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Wed 26th Feb 2020
Simon Lessing: legend of triathlon
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Thursday 19th September 2013

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Simon Lessing is one of the true greats in the history of triathlon. Such was his status that upon his retirement in 2008, we published a three part interview with the five-time World Champion (you can find those here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Simon has just been interviewed again for the excellent Legends of Triathlon podcast ( by John Newsom and Bevan James Eyles, the guys behind the long-running IMTalk ( Having listened to it myself, highly recommended.

Find out more below - and then take a listen yourself.

Up close with Simon Lessing

As the old adage goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Never a conformer, Simon Lessing had few friends and his enemies were left trailing in his wake.

South African-born, living in France and racing for Great Britain, Lessing would dominate and antagonise his triathlon rivals in equal measure during the Nineties.

Such was the talent and dedication of the latest guest on the Thanyapura Legends Of Triathlon podcast that at his peak he was arguably the greatest short course male performer the sport has ever seen.

Simon LessingIf there is one athlete who can be seen as a trailblazer for Javier Gomez and the Brownlee brothers, it is Lessing.

From a sheltered upbringing in apartheid-stricken Durban, Lessing explains how as a skinny kid, he shunned traditional pursuits, was encouraged into the fledgling sport of swim, bike, run and immediately excelled.

Showcasing those talents on the world stage were not without challenges though and avoiding national service, his father sponsored him to travel to London where he took on a hand-to-mouth existence - training, racing and sleeping in his canvas bike bag where necessary.

With his home nation banned from competition, Lessing explains how his decision to represent Britain was for ‘political not economic’ reasons, but goes on to discuss how in a post-Zola Budd era, this polarised public opinion.

The controversy was amplified with his long-running and most fierce rivalry with Londoner Spencer Smith, just a year his junior. Smith has also been interviewed on the ‘Legends’ show and concurs that at that time there was only one place either was prepared to bury the hatchet.

Standing 6ft 4 inches tall on the starting pontoon, Lessing was imposing and combustible. He took no prisoners, was prepared to demoralise rivals with inflammatory comments pre-race and thought his career was all but over should he ever suffer defeat.

Those losses were rare though. World titles were collected in 1992, ‘95, ‘96 and ‘98 before his golden chance in the Sydney Olympics fell flat and as a marked man he finished a disappointing ninth.

Lessing profiles that run-up to the Games and gives his reasons for the failure, before moving forward to the autumn of his career with a stab at long course racing in the new millennium.

As with many athletes, age and injury finally took its toll leading him to retire from competition and take up coaching in the triathlon mecca of Boulder, Colorado.

He remains a fascinating character in the sport’s young history and while some triathletes would rather win friends than races, for Simon Lessing it was never a contest.

For the full insight listen to the Thanyapura Legends of Triathlon interview by visiting or download the podcast via iTunes:

Victories fade, legends don’t. The Thanyapura Legends of Triathlon is a monthly podcast brought to triathlon fans by John Newsom and Bevan James Eyles.

Legends already interviewed include Mark Allen, Greg Welch, Mike Pigg, Scott Tinley, Erin Baker, Karen Smyers, Scott Molina, Simon Whitfield and Spencer Smith

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