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Wellington retires from professional racing

Chrissie Wellington (Photo courtesy of Ironman)

Kevin Mackinnon | Ironman

She is arguably one of the greatest athletes our sport has ever seen. While she won her first race, Ironman Korea, in 2007, it wasn’t until she dominated the Ironman World Championship later that year that the rest of the world got to see how good Chrissie Wellington was.

Mackinnon caught up with the four-time Kona champion a few hours after her retirement from the sport was made official Monday, Dec. 3.

Make no mistake about it: Chrissie Wellington won’t be looking back at her Ironman career and wondering “what if.” In just five years she managed to change the face of our sport as we know it, winning the Ironman World Championship four times, setting the world-best time for the full-distance and claiming both the fastest official Ironman time, along with the course record in Kona.

“I haven’t lost my passion for Ironman sport,” Wellington said during an interview Monday. “If I was to sum up my career in one word it would be privilege. It has been an absolute privilege to push my body to the limit, to have raced against the best athletes in the world, to have been coached by some of the best coaches in the world, to have travelled the world, to have made some amazing friends … the list goes on. I think I have achieved all that I needed to, for me personally, all that I needed to in the sport.

“I remember saying to Brett (Sutton, her coach from 2007 to 2008) when I first started, ‘I want to achieve success in five years. I don’t want to be in the sport for a very long time.’ For me it wasn’t a lifestyle choice … No disrespect to anyone who views it as such, but for me it was how good can I be at this sport and I answered that question.”

Wellington isn’t going to completely disappear from the triathlon world – she’s recently signed contracts with TYR and Cannondale, so she’ll continue to be involved in the sport.

Here are some quotes from today’s interview:

Ironman: We’ve talked in years past about the platform that your racing success created as a way to achieve many of your other goals. Have you learned, through this year off, that maybe the “platform” is pretty large, or are you worried that now that you’re getting out of the sport it will gradually diminish?

Chrissie Wellington: Obviously the more I race and the more I achieve in the sport, the bigger the platform will be … I have no doubt that when I don’t race I will no longer be a household name and that platform will, in your words, diminish somewhat. But to generate the platform cannot be the only reason to perform. Yes it’s a motivational force, but I need to enjoy the process and I know now that I don’t want to devote 24/7 to Ironman racing. But, hopefully, I can build on what I have achieved. I don’t think it’s the size of the platform that matters, it’s what you can do with it.

Ironman: You mention in your blog that “failure in necessary for success.” I’m trying to think of what you’ve failed at?

CW: There have been mistakes. There have been errors of judgment. I have no doubt that some of my injuries have been self-inflicted and due to my inability to control my compulsion to exercise. Going out to ride my bike on black ice on Jan. 2 was not the brightest decision I’ve ever made. For me that’s a failure because I was unable to control that compulsion. Unable to make a rational decision. Coming back to training too early after Roth in 2010 affected me in Kona when I was unable to race.

Ironman: You also write about how hard it is to not know exactly what you’re doing …

CW: Not having a clear path is very difficult for me. I love having a goal, having a clear direction and I don’t have any of those at the moment. What I have to realize is that not having that is not a fail. I am always trying to achieve something more. Yes, being in a state of flux is worrisome, but I’ve been in that place before … Doors open for me and I have the opportunity to open doors. It’s exciting, but it is difficult not having an identity to replace being an Ironman athlete.

Ironman: Are there some immediate plans?

CW: The first is to enjoy time at home. Enjoy Christmas with my family, Then Tom (her boyfriend Tom Lowe) and I are going to Borneo for a couple of weeks. In February I will be going to Guatemala to lead a training group over there and, from there, I’ll be heading to Costa Rica where I’ll be a guest coach on a bike tour.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some work on women in sport and working with media outlets here to really take full advantage of some of the positive changes that have taken place, especially since the Olympics. Everyone recognizes that we need to keep that momentum, and I’ve been working with media outlets here to keep that going. I also have my own personal projects that I am in the process of developing, piloting and will eventually be soliciting funding for. Over the last few months I’ve been developing some bike related projects.

Ironman: So, you’re completely goofing off … All that sounds incredibly busy. That’s not direction enough?

CW: There’s definitely not a void. What I’m missing is the clear direction. With Ironman I had a singular goal … I could say to people “I am an Ironman athlete.” Maybe the goal of the next few months is to carve out that path. I think it was Paula Newby-Fraser who said “Be kind on yourself.” Now that I am not competing, I don’t have that label … [I] don’t have that pressure. I need to take a step back and rationalize it and trust that the future will all be right.

Ironman: When you look back at your triathlon career, are there any regrets?

CW: I don’t think anyone should ever live with regrets. You make decisions based on the best information you have at the time. I don’t live with regret. Obviously I’m frustrated with myself that I didn’t start Kona in 2010. The decision not to race was right, but I take full responsibility for not being able to do that. But then I came back and raced Arizona, and it was a phenomenal race, and I got to share Tom’s first race. I would not have been able to do that if I had raced Kona that year.

Ironman: In your blog today you also talk about your world championship win as being the “perfect race.” Is that because you had to overcome so much to win that day?

CW: It was perfect in it’s imperfection. You never get a perfect race. Even something small can affect your predetermined plan. I think the only measure of perfection, in our sport, is the way you overcome the things that are thrown at you. For me I believe I did that as perfectly as I could in Kona in 2011. Could I go faster? Yes, I think I and other women can go faster. But I don’t want to internalize other people’s version of perfection – as soon as you go 8:50, then you start thinking “can I go 8:48?”

Ironman: I wrote a column a few years ago suggesting that you would be Prime Minister someday. Is politics something that interests you at all?

CW: Engagement with political processes is something that interests me. By that I mean policy debate and the advocacy process. Politics with a bigger P – I’m not sure if I am interested politics at that level.

Ironman: Can you ever see yourself doing an Ironman just to complete it?

CW: I don’t think my DNA would allow me to do that. What might be possible is perhaps guiding a blind, or otherwise physically challenged, athlete through an Ironman. You have to respect the distance, though … I think that would require some very specific training. It’s not something I would plan on doing just to complete it. But there are so many other physical challenges that light a fire in my belly. That’s what it’s all about for me, the physical challenge.

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One Response to “Wellington retires from professional racing”

  1. Mon says:

    I am sad about this but she had an amazing career and I am sure she will do great on whatever she does.


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