We are all waiting with some excitement to see if Alistair Brownlee is going to become the first athlete to successfully defend an Olympic triathlon title and hopefully brother Jonathan will bring back another medal too. We have become just as accustomed to triathlon success and we have to track cycling, it wasn’t always like this….
If like me you remember 1:00 am on the morning of September 17th in the year 2000 it was with much anticipation that a group of friends and family congregated in my front room for a triathlon party to celebrate the first ever inclusion of triathlon in the Olympics. It was different back then, very different, triathlon was not a widely known sport, if you said you did triathlon to a stranger you would then have to explain what it was. Don’t get me wrong it was still a vibrant and rapidly growing sport, more people and heard of Hawaii Ironman than any other race. That was all about to change, becoming an Olympic sport was the match that lit the touch paper to the exponential growth and what triathlon is now.
The UK tri scene had been dominated by a handful of talented men and women who won all the big profile events, Spencer Smith, Sarah Springman, Glenn Cook, Sarah Coope, Robin Brew, Helen Cawthorne, Matt Bellfield, the list goes on, some of the biggest races in the Uk were the 220 series events, Bath Triathlon, Swindon Triathlon, I remember starting in these events being on the same course at the same time as the best in the world, they were halcyon days. The days of swim trunks with padding in and crop tops (and yes that was us men).
Anyway those of you that do remember that day will notice I’ve missed a name off the list, Simon Lessing, he was undoubtedly the favourite to win the race in 2000, a British South African, he was a multiple world champion and had dominated the sport with his devastating 10k run (that’s devastating in terms of the times being done back then, he wouldn’t even be close to the guys now, Lessing usually ran 31 minutes ish). He was expected to win, a gold medal for Great Britain in the first ever Olyympic triathlon. I was also thinking this would be great for business, we had only been open for 4 years at this point and a medal back in the days before we enjoyed the glory which we have at the last couple of Olympics would bring massive attention to the sport, arguably more so than it does now because we just weren’t winning medals elsewhere either, Lessing was going to be the poster boy for the 2000 Olympics.
It all started to plan, he led out of the swim 17:44 through transition smoothly and as per nowadays a pack of the favourites came together on the bike. So far so good, the bike went off relatively smoothly, there was a couple of breaks all brought back, about 30 odd guys hit T2 together, Lessing safely in the midst. Back to my front room, we were going mad, it was now just a formality, Lessing onto the run, his loping stride he started well, right up at the front, then guys started to go past him, we just speculated he was pacing himself. But as the K’s ticked by he slipped further back and slowly the realisation was he was beat, utter dismay, silence in my house, it couldn’t be.
For the record Canada’s Simon Whitfield won running the quickest 10k of the day 30:53, or man crossed the line a dejected 9th place exactly a minute behind Whitfield. Lessing retired soon after, not before winning a couple of Ironman’s, without a recurring back injury he would have had a supreme few years over the long course, for triathlon in Great Britain this defeat was probably the embryo that the Brownlee’s hatched from, how old were they in 2000? As a triathlon fan I had to wait until Beijing to think we might be in with a chance when Alsistair Brownlee as a very young man hit the front on the run all but briefly and showed the promise that was to come!!
As an interesting footnote, in 10th place at that same Olympic race in 2000 was a young British lad with a mass of curly hair, Tim Don exploded onto the scene, just 4 seconds behind a seemingly unbeatable Simon Lessing, he has had a great career too with many World and European championships on his palmares.
So good luck to the British team the girls and the boys, how nice would it be to see multiple triathlon medals for GB, by the end of this Saturday we will know who the new Ladies and Mens Olympic champions are…..Go GB!!