Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironmanlife: Wellington proves she’s human

Chrissie Wellington celebrates her fourth Ironman World Championship, Oct. 8, 2011 in Kailua-Kona. (Photo courtesy of Ironman)

(Kevin Mackinnon recaps Chrissie Wellington’s fourth Ironman World Championship)

It was no secret, heading into the 2011 Ironman World Championship, that Chrissie Wellington was determined to regain the title she’d seemingly owned for the last few years.

“After last year, when I didn’t start, I felt a hunger like I’ve never felt before,” she said after the race.

While Wellington did take her fourth title, it wasn’t until after the race that we learned just how difficult it was for her to get the win in Kona.

Two weeks before the Ironman World Championship, Wellington was involved in a bike crash. While the “official” word heading into the race was that she’d suffered severe road rash and bruising, Wellington was actually suffering much more than that.

“My nickname is Muppet – a person who does stupid things,” Wellington said at the post-race press conference. “Two weeks ago today I was doing my last long ride with Tom (Lowe, her boyfriend) and a couple of others. My front tire was flat and, when I took a corner, I went down and left a lot of my elbow on the pavement. Luckily nothing was broken and I knew at that point that I would be racing and that I would hurt more than I’ve hurt before.”

While Wellington didn’t have any broken bones, she had torn one of her pectoral muscles along with some intercostal muscles. She kept those injuries so secret that it wasn’t until after the race we learned just four days before the race she spent six hours in the emergency room at Kona Community Hospital after trying to swim.

All of which explains Wellington’s slow (for her) swim and her subsequent “human” bike ride on race day. For the first time in all of her appearances in Kona, she wasn’t the first onto the marathon course.

“On the bike I didn’t go out to try and chase anyone down,” she said. “I knew that Julie (Dibens) and Karin (Thuerig) would take time into me, but I knew that triathlon is three disciplines. When I came in 21 minutes behind I was a bit worried, but knew I was in sixth place. I had confidence in my run, but there was always that question mark of the impact of the accident on my body.”

Once on the run Wellington remained in a lot of pain. The bruising on her hip was one issue, but she also experienced hamstring problems, too.

“I had to dig to the deepest depths that I’ve ever known,” she said. “There’s a lot of emphasis in our sport on times. For me the time is irrelevant. I judge my success on whether or not I’ve given absolutely everything. I couldn’t have given anything more. Going into any races we all have trials and tribulations. All my races are special. This one is probably the most meaningful performance.”

Just over 24 hours after she described the pain she experienced, Wellington was on the stage at the awards ceremony, congratulating the women who forced her to work so hard to claim her fourth title.

“I hate the …damn easy route,” she said on the stage. “I hope that my win yesterday shows that I am completely human. I couldn’t have done this without my competitors – the race yesterday was a true battle. Knowing that Rinnie (Mirinda Carfrae) was there forced me to push. My victory is also their’s because they are the ones who enable me to race the way I do. Yesterday I did defy my own expectations.”

After 12 straight dominating Ironman performances, Wellington’s fourth Ironman World Championship and 13th consecutive Ironman win might very well go down in history as her best race ever – even though she “only” won by 2:49.

The day was a tribute to both her competition and her incredible tenacity and determination.

(Reach Kevin Mackinnon at kevin@ironman.com)

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