Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman: Catching up with Macca

Special to Hawaii 24/7 by Matthew Dale

There are difficult assignments in the sports world. Convincing sumo wrestlers to enroll in Weight Watchers. Keeping up with Tom Brady in the suave department. Filling Shaquille O’Neal’s shoes. (The latter, we mean literally.)
Then there are the easy, do-I-really-get-paid-for-this tasks. Like interviewing Chris McCormack.

2010 Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack, a young fan and a box of Wheaties. (Photo courtesy of Wheaties)

With Macca, you don’t need a list of questions. You need three notebooks, multiple Bics because you’re sure to run out of ink, a massage therapist because your hand’s going to cramp or a tape recorder with unlimited time capacity.

The man can talk. And talk and talk. He makes filibustering politicians seem mute. Best of all, he always has something fascinating or controversial to say. Usually both. We caught up with McCormack at the recent Endurance LIVE festival in San Diego and the 37-year-old Aussie didn’t disappoint.

First, Macca put to rest scuttlebutt that he’s retiring. But he did say he might not be back at Kona to defend his Ironman World Championship title. Macca and his wife, Emma Jane, are expecting their third child this spring. They have two daughters, Tahlia, 7, and Sienna, 4.

“The ultimate decision will be (Emma Jane’s),” McCormack said. “It’ll be the first time in my career that it isn’t mine. We’ll see how everyone is, how the baby is. I’m not saying I’ll definitely go back.”

On his website, McCormack lists one race on his 2011 schedule, the Nautica South Beach Triathlon in Miami. He said he’ll race one Ironman in June or July. Germany, Austria and China are the leading sites.

A betting man, though, would wager on McCormack returning to Kona, either this year or come 2012. Macca, you must understand, reveres Kona. He’s a living, breathing Ironman World Championship historian.

When he was a teenager he consumed re-runs of past races like today’s teens are hooked on video games. The guy can recite finish times and memorable performances like baseball eggheads regurgitate batting averages.

He knows that his idol, Mark Allen, skipped Kona in 1994 to rest his tired body, mind and soul, then returned in ’95 to win his sixth and final title.

“You want so badly to be somewhere in your life,” McCormack said. “For me, it was always (being like) Mark Allen. Maybe it’s my destiny not to race in 2011 and come back in 2012 with my greatest performance at Kona.”

McCormack has a chance to leave a historic footprint on the Big Island. Currently, he’s locked him a logjam six-some with Craig Alexander, Normann Stadler, Tim DeBoom, Luc Van Lierde and Scott Tinley as two-time male winners.

Have a third laurel wreath placed atop his head and he joins Peter Reid as a three-time winner. Allen and Dave Scott, of course, lead with way with six.

Then there’s this: Allen was 37 years, 268 days old when he became the oldest male winner at Kona. Macca was 37 years, 188 days old when he broke away from Andreas Raelert last October.

A win in 2011 or ’12 shatters Allen’s mark.

As for October’s triumph, while the cliche says there’s nothing like the first time, Macca says his second Ironman Hawaii victory was more memorable simply because he was in a daze jogging down Alii Drive in 2007.

“I don’t remember it,” he said. “It was just an emotional relief. The pressure that year was unbelievable. The whole Normann fight had gone very public.”

(After his win in 2006, Stadler accused McCormack of drafting and the pair nearly came to blows at a post-awards dinner party the night after the race. They have since patched up their differences. “We’re absolutely fine,” said McCormack. “We had beers last summer in Germany. It was just two egos clashing.”)

“Coming down Alii Drive (in ’07), I don’t have any memories,” he said. “I didn’t even take my sponges out (of his racing top). This time, I was much more in the moment. I knew exactly where I was. I look at photos (from ’07) and ask, ‘What was I thinking there?’ and I don’t remember. It’s strange. The second time was better.”

In a confession that will stun absolutely no one, McCormack admitted he’s not above using psychological warfare to win a race and that he used such tactics in his down-to-wire run with Raelert.

“Our job description is pretty simple, to win races,” he said. “So if you take out a pro card, you stand in my way. Everything is fair game, as long as you play the rules. Some people say Macca shouldn’t talk himself up. Yeah, well, that’s one of the things I do to help me. They say Macca should worry more about himself. That’s the only person I’m worried about.

“When you understand what your weaknesses are, then you can start to ask the question if every athlete has similar weaknesses. Allen said what limits you is your fears. I say, that’s what must limit Craig Alexander. That must limit Faris Al-Sultan. So if I can make them self-destruct, all the more power to me.”

With about three miles to go in his mano-a-mano marathon with Raelert, McCormack dipped into his subtle mind-game tricks by handing Raelert a sponge, helping the German cool off in the oppressive heat.

“The whole purpose was to make him think I was doing it easily, which I was not,” McCormack said. “I don’t know if it broke him. But to me, it was good. You’ve gotta be the alpha male.”

Only Raelert knows if the tactic worked. What likely cost the German more was when he slowed to take fluids at about the 25-mile mark. McCormack spotted an opening, sped into the lead and Raelert was left staring at Macca’s backside.

After NBC’s December telecast of the race, McCormack e-mailed Andreas, complimenting him on his performance.

“In 10 years time, he might look back and say, ‘Oh man, that one got away,’” McCormack said. “I’ve had a few of those in my life.”

Macca has busied himself the last few months putting the finishing touches on a book. The title is fitting: “I’m Here to WIN.”

(Reach Matthew Dale at mdale@ironman.com)

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