An email conversation with triathlete Helen Tucker

'Beijing was always in the back of my mind and it kept me motivated'
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The Independent Online

Your victory at the world triathlon championships in Vancouver earlier this month was widely viewed as a surprising result. Did it surprise you? It was a surprise. One of the headlines afterwards was "Tucker Shock", and I think I shocked myself. I only made a last-minute decision to compete and I think the fact that the conditions were so cold and wet worked to my advantage. To be honest, it still hasn't really sunk in.

Nice timing with the Beijing Games on the horizon? It's exciting. We had our team launch on Friday and the Olympics are starting to feel more real now. I am going to do another five-week block of training at the High Performance Centre in Cardiff as my final preparation. Because of my recent injuries I have been cautious about running but in the five weeks before the Worlds I decided to go for it. I worked harder than I ever have before and I was pretty grumpy for a while. But it's paid off.

Tell us about the injuries. I had serious Achilles tendon problems in 2006. I came back at the start of 2007, but the injury flared up again and I didn't get back into proper competition until January this year. It was really hard being out for so long, because although I could continue to cycle and swim, I was always worried in case I couldn't get back to running and I was wasting my time. When you are out, as well, you are always worrying about whether you are doing the right things to get back. But Beijing was always in the back of my mind and it kept me motivated.

You must have been upset when you lost your Lottery funding last October? That was a bit of a knock. I thought 'if the people at the Lottery don't think I'm going to come back, maybe I'm not.' But I decided to keep on working.

Are you stronger through struggle? I think the injury helped me in a way because I had always struggled with the cycling and it gave me an opportunity to concentrate on it. When I started off in triathlon I always used to get dropped by the bunch in the cycling. But I have improved a lot now, both physically and tactically.

Tim Don's favourite bit of the triathlon is the running. What's yours? Probably the swimming. I came into the sport as a swimmer with my local club, Bridgend County SC and I still train there. If I ever think I'm being worked too hard I look around at some of the young swimmers training there who put in more hours than I do and then have to go off to school and I find that inspiring.

What made you switch sports? I had been swimming since I was 11 and although I was a county-level performer I wasn't going to get much further. And it was putting a lot of pressure on my mum and dad, Jo and Ed, to keep driving me around to competitions. So when I saw a local triathlon being advertised, I gave it a go. My dad had done a few so that was another reason. A lot of people come into the sport as really good swimmers or runners. I never achieved a high level, but the combination seems to work for me.

What effect did it have on you when Tim was suspended for three months in 2006 for failing to notify dope testers about his change of location on three occasions? It did put our sport into the headlines, but for the wrong reasons. Tim is always telling us now how important it is to keep on top of this situation all the time and to let the testers know about any changes of plan. He is also great at giving us advice, having been to the Olympics before. It's good to have him around. And hopefully the success we have both had so far this year will help to give the sport publicity for the right reasons.

If you had to save one item from your burning house, people and animals excepted, what would it be? Pinky, my teddy. I've had it since I was tiny and it's my good luck charm.

What is your favourite film, and why? I know it's cheesy, but I enjoy watching the Rocky films. Seeing someone battle against the odds is inspiring.

All that frantic dressing and undressing at the transition points between swim and bike and between bike and run. It's the stuff of nightmares isn't it? Do you ever dream about it? It's funny you mention that. A lot of triathletes dream about those kind of details. I always seem to dream about turning up late and missing the start. But sometimes I will dream about forgetting to put my shoes on or not getting my feet properly attached to the pedals.

What kind of music do you like?

I like to listen to all sorts, but recently I have been spending a lot of time listening to Del Amitri – they're the favourite band of my fiancé and part-time coach, Marc Jenkins.

Which three words sum up your character? Determined, happy, caring.

Mike Rowbottom


* Born 8 March 1984, in Elgin, Moray, Scotland.

Lives in Bridgend, South Wales. Is marrying the Welsh 2004 Olympic triathlete Marc Jenkins in October

2002 World junior championships, ninth

2003 European Championships, 10th

2004 European Championships, 22nd

2005 European Under-23 Championships, Bronze

2006 National champion ; 17th in Commonwealth Games, Melbourne. Suffered achilles tendon injuries.

2008 World Championships, Gold