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Sat 21st May 2022
Interview: Sophie Coleman
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Friday 31st October 2008

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Last week's interview was with the newly retired triathlon legend, Simon Lessing, and the hope is that our country will produce many more champions like Simon. Of course, his results would be hard to match. One young athlete who is hoping to make it to the top is the recently crowned World Junior Duathlon Champion, 18-year-old Sophie Coleman. Annie Emmerson caught up with her to find out about her recent success, how she came to choose triathlon and duathlon as her sport and what the future holds for this young and talented athlete.

AE Bearing in mind you're only just eighteen, hopefully we can be forgiven for not knowing too much about you. To start with tell us about how you first got involved in triathlon.

SC I've been doing triathlon since I was eleven when I was in Tristar two. My weakest discipline is the swim, which I still need to do a lot of work on. I did actually start swimming first, but I was never really given any technique coaching so I think that's maybe why it's not quite as good as it should be now. It wasn't until I started training with Bodyworks and Glenn Cook, when I was 14, that I started to get some better swim coaching. Glenn's really helped with my swim fitness, which is something I needed to work on, I think that in turn has helped my technique, but I've still got a way to go.

AE You were the European Junior Duathlon Champion in 2007 and now you're the World Junior Duathlon Champion, did you think you had a chance of winning before the race?

SC I thought I had a good chance of making the podium, but I didn't necessarily think that I was going to win. I did feel confident on the startline though, and knew I was running really well, my speed sessions were showing that I was running the best I'd ever run. I had trained really hard for the race and I felt that I had as good a chance as anyone of winning.

AE Did you have all your family out in Italy supporting you?

SC My mum and sister were with me. I always have to talk to my mum before I race, if she can't make to the race I always make sure I call her on the morning before the race, she's the only person who can really help me with pre race nerves.

AE Do you get quite nervous before races.

SC If I'm not nervous then I try to make myself a little nervous, I find if I'm a little wound up it helps me get more prepared for the race, nervous energy is good.

AE Although you've really excelled at duathlon, you also do triathlon don't you?

SC I actually mainly train for triathlon, but I really enjoy duathlon. It does surprise me that you don't get many triathletes racing duathlons, maybe it's because they are a lot harder than triathlons. I think it's really good training to do duathlons and it certainly helps with my triathlon preparation.

AE So we know you've had some great results in duathlon, tell us about your results so far in triathlon

SC I won the junior elite race in London [Ed: with a fairly comfortable five minute margin!] and a week after that I won the British Triathlon Elite Junior Championships, in Strathclyde, in Scotland.

AE Those are pretty impressive results at the age of 18, Hollie Avil is also only 18, do you feel it's tough to have her as your benchmark and have you raced against her before.

SC Because Hollie's moved up to standard distance racing I haven't raced against her this year as I'm still only racing over the sprint distance. Next year will probably be the same because I don't want to make the step up to standard distance racing too early so I don't know if I'll race her in 2009, but the year after I'm sure I will. If my swimming improves maybe I can be competitive against her, who knows, she's done fantastically this year, she's a great athlete. For the longer stuff you obviously need to train harder and longer and that has it's risks, so at the moment though I'm just taking it step-by-step.

AE How many hours a week are you training at the moment?

SC 20 to 24 hours, that may go up a bit now I'm in Eastbourne because I'm going to be doing pretty much two hours a day in the pool, every day! Before I lived here I used to travel over four times a week to try and get in as many swims as I could, but that meant having to get up everyday at 0445. Even though I live in Eastbourne now I still have to get up early six days a week, so it really is living an athlete's lifestyle, early to bed and up early in the morning.

AE Lots of athletes talk about getting little naps in the day to help recovery, is that something you do?

AL I think it's something I've got to get the hang of doing, at the moment I'm not very good at it, I just haven't mastered sleeping in the day time. The guys I live with literally walk in the door from training eat some breakfast and go straight to sleep, I don't know how they do it, I wish I could.

AE This summer you out ran Jodie Swallow and Kerry Lang at a French Grand Prix race that was made into a duathlon because the current in the river was too strong, it seems like it's really your run that stands out most out of the three sports, is it the discipline that you most enjoy in triathlon?

SC Yes, definitely! I can't wait for the cross country season to start, I absolutely love it. If the triathlon season wasn't so busy I would would love to do some track races in the summer too, but I don't really get the opportunity.

AE Back in February you suffered a running injury and had to take quite a lot of time off, what happened?

SC I had to have four months off, firstly because of a strain in my hip flexor, I wasn't able to run or bike for two months. I think I really just over cooked it by trying to do too many hard run sessions close together. When I was able to run again I over did it, again, which caused a knee injury. I guess it was the case of just being too eager, too soon, I know it was my own fault. I've learnt a lesson from it, but I guess in some ways it was a blessing in disguise as it gave me time out to focus on my A levels.

AE So are you off to University this year?

SC No, I've decided to take a year or so off so I can concentrate on triathlon. I've moved from my house in Brighton to a house in Eastbourne so I can be closer to my coach and training group, Bodyworks. It's good to be with the group, I feel that can be really focused and give it my full attention for the next couple of years.

AE What's it like training with Glenn and Sarah Cook - apart from being great coaches, they were obviously great athletes themselves, and you've also got a host of great athletes there to train with too, including Olly Freeman?

SC At the moment I'm loving it. I did think it may be hard moving away from home, but everyone gets on so well here, it's such a friendly group, there's a really vibrant, positive atmosphere and to train around such good athletes really motivates me. Having Glenn as my coach has turned me around completely as an athlete, Sarah and him together are a great team.

AE Was it always your plan to be a full-time athlete?

SC It was actually quite a last minute decision to go full-time and even though I definitely consider it full-time I am doing a part-time art foundation course, which I'm doing three days a week. The decision to move to Eastbourne and give it a go as a full-time athlete really came from a chat I had with Glenn and my Mum in July after my A levels. I'd taken my place at University in Sussex, which would have still meant I was doing what I was now, traveling to Eastbourne nearly every day to train with the group, but we just kind of decided that I could go to University any time. I also thought about the fact that I really wouldn't have been able to enjoy the culture and lifestyle of University whilst I was training and trying to get on in triathlon, especially with London 2012 only four years away.

AE Is that something you're aiming for?

SC Yes definitely, the competition is going to be extremely fierce to get there, but yes it is an aim, it is one of my dreams.

AE So what does 2009 look like for you now you've made the decision to postpone University and become a full-time triathlete, are you mainly focusing on junior sprint distance races or have you got other plans?

SC I need to talk with Glenn about that, at the moment though I'll start this winter by racing the cross country season. Next year I'll definitely be doing some of the junior races, including the World and European Junior Duathlon and Triathlon Championships - I'll need to be selected for the tri as unlike the duathlon, where I'm automatically selected because of my victory this year, I'll still have to do the qualifying races for the triathlon. I might also do a longer race like Windsor and I'll also be racing the French Grand Prix circuit. In January I'm hoping to go to the Australian Youth Olympics as Great Britain have been invited to take a triathlon team over, I'm really hoping I will get selected for that one.

AE That sounds like an amazing opportunity?

SC It will be. We would leave on January 3rd and will be there for three weeks, we get to stay in the Olympic village and use all the facilities, it'll be such an amazing trip, so fingers crossed I'll get selected.

SC A couple of weeks ago, five times World Champion, Simon Lessing, announced his retirement. What are your thoughts about Great Britain's most successful triathlete, who started racing before you were born?

SC As an Olympian with five world titles to his name amongst several others, he has achieved what most elite triathletes can only dream of! His amazing career has made him a sporting legend and he should be seen as an inspiration to any athlete.

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