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Why The Best Are The Best (And How You Can Emulate Them)

  • By Triathlete Europe
  • Published June 17, 2013


We all know that in 1989 one of the most epic duels in the history of Kona’s lava fields took place-Dave Scott and Mark Allen competed head to head for eight straight hours, running side by side almost the entire marathon of the lronman world Championship, with Allen finally breaking away in the last few miles to win his first of six Kona titles. After five years of succumbing to Hawaii’s heat and humidity, Allen had finally cracked the Kona code and won the most coveted crown in triathlon. While “The Grip’s” victory has been the dominant theme in the retellings of the 1989 Iron War, Scott’s story should not be overlooked, and he deserves much more credit in this race than he is traditionally given.

Scott risked everything in his attempt to beat Allen, a man who was arguably more suited for triathlon and genetically gifted. He led the entire swim and bike-trying to break a stalking Allen who clung to his wheel-and charged into the marathon at six-minute-per-mile pace. Side by side during the run, Scott and Allen were a study of contrasts.

Scott was struggling, his body falling apart, and his run stride was imperfect next to that of Allen, who ran like an elegant thoroughbred. The difference was striking.

Although only one of them could win the Iron War, both Scott and Allen were champions on that day, and they took the sport to a new level with that race, with both of them bettering the previous best time at Kona-Scott’s 8:28:37-by nearly 20 minutes. And with 12 Kona wins between them, Scott and Allen are two of the greatest triathletes of all time. So what made Scott and Allen so good? Are they champions simply because they are genetically gifted? Or are they better than everyone else because they trained harder and smarter than their competition? And what are the physical, technical and mental characteristics that make a champion a champion?

An analysis of scientific literature and the world’s best triathletes suggests that there isn’t one single factor that makes a triathlete better than everyone else. In fact, it is a combination of an athlete’s physiology, mental tenacity, work ethic and other factors that make him or her great-and if you look at the world’s greatest triathletes, each has a different combination of these skills and gifts. However, while science suggests that the best triathletes are the best for different reasons, there is a common theme that runs through their processes of preparation.

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