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Chrissie Wellington interview
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Wednesday 17th November 2010


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This weekend Chrissie Wellington will join fellow British athletes Rachel Joyce and Leanda Cave in racing Ironman Arizona, as she looks to put to behind her the illness that caused her last-minute withdrawal from this years Ford Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

The three-time champion had arrived in Kona on the back of an outstanding race at Challenge Roth in the summer, where she smashed her own iron-distance world record with a clocking of 8:19:13, which brought her home seventh overall including the professional men.

A couple of weeks ago I chatted to Chrissie about her Kona 2010 experience, and also about her plans for 2011.


The Kona (2010) experience

"...well, it's been an interesting few weeks, but ultimately one I hope I will grow from" was perhaps an understated summary of the previous two weeks of mental anguish and 'trial by internet' that Chrissie's enforced withdrawal from the biggest day in the sport had caused when I asked if she recovering well.

Was there any sign of the problems leading up to the race? "I was napping a lot more than I normally would, and was waking with night sweats - but initially I tried to ignore it. Then on the Friday (before the Saturday race) we have a BBQ, which I invite my friends / sponsors etc to before the event - my throat was sore and heavy, and I thought 'I don't feel right'. I racked my bike quite late, and of course you put on the 'appearance' that everything is fine. It was obviously a stressful time, and there were a few issues with the gears on my bike not working properly which got fixed, but of course adds to the feelings. I saw my friend Asker Jeukendrup in transition, and said to him that I didn't feel good. He was really the only person outside of my immediate team that I'd said anything to at the stage.

"Anyway, I went to bed at around 7pm hoping it would be fine - then I woke up drenched in sweat and I knew we had a problem... as athletes you are very perceptive of your body. I got up, had breakfast, again hoping that it would come right, but nothing helped.

"I spoke to Dave Scott (Ironman legend, and one of Chrissie's coaching advisors), and we talked about it. If it was any normal day, there is no chance I would have gone training, and he said "well, there is your answer then".

"Ultimately, I wasn't prepared to race if I couldn't perform. It was incredibly challenging emotionally to withdraw from the race, because it is something I dedicate my whole life to, but I know that I made the right decision for me."

Was having that response, confirmation if you like of someone that you trust, like Dave, key to making that decision? "It's important of course and valuable to have that sort of counsel from those that you trust, but ultimately it was my decision - it was re-affirmation if you like, but it was important that it was my decision to make. As Brett (Sutton, Chrissie's coach when she turned pro with TeamTBB) would say, you have to 'pick and stick', and I remembered that and made the right choice for me.

Dealing with negative press...

In the days and weeks following her withdrawal in Kona, there were all sorts of rumours, innuendo and gossip speculating on the 'reasons' for it - pregnancy? mental breakdown? drugs? were all - wrongly and maliciously - speculated on at various points across a number of online forums and social media.

I asked Chrissie if this sort of talk surprises her at all even though, to some degree, it's part of the territory of being a world leading and dominant athlete?

"Does it surprise me - no. Does it affect me - yes! I want my personality and my performances to be credible. I've always been completely open and vocal about by views on drugs in sport. I've had seven blood tests and more than ten urine samples this year. On the Tuesday before the race I had both blood and urine tests done - so when you read some of the things written, it is just ludicrous. I've done and continue to do everything I can, and so to read implications of anything improper about yourself, it hurts."

Raising the bar

Mirinda Carfrae wins Kona 2010Chrissie has over the past four seasons been a trailblazer for 'raising the bar' of female sporting performances, and also for promoting women's sport through activities such as GOTribal (www.gotribalnow.com). With Chrissie 'out' of the race, there was a danger of the result being over-shadowed by her absence. I suggested that if there is a positive to come from the event, it's that Mirinda Carfrae's phenominal performance - she recorded the fourth fastest time ever in Kona, and set a new run course record - means that no one can doubt her credentials as Ironman World Champion.

"Absolutely, this is 100% Mirinda and Macca's time. I meant every word I said about Mirinda in my blog, she produced a performance of champion, and is completely deserving of being Ironman World Champion. Caroline (Steffen) too has improved so much. I would have loved to have been part of that race - of course, that is what I spend every day preparing for - but no doubt, she has raised the bar, and that is great for women's long distance racing."

Next steps?

As I said in the introduction, Chrissie will be returning to action at Ironman Arizona on 21st November, but is the plan to follow a similar race schedule to previous years for 2011? "Sure, it is what's worked for me in the past, so that broadly means three long-distance races in March/April, July and then October (Kona). The races are not set yet, but we'll sit down in December and plan more for 2011. Recovery time is key."

Chrissie celebrates ©TEAMChallenge GmbHWill not being Ironman World Champion change anything? "Well, it might (!) mean I have slightly less obligations and commitments in terms of media etc, and so perhaps I may be able to add some more 70.3 type races to the schedule (Chrissie referred to this when I spoke to her after Roth earlier this season). There are so many great event out there now, plus non-WTC events to."

Could we even see Chrissie race, for the first time, at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships which move location (Clearwater to Las Vegas) and time (November to September) in 2011? "Well, I guess that's possible with the timing. It would be great to have that event on a course which is a true test - though I'll have to look into whether/how I qualify.."

Chrissie will be returning to the UK in December (you can hear her speak HERE!), and will also be doing talks with Tri-Anglia, and will be accesible at several other events in the UK.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Chrissie is also putting her education and previous civil service experience to good use currently - "I'm looking to set up a foundation in the UK, so am currently researching government policy and funding...".

If anyone has the drive and passion to make that happen, it's Chrissie Wellington.


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