time that the Suffolk-born civil servant decided to take up running - she was worried she had put on weight during her post-uni travels.

"I started off doing 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 40. All of sudden I'm running for an hour and a half...so I did the 2002 London Marathon and ran it in 3.08," she said, as if explaining the most normal thing in the world.

It was the best time by anybody at her running club (having decided to do something, Wellington does it properly) and it told her she had "some talent".

Wellington beat her closest rival in Roth last month by 38 minutes in another world record Photo: Getty

Quite how much talent, however, did not become any clearer until she spent 2005 in Nepal on sabbatical.

"We used to ride our bikes every morning and I'd find it quite easy to keep going. It was just fun really," she said.

"And then during a holiday a group of us went riding for two weeks in the mountains - we reached base camp on the Tibetan side of Everest. It was sport at its rawest but it wasn't training."

That came soon enough, though, because Wellington now realised she might be missing her true calling. Having returned to the UK in 2006, she was entering and winning triathlons, including the amateur world championships in Switzerland.

Five months later, aged 30, Wellington quit her job and became a professional triathlete. By October she was Ironman world champion, the only person to do this in their first year as a pro.

The Ironman scene was stunned and has pretty much remained that way as Wellington has improved every year, changing long-held beliefs about what is possible for a female endurance athlete.

"Not many people know what they're good at until they try it," she said.

"I never saw triathlon as a potential job, it was the challenge that appealed. I loved working in development, I loved living in London.

"But I thought I should take the chance, give it a go. So I found this sport quite late but all my experiences have shaped me and perhaps they have given me a longer shelf life in what is a gruelling sport."

Indeed it is, so let's get to those tips. I don't have room for the full 50 - I believe you can find them in most good newsagents - so here are five golden nuggets of advice for fast and not so furious transitions:

1. Practise them, don't just assume everything will go smoothly on the day

2. Have a strategy, break it down chronologically: know what arm you going to take out of your wetsuit first, which leg etc

3. Don't sit down if you are doing an Olympic, sprint or super-sprint tri, you will waste time and you shouldn't need the rest

4. You don't need socks for an Olympic tri, put talcum powder in your shoes and leave them wide open

5. Stay calm!

Right, that's enough. Good luck to all those who are joining me in action in Hyde Park this weekend (and the dozens of triathlons up and down the country every month). I hope to stride manfully over the finish line by the Serpentine at about 11.15 on Sunday morning.

And good luck also to Chrissie. Next up for her is the Timberman Ironman 70.3 in New Hampshire on 21 August (a sprint for her) and then the biggie, her "Olympics", the world champs in Hawaii on 8 October.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/bbc_matt

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting blog, good job highlighting one of our true sports-persons instead of the usual sensationalist nonsense that surrounds football. What a superstar she is, and will hopefully romp away with Hawaii.

    Having raced many triathlons I would humbly beg to differ about tip number four. If you train in socks, race in socks. 10k can seem a lot further if your feet are blistered or cut to ribbons...

  • Comment number 2.

    great blog about a great, relatively unheralded athlete.

    as much as she's a superb athlete whose advice about training methods i'd readily listen too, the thought of running without socks does sound scary. ankle socks take about a second to put on each, and for the amateur, it is probably a few seconds well spent as opposed to the relative agony of running with blisters. i will have to try this talc thing...

  • Comment number 3.

    Wow, pretty epic performance levels! Good luck for the future, though I doubt she needs it!

    I'm looking at doing an ironman next year once my usual sport's season is over, should be fun . . .

  • Comment number 4.

    What a great story. The weird, but welcome, thing about her is that she seems to have got into it because she finds it fun.

  • Comment number 5.

    #2. Wet socks will give you more blisters than talc and no socks. So unless you are stopping to dry your feet (and taking a lot more than a few seconds each) the no socks advice holds.

    #1. Also, "If you train in socks, race in socks" cuts both ways. Train without socks!

  • Comment number 6.

    5.
    At 13:32 4th Aug 2011, Kevin Morice wrote:

    #2. Wet socks will give you more blisters than talc and no socks. So unless you are stopping to dry your feet (and taking a lot more than a few seconds each) the no socks advice holds.

    #1. Also, "If you train in socks, race in socks" cuts both ways. Train without socks!
    _____________________________________________________________________

    Well, I guess it is about personal preference. Remember that the 'tips' are for those just starting out (or at least the implication was), therefore a few seconds spent in putting socks on - perhaps with talc in to absorb moisture - would be time well spent if that is what you are used to.

    As for wet socks giving more blisters than talc and no socks, I doubt if this holds for every person, unless Kevin Morice is the definitive font of all tri knowledge (nothing personal, just a little quip!). So maybe just experiment and see what works best for you.

  • Comment number 7.

    I will do an olympic distance in Cassis in October my first one after just two sprints in two years and lots of injury. However the new me, runs in socks, and will take time to dry my feet, because I don't imagine to be up at the front even for my age group. I would rather be able to train a few days later without blisters.... Chrissie is Ace.. I am a huge Fan. she is well known for hanging around cheering in the other competitors, right up till the end of the competition... Not many sports people do that. Nice to see you are still practising triathlon by the way Matt, I remember your intro blogs to the sport.

  • Comment number 8.

    All due respect, and it is a good blog, but Chrissie has been around for a while and the BBC should really have done more prior to this.

    She has been one of the UKs top athletes, has consistently performed on the world stage and dominates in one of the worlds toughest events...and yet her coverage but not only the beeb but also other media outlets has been lacking.

    I say this because, Ive been doing it for only a few years but was constantly amazed about the lack of interest shown by the media. The BBC only got into triathlon when Alistair Brownlee won the world champs but Chrissie was a seasoned World champ well before then!

    Nonetheless, good blog and good to see Chrissie *finally* getting a bit of recognition...

  • Comment number 9.

    Having completed last weekends London Tri i disagree with the no socks suggestion. I still can't walk without pain due to the blisters i have given myself. I also trained without socks so my feet would be used to it.

    so now i'll be missing a week of training as the blisters are really that bad.

    From now on i'll be looking at it this way:
    Question - Am i one of the top 20 people out of the water?
    Answer 1 - Yes, ok i wont bother putting socks on as theres a strong possibility that i may finish quickly
    Answer 2 - No, then it would be nice to finish without the pain and suffering of blisters a few days later so i'll take 30seconds to dry my feet and put socks on.

  • Comment number 10.

    Quick question from someone who knows next to nothing about Triathlons. From reading the article it's clear that she's an incredible athlete. I'm just wondering how she would transfer to the individual Marathon event? With the Olympics in mind mainly. Or are the skill sets required for the Triathlon and the Marathon that different? This line from the article in particular intrigued me towards this question;

    "Wellington's best time for 26.2 miles, by the way, was beaten by only four women at last year's London Marathon. But they had not already swum 2.4 miles and cycled 112 miles."

  • Comment number 11.

    @5 and 6
    having only done 1 tri in my life, i'm not that experienced, but i'll definitely bear this in mind for next year, when i am going to do a couple. i'm not too averse to the no socks idea...if the footwear is absolutely right. i'll still probably go for the socks though...i do them for fun anyways, not to shave off a few seconds

  • Comment number 12.

    Is it any wonder no one knows Chrissie by sight?
    On the BBC sport pages to find Triathlon you have to select 'other sports' then troll down the list till you find it. WHY?
    Britain has many of the worlds greatest Triathletes who regularly win events around the world, when do we get to hear about it.. when the race is in the UK and disrupts the traffic in London. This is not just the BBC mind, all mainstream sports reporting effectively ignore the sport.

    Time to re-evaluate what sports are reported on the 'front' pages and shown on television.

  • Comment number 13.

    Wow! Chrissie's achievements are staggering. And a true inspiration.

    Does anybody know if she is considering a tilt at the 2012 Olympics? I realise Ironman Triathlon is not an Olympics event, but surely she would also be extremely competitive over the Olympic distance. Or perhaps some separate events in their own right, such as the open water swim, the cycling road race or the marathon.

    This kind of talent and dedication needs to be seen on the Olympic stage.

  • Comment number 14.

    Redordead87.

    Triathlon is an olympic sport and you will see it in London in 2012. There may even be some tickets left.

    Triathlon is the fastest growing sport in the UK, more support is needed come along watch and cheer the competitors on, find a local club and join doesn't matter which but get involved.

  • Comment number 15.

    Dear Matt, thank you. Hopefully a few readers who have missed the phenomenon that is Chrissie Wellington, will be better informed.

    Your article is good, but doesn’t convey just how tough the Ironman is. The “112 mile bike”, doesn’t give the sensation that Chrissie is cycling a stage of the Tour de France, in the mountains, in a solo break trying to stay clear of the peloton.
    The achievement of running a 2:44 marathon straight afterwards staggers belief.
    Inspired by Chrissie and Rachel Joyce, and armed with much training, I believed I could come close to repeating a 3 hour marathon, only to find my legs cramping uncontrollably, sapped by exertions on the bike. I was nowhere near (@10 the accepted wisdom is a 3:00 runner would only manage 3:30 in an Ironman; but Chrissie's percentage difference may be less).

    She is a heroine, revered by weekend warriors through to top pros in all three disciplines.

    Matt, you’re right to try & bring her achievements to wider recognition. The Times Sportswoman of the Year might acknowledge her, but you have a real challenge persuading the SPotY nominators, the sports editors of such sporting luminaries such as Zoo, The Voice, Metro, Daily Star, Birmingham Post & News of the World (oh no, hang on, not them) that she should be up for the final public vote. Good luck; after her efforts, it’s worth trying.

  • Comment number 16.

    the reasons she is not known is because she does a sport done by very few people, there probably aren't many women who compete at this event so she is the best out of a very small pool

    why doesn't she just do the ordinary triathlon, or marathon etc in the olympics? and then she would have more competition than the other pinchful amount of nutters mad enough to an ironman triathlon

    and if she did do well in it she would get credit and deserve it

  • Comment number 17.

    This is why Chrissie Wellington should be BBC Sports Personality of the year. She is out performing most men and seems unstoppable, but Triathlon isn’t as general pop as Football.

    I would like to see the BBC get behind Triathlon more and I will be interested to see the column inches Chrissie gets when she annihilates the field again at Kona.

  • Comment number 18.

    Psychic duck:
    there probably aren't many women who compete at this event so she is the best out of a very small pool.

    Of the 1849 entrants to the Kona 2010 ironman 26.5% of the finishers were women. 1770 people finished so thats 469 women. I reckon that stacks up pretty well against most 'mainstream' sports and as for a very small pool, well......
    In last weeks English Triathlon Championships of 915 entrants 118 were women. I didn't see any newspaper or television reports on that event either. Would you know either of the Brownlee brothers or Javier Gomez if you passed them in the street?

  • Comment number 19.

    Chrissie’s achievements are phenomenal. She is really doing the country and herself proud for very little recognition.

    The commitment to keep those levels of fitness must be incredible. Chrissie used to train at the same swim team as me in London before going pro and she was like the Duracell bunny! Never stopping for extra rest, she just kept going!

    Wouldn’t it be a nice thing to see the country recognise one of our greatest athletes by including her in the one of the final legs of the Olympic torch relay. I understand it will be a BIG name that lights the flame but there will be many athletes in the final stages and Chrissie should be one of them!

  • Comment number 20.

    psychic duck, I am pretty sure at this stage that the Ironman brand is world wide, there is probably not a country without one... that's 2500 competitors for Ironman, and probably half that number for 70.3 races in every country. That is only for the IRONMAN brand, then there is the ITU ( I think) who have a ton races, and there are the individual organisations, as well. Triathlon over sprint olympic long or Iron distance is a huge sport. Huge numbers of people and huge money to be made.

  • Comment number 21.

    (18) Oop's correction to the English Tri championships numbers, there were a total of 519 entrants. But there were still 118 Women.

  • Comment number 22.

    Chrissie is a truly amazing athlete and it’s about time we started bigging her up because she is phenomenal. Not only that but I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of Chrissie without the broadest of smiles on her face (even after putting her body through some serious physical punishment!). She’s also a great writer and I’d recommend her blog : http://www.chrissiewellington.org/
    If she wins Kona this year then a nomination for SPoTY is the least she deserves.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'll echo the thoughts of everyone hear and say that Chrissie's achievements are phenomenal and especially when measured against the men in the same races.

    I have to defend the BBC and other media outlets here though by saying that I don't particularly blame them for not giving the Ironman distance triathletes more coverage. Triathlon as a sport is still fairly young, the first 'triathlon' race was apparently only staged in 1974 and it only made the Olympics in 2000. The Brownlee brothers are rightly given more coverage because they race over the Olympic distance and are likely medallists, like it or not the wider British public tend to only be interested in Olympic sports where we are successful and are not particularly interested in the non-Olympic element of those sports.

    So yes her achievements are staggering and they do deserve wider recognition however we as a nation are only just waking up to Triathlon as a sport so we shouldn't criticise the media for focussing more on our Olympic athletes. Also I doubt very much that she cares how much attention she gets, it seems like she simply does it because she's good at it and takes pleasure from that, not because she wants to be famous. The recent interviews Mark Cavendish has done with the BBC say much the same thing.

    http://thebigblogofsport.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 24.

    Chrissie Wellington is an absolute superstar. She epitomizes all that is good in sport. Phenomenal results, incredible passion and support of her sport, an ambassador and champion for the age-groupers and a great personality. Chrissie is head and shoulders above the rest of the field and deserves considerably more attention and suport from the BBC.

    In addition to Chrissie and the Brownlees, the UK has an incredible roster of long-distance triathletes who are at the very top of their sports - Rachel Joyce, Catriona Morrison, Leanda Cave, Tom Lowe etc. and has produced some of the best coaches in the world. Triathlon is a sport we should deservedly be proud of and need to promote and champion further

  • Comment number 25.

    As a follower of Chissie's talent over the last five years & of course living in Suffolk I still think it would be worth her moving down to standard triathlon just to see if she can complete with the very best with view to completing in next year's Olympics, if so this would without a dought put her name on the world map.

  • Comment number 26.

    Great Blog and completely agree with the vast majority of comments, it is very sad that Chrissie Wellington gets so little of the media's attention, a sensational athlete who is blowing away the field on every occasion. At Roth Challenge she finished 6th...OVERALL!! Ironman is a minority sport agreed, but Triathlon has a huge base in the UK now, the Brownlees at last are also gaining recognition and some of the spotlight for their success.

    Best of luck for Kona!

  • Comment number 27.

    Chrissie is a no-brainer for SPotY, and has been for the last 3 years or so.

    Just a wee correction to your blog. It is not true to say that "Wellington's best time for 26.2 miles, by the way, was beaten by only four women at last year's London Marathon." Her time was beaten by only 4 women in the "Masses" race, but also by all 32 women finishing the "Elite Women" race, that is, 36 women in total.

    But to put her time in context, that 2:44:35 marathon at Roth was beaten by only ONE man, Andreas Raelert, who also set a World Record. At her previous Ironman (Ironman South Africa), where she lowered her own World Record for Ironman-branded races, her 2:52:54 marathon was faster than ALL the men. This is why Chrissie is so exceptional - the people arguing above that there aren't that many women competing in Ironman are missing the point - people, this chick is beating most of the men as well!

  • Comment number 28.

    She is quite simply incredible and deserving of far wider recognition. It is SPotY's discredit that she has been overlooked for so long.

  • Comment number 29.

    Another wee correction, this time to tomh1979's comment above. She has never finished 6th overall at Roth. Here are all her Roth results:

    2009 - 8:31:59, new world record (outside top 10 men)
    2010 - 8:19:13, new world record (7th overall)
    2011 - 8:18:13, new world record (5th overall)

  • Comment number 30.

    Chrissie is an absolutely amazing athlete and I have wondered for a long time why she is not praised more in this country. The BBC should highlight her achievements much more than they do and perhaps then her star will rise as it so duly should. Heres to her being nominated for Sports Personality of the Year award this year!

  • Comment number 31.

    @psychicduck...
    "the reasons she is not known is because she does a sport done by very few people, there probably aren't many women who compete at this event so she is the best out of a very small pool"

    ARE YOU KIDDING?!?!?!?!

    I competed in the Ironman Europeans and there were thousands of competitors...as for the world champs, there are similar numbers....

    'local' triathlons may secure only about 50 competitors and London triathlon and various bigger events may get several hundred but and IM event gets worldwide competitors and is huge.

    The Europeans I did in Germany had the most amazing support...cycling through the towns the crowds were 3/4 deep in some places...

    The BBC, like many other media outlets, conforms to the ritual that rugby, football, tennis, athletics etc take centre stage and that Triathlon and IM only come to the fore when there is something worth mentioning, however Chrissie has been around for a while and is a consistent performer and the likes of spoty is a farse when it comes to failing to recognise her achievements...

  • Comment number 32.

    I agree with a lot of the points above regarding the lack of exposure for our world class triathletes. The websites and papers are full of guff regarding our under-achieving footballers.
    Why not focus on the World Champion triathletes we have instead of the prima donnas that play footie?
    I really hope Chrissie gets the recognition she deserves when SPoTY comes around. Perhaps we could start a petition, we'd only need 100,000 signatures to have MPs debate it.....

  • Comment number 33.

    Why is this girl not in the British Olympic Triathlon Team if she is the best in the world?

  • Comment number 34.

    Oh yep I think a petition to at least get her nominated is a great idea!!!

  • Comment number 35.

    Quite simply THE BEST, and from what I hear from friends who were at the Kansas 70.3 ,she is also the nicest sports woman in the UK - BBC Sports Personality Award should be a formality !!

  • Comment number 36.

    Hi Matt - thanks as always for your thoughts and analysis on your blog. Just been watching the triathlon from London today and yet again found myself really frustrated by the lack of information provided by the BBC commentators and on screen. For the many '000s of us who do triathlons we are really interested in the split times for the different disciplines - for each of the competitors. Surely with all the electronic timing going on it must be possible to show real time splits. If you can exert any influence with the production team that would be really appreciated!! Many thanks.....

  • Comment number 37.

    Phychic Duck’s (16) comments are just so ill-informed, clichéd and wrong that it won’t take long to correct them. Mr Duck, have you seen what it takes to qualify for Kona? A “very small pool ” of people?!? Do you realise the thousands of women who enter the different 28 different Ironman events every year (and that’s only mentioning the trademarked ones , because there are many other events which cover the same distance). Bottom line is that there are more Ironman distance triathletes than there are Heptathletes, such as Jessica Ennis but you wouldn’t dare say that’s she competing against a “very small pool”. Also you’re not counting the hundreds of thousands of female triathletes that don’t have the dedication or talent to step up to the ironman distance, why are these people not part of your “very small pool”.

  • Comment number 38.

    I’d like to thank Mr Slater for his articles on triathlons. I hope you had a good race on Sunday. I do however have an issue with some of his previous statementss. Firstly, on his championing of Mark Cavendish as Britain’s best Athlete (read his blog “Mark Cavendish, Britain’s Best Athlete) I think the answer to that question was clearly and still is: “Not a chance, it’s obviously Chrissie Wellington”. I love “Cav”, he’s a true personality and he’s the best at what he does, but sprinting is not the pinnacle of cycling, it’s the yellow jersey that truly counts, not the green one. He competes in a side-show to the real event, the GC. Massive exaggeration to say that he’s as big in Belgium and Holland as David Beckham (just utter nonsense), also false to say he would not be recognised by most people in Britain. Cav is a star and cycling, whilst still lagging the popularity it has in the continent in growing exponentially. ( It’s time for Le Tour to get better coverage than on ITV 4). Anyhow, back to Britain’s best athlete, Chrissie Wellington, I also disagree that she could walk around without being recognised. Had she been at Hyde Park this weekend she would have been mobbed. Have you seen how many people in this country do triathlons? She’s already well on her way to becoming a well recognised athlete, and has been so for at least a good couple of years.

  • Comment number 39.

    Having received my finishers medal from Chrissie Wellington at Roth last year I can confirm how friendly she is. How many other top athletes would, after just after completing such a gruelling event themselves, stay around for hours, and I do mean hours by the time I finished, to greet and hand out medals to the mere mortals also doing the event. She also smiles all the time. Even when having completed the swim she forgot to pick up her transition bag and had to run back to get it. A great athlete.

    However, it's not only in triathlon that the BBC lets UK sports down. We are currently in the midst of the Olympic games trial events. You would not know it from the BBC sports reporting. With the public mostly locked out from the Olympic venues it would be an ideal way to get the public enthused by the Olympics. As an example, even with large parts of London and Surrey closed for the cycling trial event last weekend, the BBC chose to ignore it live. This had another current great British competitor in it Mark Cavendish. I have yet to see how much of the promised coverage there will be next weekend. Other trial events???

    With the BBC non longer able to show the elite live football, cricket, rugby and from next season half of the formula 1 races it seems that the powers that be are very blinkered when it comes to finding and promoting alternatives. It seems that they only do X, Y or Z and nothing else exists. They would rather spend taxpayers millions doing half a job on one sport rather than promoting alternatives. If certain sports choose to cut out free to air viewers in the pursuit of more money, why should the BBC continue to throw money at these sports.

  • Comment number 40.

    Thanks for this blog Matt - much appreciated, following my badgering of you earlier this summer about a lack of Chrissie related content.

    As a triathlete yourself, I look forward to more championing of her in the future, and hopefully it can spread to some of your other colleagues.

    Like many of the comments above I would like to see Chrissie at least make the top 10 in SPotY, but have to agree with TrojanOtter that the list of 30 publications who nominate for SPotY does seem a little odd - perhaps the BBC could publish the circulation numbers for each publication, that might convince us of their legitimacy.

    Perhaps News of the World's nominations could be taken over by Norwich's Eastern Daily Press.....

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.