While the triathlon world struggles to understand – and explain – Chrissie Wellington’s performance at Challenge Roth, one man thinks he knows exactly how she did it. In this article by Team TBB coach Brett Sutton, the man who coached her to the pinnacle of the sport, writes about Chrissie’s performance at Roth, and how he thinks she should have gone faster.
By Brett Sutton
As the triathlon world scratches its head looking for the clues to what they perceive is the Chrissie phenomenon, I wanted to write a sane and logical exposé of why its no phenomenon at all.
I do not write it to get any free publicity off my former time with Chrissie while on the team, hence, I think the biggest positive for Chrissie is this finally sheds the cloud of Brett Sutton that has been hanging over her during her short career. Chrissie has prepared for this race on her own, doing what she knows best and the fading memory of Brett Sutton should be long gone – “ding dong the witch is dead.”
But I write this as the triathlon community is still very immature when it comes to outstanding performance at a world level of say running or swimming and thus when someone does extraordinary performances that are measured against other past triathletes, looks impossible, then we get the usual – “Chrissie must be on something.”
I write this to combat the easiest of conclusions that affect us in a drug filled sports world.
I have fielded personally three phone calls and its Tuesday day morning. All three are asking the same question, just in a different conniving way.
Do you think this record time is possible drug free? Or, in more direct terms, what is she taking?
Here is my take.
Times are deceiving in triathlon so lets dispense with this one first before it blocks a proper logical analysis. Courses and conditions change. A swim course change can effect a bike time and a bike course can change a run time. If the run course is changed then so does the run time.
Not pointing fingers but Roth has always been short or fast for whatever reason. This year the course changed again. Before, when analysing times with my athletes we always add on 5minutes to a Roth run time to correlate it to other runs. That analysis brings Chrissie’s run time, to 2h53.
Ok you say, but that is still out of this world.
On the contrary and Chrissie will confirm it. While she was training with me we discussed many times about what time we thought we could do to win Hawaii. That first year we aimed at breaking 3hrs, in the second year prep we aimed at running 2hr55 and the third and final year we looked at 2hr51.
However I didn’t train her and to be honest in my mind it was a stretch for her, self-trained or with another coach. So a 2h53 is well with her “clean range”. All my squad and me knew this beforehand as we talked on it many times.
I will point out, through the 7km to 15km mark Rebekah ‘Bek’ Keat was on the same pace, she is not from another planet either. So lets put the run in perspective, it looked so great. Why?
The men are underachieving, so that should not be the deciding factor. However a good form line can come through the men’s winner, add the Sutton handicap on for Roth and he runs 2hr44 or 5. Again this is what I would consider only ok, not good and not very good, for a guy that has won world cups at Olympic distance.
So again you can see her run, very do-able.
The swim, well no need to talk much here, she swam 50minutes in her wetsuit. Nothing out of the world there but a very good swim for her and it set her up to break away straight after the swim. Bek Keat was her only real challenge and the race was over after the swim start when she elected to draft and fart about while Chrissie went after T-Mac (Tereza Macel) who swam 2minutes slower than she can.
So again, do we measure her swim against the incompetence of others? I think not. Chrissie swam her swim to 100% her best capable effort. The other two ladies swam at 80% of what they are capable of.
The bike. The bike course here is outstanding and deceiving. Chrissie is the best time trial 180km rider – male or female – this sport has ever known. That said starting the women with the male pros is crazy when you have staggers going all morning. The level of a male rider who swims 50minutes is better than those in a group basis that swim 52 to 55 minutes, but they are not good enough to drop Chrissie.
Is it drafting? People in her case, “HELL NO”, but why should there be any conjecture, why not send the female pros off 5min behind the men and push age group men back 5min? I just don’t get it.
Doing it this way, the 2nd lap of the bike is full of riders on the first lap, thus the pacman effect comes into play. Something for them to chase all day, indeed Chrissie was carving time out of most male “pros” on that second lap.
So that is the race analysis? Yes it was a near perfect day, and Chrissie hit her numbers all day. Is it unbelievable? Not to me, but I am measuring not on triathlon terms, just human endeavour, I am sure those that know me will pass on a tri geek. I am not, which brings us to the real reason, we get muddled.
The triathlon world should be rejoicing. For the first time in the women’s sport and second time in this sport they have a true champion not just a champion of the sport like Erin Baker and Paula Newby-Fraser, but also a champion on the level of a Keirn Perkins. A ‘Thorpedo’ or a Michael Phelps if we look at swimming. If we take a look at running, a Haile Gebrselassie, a Paula Radcliffe.
Marc Allen was the first true champion. Not quite at Chrissie’s performance level, but he was very good at all three sports. I pay no disrespect to past champions. I think Dave Scott was the greatest Ironman ever in my mind but he taught himself to run and more credit to him. All the other Ironman champions did not have three good legs.
Erin didn’t swim well, Paula the same and not in Chrissie’s class on the bike. Molina, others, they just don’t have 3 world-class legs. What has happened ladies and gentlemen is we have an athlete in our mist that if as a kid she wandered into full time swimming, has the swim ability to go to the top.
Over 180km on the bike she is at the top of biking, if it’s a point-to-point race and no skills involved. In running she is very, very, VERY good and the one thing that makes her extraordinary in triathlon that stops people being Olympic runners is Chrissie is a big strong but skinny girl, her talent levels in each are top of the tree.
Add to that the brilliant little piece by Matt from our team, explaining Chrissie’s mindset, and the only thing I would add that Matt to give it more credibility is he and the boys lived with her for 3 months, so he does know how she ticks.
You have in Chrissie a person of true international sporting excellence that is overshadowed by no one in any other sport. The last part to clear up the picture is Chrissie’s continued improvement. As asked by me “where is that coming from?” That’s the easiest one to answer.
Chrissie was a baby in 2007, didn’t know much about triathlon at all, and think of it as me getting this unbelievable talented 2year old horse. It has no race craft, it has no control over some parts but it is just raw potential and talent. Chrissie went to Hawaii not knowing much and needed lots of work as she was very rough around the edges.
In her first race in Hawaii when she was vulnerable, her career was catapulted to a fantastic level by many little decisions. The pack let her go thinking she couldn’t run. Who is she? Then on the run Sam McGlone didn’t go after her early enough, thus Chrissie ran her own race, out in front, no pressure and didn’t collapse. The second year Bek Keat helped with the air canister when all looked lost. The planets all lined up for her. She was a young raw rookie and every year she has grown and learned and honed her racing skills. I said it would take three years until we see the best of Chrissie wellington as she is so new to the sport and what we saw on Sunday was a fully matured racing professional with extraordinary talent and dedication.
The only medication taken was not by her but by me on the way home as I got a massive headache trying to work out how to train someone to better that performance that is female.
Lets rejoice a great performance and as a sport not let it denigrate into, “what’s she on” as I can assure you all she did was do-able drug free if we look at it in the logical fashion. Well done Chrissie Wellington, we had a pact, I would always tell you when you produced the race where you were the best you can be and Roth 2010 was it.
You hit every number. Well I think may be you can run 2 minutes faster, but kid, that’s me.
We all at teamTBB are very proud of you.
Brett Sutton was writing on the TeamTBB website. As well as being a network of bike shops, TeamTBB use athletes as role models for youth around the world.
FILED UNDER: Features TAGS: Analysis / Bek-Keat / Brett Sutton / Challenge Roth / Chrissie-Wellington / doping / drugs / Germany / Ironman / Race / Samantha-McGlone / Team-TBB / Triathlon / world record