X-treme: Britain's enduring success story

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The sport of triathlon is as hard as it gets - a marathon coming hot on the heels of a gruelling swim and a punishing bike ride. But for once, Britons are leading the pack

Hawaii is a paradise island for thousands of tourists and the setting for one of Elvis's less memorable films. It's also the birthplace of "The Iron Man" race, which comprises a 2.4 mile swim, followed by 112-mile bike ride and finally a full 26.2-mile marathon run.

Fifteen years ago, this gargantuan event caught the imagination of American audiences and the sport of Triathlon began to take shape. If the saying "no pain, no gain" is to be believed, then triathletes are the ultimate competitors.

The Iron Man event remains the zenith of the sport but the official distance to be completed at the next Olympics (1,500m swim, 25 mile bike ride and a 10km run) is by no means trifling. Ten years after Iron Man began, the sport organised a worldwide movement with a governing body and a world championship. "Triathlon has moved away from the hard man image," says Dave Bellingham, Director of Teams for the British Triathlon Association (BTA). "Triathletes now compete over many distances."

Recently endorsed by the International Olympic Committee, triathlon will feature in the Sydney Games 2000. Great Britain won a solitary gold at the last Olympics; if Triathlon had been included it could well have scored another.

Up until last month, the UK boasted the men's World Champion, Spencer Smith. Along with compatriot and former World Champion, Simon Lessing, Britain has two of the top competitors in the sport.

"We probably have the best two men in the world who have a rivalry similar to Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman," says Bellingham.

"Our top athletes, like Spencer and Simon, are professionals and world class at all three disciplines. We also have top female athletes. Sian Brice (right) and Annaleah Ennerson are both in the European top 10 and pushing hard for the Olympics.

"Over the last five years the standard has really taken off and in last month's London Triathlon over 4,000 competitors made the event a real success."

The Olympic distance will be completed in around 1 hour 45 minutes for the men and 2 hours for female competitors. No other event, with the exception of the marathon, comes close to reaching triathlon's level of endurance. In addition, the three distinctive components of the race mean that competitors have to be master of several disciplines.

"You need to have perseverance," says British National Champion Sian Brice. "You also need mental strength because it's an endurance event where you have to keep yourself competitive over different terrain."

Sian excelled in both swimming and running in her youth, but became frustrated by injury. After taking up cross-training she became attracted to triathlon which enables you to switch training to a different discipline when injured.

"You approach triathlon training like any other sport because the Olympic standard will be very high," she claims. "I usually swim and run every day and I train for 35 hours a week, dedicating different days to different disciplines."

The BTA now organise between 300 and 400 events every year covering a wide range of standards. "We provide events for all abilities including eight-year-olds," says Bellingham.

It is rare that the UK excels so comprehensively in any sport, least of all the world's toughest discipline. Or, perhaps that should be the world's second hardest - the "Decca Iron Man" event is 10 times the normal race distance. It takes five days and the current World Champion is Eric Seedhouse.

He may not be human but he's definitely British.

0For more information contact the British Triathlon Association on 01530 414234