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Wed 29th Jun 2022
Interview: Michelle Dillon
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Friday 3rd April 2009

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Michelle Dillon, undoubtedly one of the most talented athletes triathlon has seen, is this week's interviewee. Michelle came into the sport from a running background and through grit and determination worked hard on her swim so that she could compete with the best triathletes in the world. A collection of sporting accolades silenced any critics she had, who doubted a runner with an average swim could take on, and beat, the best triathletes in the world. A collection of European and World medals are proof that she did just that, Nevertheless, for Michelle, World and other Championship medals don't suffice and it's an Olympic medal that she feels is still missing.

Following her announcement last year that she would be retiring from competitive sport due to a serious back operation, Michelle is once again going in search of the Olympic medal that still eludes her. With a quiet, but steely determination, Michelle is steadily working on her rehab and will be attempting to bike competitively this year. Her dream is to make it to 2012 as a cyclist and although she's realistic about the huge task ahead, I for one certainly wouldn't put it past her.

AE 2008 was a tough year for you. You had to make some major decisions about your career and at the same time you had to have a serious back operation. Were your back problems the main reason you decided to retire from triathlon?

MD Yes, 2008 was a tough year with my back and after a lot of investigation, and scans I was advised to have a double fusion of my spine, which should have been done a long time ago. This was the major reason I have had to retire from triathlon, if I'd had it my way I would have kept going.

AE Although you've retired from triathlon there are a few little rumours around that you maybe considering some bike racing in the future, is that true?

MD Yes, it just so happens that I have been getting back into some cycling and feeling strong. I thought I would set myself some challenges on the bike this year and then see where that takes me. Admittedly I know it's going to take a bit of time to resume full cycling training, but enjoying my two to three times per week is fine for the moment. I'm also very happy that Scott bikes have agreed to support me for all my bikes and equipment, so that's a bonus for me too.

AE You've talked before about having babies, have you thought about doing a Paula Radcliffe and having a baby before you return to some sort of competitive sport?

MD Yes, this is in the back of my mind as I have a big goal for another Olympic Games - I have to be careful as I don't want to miss out on having babies and time is getting away from me. We will just have to see what happens.

AESo you're planning on going to another Olympics?

MDYes, in the back of my mind I would love to compete again at a high level, and if everything goes well and my recovery is the way I'd like it to be, then I would like to give it a go. Cycling is something that I really enjoy and I love pushing myself. I feel I will never be able to do this again in running after my operation, so I have to get my adrenalin fix somehow. It's really a dream, which I hope I can turn into reality.

AE You've been incredibly successful both as a runner and a triathlete, but what do you consider as your greatest sporting achievement?

MD Do you know I have so many fond memories from both my running days and my triathlon days, if I picked one of my greatest achievements from both I would have to say it would be when I ran my debut over 10km on the track as a 21-year old. I clocked a time of 32:35 and finished second in the race. In triathlon it would have to be in 1999 when I won my first World Cup in Noosa by 45 seconds. I'd only been in the sport for two years and actually came last out of the swim.

AE All great sports people experience there fair share of highs and lows, what’s been your biggest disappointment in sport?

MD Well probably having to deal with injuries my entire career as a runner and triathlete - I can only remember one full year of training un-injured as a runner and that was it unfortunately. I would have loved to have made the most of my potential, which I feel I never really had the chance to do because of my injuries.

AE Whilst still competing for Australia you raced the 10,000m event at the 1994 Commonwealth Games. A certain Zara Hyde-Peters (British Triathlon’s CEO) also raced in the same event. Do you remember racing against her back then?

MD I vaguely remember Zara, but I have the photos to look at for the memories. It was a race that I was very nervous about and with little experience at that level being so young. I led the race for 6km, bad mistake!

AE Tell us what happened?

MD Well basically I was a young 21-year old and a little inexperienced at this level, however I always was a front runner even at school. I would just go out as hard as I could until I blew up, and if I didn't then great. My mentality was the same going into the Commonwealth Games 10,000m, I had only run this distance once on the track before so didn't really have the experience tactically. My coach had told me not to lead, but I did just that. The thing was I only knew how to run from the front and so I ran like I would on the road; as hard as I could. So, I found myself leading the biggest race of my life with people like Yvonne Murray (eventual winner) and others behind me. I lead for 6km and was in for a solid time. Then all of a sudden Yvonne picked up the pace and I found myself dropping back to fourth place but holding it well. I went backwards the last 1km and was being passed by a few more. I eventually ended up in seventh place, but the commentators gave me a good rap for having the guts to do most of the work for the majority of the race. I could have run a more tactical race and finished higher up, but it was a good learning experience for me for years to come.

AE Triathlon has changed a lot since you made your switch from being a runner to a triathlete, what changes do you consider to be good ones and what changes do you consider to be bad ones?

MD Triathlon has now got to the point where most athletes don't have a weakness like they used to. In the drafting races it really is all coming down to a mass run. Back when I first came into the sport there were non-swimmers who could run through or bike through the field, I think this is happening less and less. The exciting and good things are, that the sport is becoming more recognised like never before.

AE If you had to vote for a woman in triathlon who you feel has made an outstanding contribution to our sport, who would it be and why?

MD I would have to say Michellie Jones. She's a person who has been around for many years and not only dominated back in the 90's over the short course, but later went to Ironman and won Hawaii. A great achievement from an outstanding woman who was totally dedicated to her sport.

AE Who is your all-time favourite sportswoman?

MD There are two people who I always admired as a youngster and they were hanging up on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. Zola Budd and Liz McColgan, both distance runners from Great Britain. More recently Paula Radcliffe has moved to the top of my list. Running will always be my passion.

AE Triathlon is the fastest growing sport in the UK with the number of women taking part increasing dramatically each year. What advice would you give to a woman who is doing her first ever triathlon?

MD Triathlon is such an enjoyable, but challenging sport in a good way. It's a great overall conditioning sport that you will love. Enjoy it.

AE What are your three top nutritional tips for women doing triathlon?

MD Make sure you recover after training session and races with the right nutrition. It's worth trying Megaburn products which are all natural Eat lightly and regularly. I recommend my athletes eat up to six small meals per day for more energy rather than three large meals. Also don't forget to make sure you drink lots of water.

AE What are your three top training tips for women taking part in triathlon?

MD Make sure to work on your core strength by doing Pilates and gym work. Seek a good coach who understands women in sport. Don't be paranoid about weight, with a balanced diet and consistent training it will take care of itself.

AE What advice would you give to a woman who suffers from pre-race nerves?

MD What you have to remember is that everyone is a little bit nervous before their race so you're not alone. Look around you and have a look. Take your mind off your nerves by watching others, you will be amazed what you see before races.

AE You've been out in Australia since December coaching a group of athletes, including your partner Stuart Hayes, how are things going and are you enjoying coaching?

MD Yes I'm fortunate to be in Australia coaching my group of athletes and really enjoying it. Having the sun shining every day has to be a real bonus for us. Stuart is training very well and we are really looking forward to his season ahead. The rest of my squad are making lots of progress too, which is really pleasing to watch. I'm looking forward to seeing them all in action.

AE Tell us about your plans for 2009?

MD Well when I return from Australia I plan to stay in the UK and continue working with my athletes both with my online coaching and group sessions. Also I want to do some bike racing - probably more focused towards the time trial stuff on the road.

AE If you could have one wish in sport what would it be?

MD I wished I'd never made some of the mistakes I did as an athlete, that way I still might have a healthy back and still be racing.

AE Through the good times and bad times you always manage to remain a really positive person how do you do it?

MD You just have to stay happy and think positively to yourself, and keep telling yourself you will get through the tough times. I think the background I came from forced me to be independent so I don't let too many things get me down.

AE Do you have a mantra and if so what is it?

MD Balance is the Key! And something I always say to my athletes before a hard session is: the more effort you put into this session the more you will be able to take out during the race.

AE Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

MD Happy, enjoying life, healthy and have a wealth of experience to pass on to others.

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