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Sun 22nd May 2022
© Richard Melik /
Chris McCormack interview
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Wednesday 22nd December 2010

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In the world of sport, 'legend' is I feel a word used far too often. However, in the case of Chris McCormack - Macca - and the sport of triathlon, I think legend is a truly deserved reference.

In October Macca won his second Ford Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, and having also won the ITU World Championship (1997), the ITU World Cup Series and multiple World Cup races, the Goodwill Games (2001), Ironman Australia, Ironman Frankfurt, Challenge Roth and most of the major triathlons around the world such as Escape from Alcatraz, Wildflower and Chicago, his place in the Hall of Fame of triathlon greats is guaranteed.

Chris is also a true historian and student of the sport, and so when your Editor - known to like a few facts and figures himself - gets the chance to chat past, present and future with Macca, well, I wasn't going to turn that down.

So, read on and find out about Macca's admiration for Alistair 'the mongrel' Brownlee, his passion for the sport, and why Kona 2010 was "the easiest I've ever done an Ironman."

After first discussing the training runs we'd just returned from (mine from freezing evening conditions in West London, his from a lovely warm morning in sunny Sydney, Australia...), I first congratulated Chris on a phenomenal and exciting race in Hawaii this year.

"Thanks, it was a good day! I was hoping to have that race the year before, but I didn't swim well enough, but yes, I was happy. It was nice to win in the way I wanted to win it. The first time I won it (2007) I had to change the racer I was I guess, and become a 'runner' to finally win it for the first time, and ever since then I've really wanted to try and win it by being a little more aggressive in the middle stages of the race. If you take chances in Kona, you can really pay big - if you are a bigger guy in particular - and I'm just really glad I pulled it off. Nice, very nice indeed."

Cementing History

Putting some industry 'experts' to shame, Chris has a knowledge and history of the sport perhaps unmatched by any other athlete I've ever spoken to. Given that, I suggested that like the Iron War of 1989 (Dave Scott and Mark Allen's epic) and the Julie Moss crawl of 1982, the McCormack / Raelert battle - they were running side-by-side with little more than a mile to go - would always be one that fans sit back and talk about for many years, becoming part of that history himself.

Macca just heads Andreas Raelert in the late stages of the marathon, Kona 2010 ©Richard Melik /"That'd be cool. It ended up being a great race - the Raelert boys are going to go on and do some pretty special things, Michael in particular... so it's good to get something done with those two guys! I'm definitely on the older scale of things now, 37 - it was a lovely race - you look for races like that in your career, and because I've enjoyed watching the guys you spoke of like Mark Allen when I was a kid, I just wanted to emulate what they did, and I just wanted to race a lot and race hard, so when a perfect race pans out like that, especially in Kona it's nice...

"Having watched the Iron War so many times, I was actually thinking during the race 'mate, you know what, whatever happens here this is going to be a great race to watch', even if I hadn't have won. Very cool day!"


The Raelert Brothers

Andreas Raelert ©Richard Melik / the past four years, Chris has two wins and a fourth in Kona, while Craig Alexander has two wins, a second and a fourth, the Aussie pairing dominating the lava fields. Who did he think the next generation would be - was it the Raelert brothers, perhaps Sebastian Kienle or someone else, and how was Ironman developing?

"Oh 100%. I think we a seeing a transitional period in Ironman racing which we saw in short course in the mid 90's; and that's where the era of the weakness is gone. If you have a weak area in your arsenal now in Ironman, you are going to pay because the races are getting too close. Those days are over or they soon will be - it happened to me in 09, I was 3:30 down on the swim - GAME OVER! I lost the race by four minutes. And that's what you see with the Raelert's, they are exceptional swimmers, some of the best in the field. They are exceptional cyclists, top three or four in the field and they are exceptional runners - and that is where Ironman is headed."

"It's an eight hour race, but events are won in moments, and this is why I see the Raelert's as such a powerful force for the future, and maybe a Terrenzo Bozzone. He's got some strength to build still, but he is a bit younger than those guys and doesn't have a weakness. I think Sebastian has a soft swim...but such an incredible bike ride. His swim is not as soft as some of the champions of the past, so, it's definitely a new wave and a new era and its exciting to see that and be a part of that and to be able to race these guys."

Passion and respect

Macca is a dream for the media: intelligent, knowledgeable, confident and calls things as he sees them - but is he frustrated that in picking the 'easy' headline, the respect he gives other athletes - often in the same sentence - gets ignored in favour of a quick and easy story?

"I'll follow triathlon for the rest of my life... It's a sport I picked as a kid because I love it. People have said "ah, Macca's arrogant" and I've always been upset about that - I have opinions on the sport because I'm passionate about it, it means so much to me. I love watching exceptional athletes, and even when I'm no longer at the pointy end, I'll be watching it.

Craig Alexander ©Richard Melik /"I've always found it quite odd, everyone focuses on the negatives. Crowie for example is a phenomenal runner, and I say that in every interview I've ever had. He knows every weakness I have, and I know every weakness he has - we live a mile apart here in Sydney, and were training partners for about 15 years since the juniors! People ask me the I think, well, don't ask me the question if you don't want the answer! If the question is 'how can you beat Craig Alexander?', well, the answer will be 'I think I can, and I'll try to exploit it on the ride because I don't want to get off the bike and run with him'... and then that's what the headline is 'Macca says Crowie can't ride!'

"I take an immense interest in all the guys I race... if I upset some of the guys, I think they should be flattered that I study them so much, and that I've spent so much time trying to work out how I might be able to beat them - it's part of the process, it's sport - you look for the best way, using your strengths to win an event, but it seems that sometimes in triathlon we're a little bit...'ooh, we can't say that', but at the end of the day it's pro sport at our end. If people get upset about that, jeez, find another sport!"

Alistair Brownlee - 'the mongrel'...

While he may be an Ironman World Champion now, Macca won the ITU World Championship himself in 1997 during his shourt course racing days. Is he still a fan of ITU racing, and how does he rate Alistair Browlee?

ITU / Delly Carr"That's why I'm really drawn back to World Cup racing because of this Alistair Brownlee kid. I put on the television and I think 'you beauty, he's back' - he's got a bit of mongrel in him, he's aggressive in the pack, he backs himself - jeez mate, I'm a HUGE fan. Him and his brother. I love seeing the mongrel in him, I just love what he's doing, his no fear racing - he's taking on this Gomez and...he's taking him on! He's not holding back, he's not being defensive and he seems like a nice kid.

"I take pleasure watching guys like Alistair Brownlee. They are light years in front of what I ever could do when I was doing World Cup races. I don't feel the need to justify my existence as a World Cup racer. I was a good World Cup athlete in my time - one of the best - but what Alistair and (Jan) Frodeno and these guys are doing is exceptional, and it's beautiful to watch. I sit their as a 'senior' now...and wow, these kids are amazing! Some of the other guys I've raced seem to have a bitterness towards the sport, a need to justify "ah, we were just as good back then, these guys don't ride hard" or whatever... it's bullshit man! The sport is young, it's going to evolve, talent is coming and what we are seeing in Ironman, with the Raelert's, is the next wave. And it's going to be awesome."

The need for history - cementing the future

With the introduction of the ITU World Championship Series we get to see the likes of Brownlee and Gomez head-to-head several times a year. Is the long distance racing, particularly in the 70.3 format missing a trick here, given that for example we never got to see Michael Raelert race Craig Alexander this season?

"That's what they are telling us they are trying to do with this new qualification procedure...but I've always said that the tennis system seems to work; having four or five 'majors' which have a good prize purse but also some standing in the sport, and then you start to generate some importance, some historical importance too, around the events.

"It's not just about money - if you move money around the athletes will go, but the title means nothing. Hawaii is Hawaii because of its history. Roth is Roth because it has history. I'm forever trying to tell Ben Fertic (President, World Triathlon Corporation), you need to establish events and bring the pros - and that comes with money, and it comes with time. Stop moving the goal posts all the time, and establish these events and say, ok, from now on 70.3 UK for example, is going to be the biggest event and we're really going to throw some attention at it, TV time and promotion. Ok, it might not work straight away, but over time you start to create some hype and history about the race, course is the same etc - but until you start to do that in 70.3 and Ironman there is always just going to be just Hawaii, and the pros will just work out a way to make an income, to qualify into the Ironman and then have a showdown in Hawaii - and for the sport that's not going see the sport move forward.

"Without history you've got nothing, and without having the ability for someone like me who raced triathlon in the 80's to sit down in 2025 and go 'mate, I know that course - look what these guys are doing!'...without that, it's just another swim, bike and run event. I get looked at like a dinosaur for saying it... but when I was a kid, what inspired me was every year watching this race in the lava fields, seeing people walking and blow up, and then every year it would be on again; Mark Allen, Dave Scott, then Greg Welch, then the European contingent...and I'm watching the progression: 8:10, then 8:09 then 8:07...far out!

Macca, Ospaly, Raelert at Ironman 70.3 Austria 2010 ©Triangle Events

"I'm happy to have the races everywhere, but lets have strength behind some marquee events (like the tennis majors). In the States there were 25/30 of these events last year, in Europe there were five. You go to race in Austria, or Wiesbaden (Germany) and you are racing 20/25 of the best in the world! Look at Austria 70.3 this year - Filip Osplay, myself, Andreas, Marino (Vanhoenacker)... we had pretty good years in the end! Top three in Kona and silver at 70.3 World's in one event, and I come back to America after that race and everyone's like 'huh, you got beat over there then?' Jeez, these guys are good!"

"I love the sport, and I talk about it with my mates - still do - we'll be around the barbie talking about the old days, but I don't want to be one of those 'back in the day' old guys, I refuse to be that, and that's why I'll always appreciate what the guys are doing now - and that's simply from the fact that I love triathlon. I enjoy every facet of it; the planning, watching the races, watching the athletes, watching them progress, looking at strengths and weaknesses in them - even if I'm not racing them - and I just love that about our sport, there are so many variable to it, which make it a pretty cool event all round."

Viva Las Vegas?

One of Macca's other sporting loves is boxing, and the home of boxing - and an important triathlon venue in 2011 - is Las Vegas. Having spent time and raced there in recent years, is Chris planning to race at either the new Ironman 70.3 World Champs (September) or the ITU Long Distance World Championships (November)?

"Yes they are actually, definitely on my list. I've never done this ITU long course or the 70.3 World's. They have moved the 70.3 to September, better time of year for sure, and I think the course is fair so I think I'm going to have a good look at that. It's going to be a lot tougher than people think, I've done Silverman a few times; the bike's hilly, the venue is awesome and the run is tough. For the ITU long course I haven't seen the entire course but I'm sure it will take in the same mountains over there at Henderson, so... two events I'm looking at in our calendar. We're about 70% through our calendar at the moment, negotiating with these Ironmans about what we should do, but I'm very heavily looking at both of those events, and, you know really nailing one of them - just because I've never done them and I'd like to."

Chasing the new brigade

Does that tie in to any goals that are left before you finish up your top level racing career?

Richard Melik /"I just wanna race some of these new guys coming through because I know where I'm at in my career. I've never hidden from my age and I enjoy competition so I still think I've got a lot of very very good 'wars' left in me because I think I'm a smart racer, and intelligence in a race goes a long long way. I think that's going to buy me maybe a couple more years. Physically I've never had an injury, but I'm a realist - age catches up with everyone! For me I just want to race the next brigade so that when I'm watching them - because I will watch them - I've got an affinity, a relationship with them to some degree. It tells you a lot about them, their character, who they are when you race them and I want to do that.

"I want to chase some of these younger guys, and that's why I'm going to Europe a lot more.. I've always chased people, because I'm fascinated by this whole racing thing. Similar to the boxing guys, who chase a for the rest of my career I want to race the likes of Michael Raelert. I would be happy for him to beat me senseless - actually, I expect him to, to some degree - but I'm going to try and work out a way that if I can get one up on him, it will be phenomenal. That's how my whole career has been - how can I come up with a solution to beat that person? I think I enjoy the process more than the racing if you know what I mean?

"I've done everything I wanted to achieve when I started now, it's more about enjoying the sport, racing the new brigade and hoping to inspire people who are like you to understand how the sport has got to where it is, and how talented these new guys are... because when you race, you get to see how talented someone is. And that's the next part of the puzzle, the psyche of an athlete. I could give you examples of five or six athletes who I just cannot work out how they didn't dominate the entire sport. You know, I've trained with some and they swam, biked and ran better than anybody - but they never won anything! I think that is what will keep me motivated, keep me enjoying and doing some events I've never raced."

Breakfast boxes

Wheaties / Wheaties FuelAnd now you are on the Wheaties cereal box in the USA?! "yes...I didn't realise quite how big it was initially, but as I've got to understand and learn more, I've got to understand just how big a honour it is. I mean, there are people who collect these boxes!

"I'm actually the first individual non-Amercian to be featured on both the box, and the first person to be on both the Wheaties and the Wheaties Fuel box, the two breakfast cereals. They print 65 MIILLION boxes (!) and they have four athletes on a box each year, so we get a full quarter... it really is a huge honour, it's an institution over there (the U.S.) and Ali and some of my sporting greats have been on it before. Wheaties is almost like the Oscar in sport as they pick the top sports people, so to just be a part of that really is quite special."

The best race(s) ever

While Chris may be heading towards the metaphorical bell lap of his long and distinguished career, it seemed like a good time to ask which, of all of the performances he has produced, was the one that was the perfect day. The day when all the stars were aligned and you simply feel unbeatable?

"In my short course racing career, 2001 Goodwill Games...I was UNBEATABLE, it was my best ever triathlon performance until Kona this year. Swim, bike and run there was no chance for anyone - second fastest swim, fastest bike - riding four minutes into the field with Hamish (Carter, 2004 Olympic Gold medal winner) and it was just with absolute ease - I was thinking 'jeez, I wish I could do that every week'!

"Kona this year - without being disrespectful to any of those guys - was the easiest I've ever done an Ironman. I think you can just have those days. The swim was a breeze, the bike I felt like I was in control all day and then the run, when things go the way you want them to go, it makes it easy. You don't know how you get there sometimes, you train and then someday's you get that perfect zen between body and mind. I had that this year in Kona... I was totally in control. It's a nice place to be."

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