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Exclusive interview: Brett Sutton
Posted on: Friday 17th October 2008
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Following on from TeamTBB's success at the Ironman World Championships last weekend, Tri247's Annie Emmerson and John Levison decided it was time to catch-up with Brett Sutton, the man behind the team's success, and coach to Chrissie Wellington.
In recent years Brett has turned a group of mainly short course athletes into one of the most powerful Ironman squads in the world. This year alone the squad have won ten Ironman races - including the World Championships - and Brett still believes that both his men and women will get faster. In this exclusive interview Brett talks about Chrissie's improved performance, his thoughts on the men's and women's times, and why he thinks there should be separate start times for the men's and women's races.
Tri247 Congratulations on a great Ironman World Championships for teamTBB, you must have been very proud to see your athletes finish first, fourth (Csomor), seventh (Comerford) in the ladies event, with Belinda Granger also being towards the head of the field for much of the race?
BS I was very very proud of the iron chick's efforts. What about Bella (a born and bred Scottish lass), a life time PB in a marathon at 40c! Yes I am very proud indeed.
Tri247 As a coach how anxious do you get before a big race like Hawaii knowing that five of your girls are racing, and knowing the hard work that has gone into their training and what it means to them to do well?
BS I am pretty calm at the start as I try to leave no stone unturned and make sure the athlete's preparation is the best it can be. My old dog trainer boss used to say, "when you lock the door behind them and you have done all you can it's out of your hands, forget about it, win lose or draw."
Tri247 Before the race, what was your expectation of what Chrissie was capable of (in the absence of punctures!) in Hawaii?
BS I thought she could improve three minutes on the swim five minutes on the bike and three minutes on the run. Looking at her training times she is a better athlete now.
Tri247 Chrissie ran the best ever marathon time at Hawaii (2:57:44), yet after the race she said she feels she could get to 2:51. Do you agree?
BS No I don't think she can run 2:51, I think she has a 2:55 should she train right and have no interruptions next year.
Tri247 In previous Ironman races it’s appeared that Chrissie’s bike strength was primarily in the late stages of the ride. This time in Hawaii, she was in the lead very early, and pulling away almost in a style reminiscent of Normann Stadler and Thomas Hellriegel at their best. Was there a definite strategy to go hard from the start and demoralise everyone?
BS We feared a power group of old ITU girls and worked hard on Chrissie's swim so she would be closer to the front pack, but when Sam McGlone and Michellie Jones pulled out, the engines to push that front swim pack weren't there. The training worked and when the lead girls were getting on their bikes they heard the worst sound of all, "that can't be Chrissie Wellington out already!" As for her biking; she bikes just as I had always wanted an Ironwoman to bike! Spinning hadn't been indoctrinated in her so I was able to get her to ride my style of riding for an Ironman, she has the legs to do it.
Tri247 You said in a previous interview that you aren't concerned with times (click here to read the full article), but can you understand the interest people have in perhaps seeing Chrissie race at say Austria or Roth, which this year yielded exceptional times for athletes she has comprehensively beaten all year? Could Chrissie for example threaten 8:30/8.35 at Roth?
BS Look, we don't even think about records, it's about doing the job and making sure we can repeat it time after time. I think she showed everyone why I was so dismissive of the records and those that achieved them earlier in the year. She is the total package, swim, bike and run. She is the best, pure and simple, and not coming out of the triathlon ranks is the main reason. Ignorance is bliss, the more she gets to know triathlon the more I fear we wont see the best of her! She nearly blew it this race, she's never used co2, it's always been a pump, so from my camp to Hawaii some one gave her some clever advice! It nearly cost her a lot of money, but more importantly immortality.
Tri247 Given her enormous aerobic strength and work ethic, could you see Chrissie being successful in another sport outside of triathlon – road cycling perhaps?
BS Chrissie's bike handling skills have to be improved before she could be a threat in cycling, she is a triathlete and a bloody good one at any distance. People forget I took Emma Snowsill to long distance before bringing her back to short. Chrissie could be a contender in 2012, she is that good!
Tri247 We recently called Chrissie "quite simply the best triathlete on the planet". Would you agree with that assessment?
BS I think Emma Snowsill over the short course is a freak, I think Chrissie over the long course is a freak. Emma is too fast short for Chrissie and Chrissie is too powerful for Emma in the long, that's my judgment.
Tri247 Olympic year is often a cue for some athletes to turn their attention from draft-legal ITU style racing to 70.3/Ironman. Andy Potts finished seventh on his debut Ironman, with allegedly little specific preparation. Is there anyone currently racing amongst the men’s or women’s ITU circuit who you believe could be a great Ironman athlete, and would enjoy seeing move to longer distances?
BS Yes there are two, one I will name, but its not possible as she wants to be a lawyer, and that's Nicola Spirig (Sixth place finisher in Beijing). The other, well there are only two more so that makes three, but as I don't train them, they are the enemy so I wont mention their names.
Tri247 You've expressed previously your admiration for Sam McGlone and her potential. Was it therefore disappointing that she had to withdraw with injury?
BS No, I don't feel disappointed about either Sam, or Michellie pulling out. I'm sure they are both training their arses off to win the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, as has been mentioned. Chrissie has had a serious injury this year, but we got around it and she came good. Training well and injuries to me, are part of the journey for a race. You get it wrong you lose the race, if that is the month before or the week before. Sam and Michellie will be aiming for the race that they have more chance of winning.
Tri247 So I guess what you are saying is that the other girls knew it would be very tough to beat Chrissie?
BS All the athletes that were training in our camp, knew that only a mechanical, or a melt down under the pressure of attempting to retain her title would stop her, she has improved that much. Nevertheless, I would like to add that in regards to discussions about her utter dominance of the sport, when I switched Chrissie over to Ironman two years ago I said publicly, that the girl's race was soft. When I was asked about Michellie's 'awesome' win (in 2006) I said, I admire Michellie, but it was very soft. The women's bike time belongs at five hours followed by a three hour marathon. Everybody screamed, I was being a dick, but that is where it should be, and if I find the right people to train, that's where it will be.
So on that basis I don't think Chrissie's performance is out of this world, its just where triathlon should be. Look how the other girls have improved their performances after Chrissie's breakthrough. She's is a clean athlete, who was not encumbered by the tri-geek mentality that said, "ooooohhhh they are so fast!" I said to my group this is rubbish, and we set about achieving the right goals, and that was a five hour bike and a three hour marathon. Chrissie stepped up to the game and executed!
Tri247 You've mentioned in the past that for a number of different reasons you think the women should race separately from the men, do you think this will ever happen and how will it improve Ironman racing - for the women?
BS I hope that the new organisation will allow proper capitalisation of the brand and that women have their own World Championships. It's laughable, that we sit here and see people in the swim drafting off the men and the commentators says it is the women's World Championships.
Tri247 So many times at Hawaii it seems that athletes lose their nerve, even when things haven't started to go wrong, but Chrissie showed huge mental strength and composure, and stayed calm and collected when she punctured during the race. But for an athlete who has spent many months preparing for Hawaii sometimes it’s not always easy to stay calm - how much do you think the athletes are effected by the added pressure due to the fact it's the one race that every one so desperately wants to win?
BS I think many a great performance hasn't materialised because it was Hawaii the athlete was racing. If you read the lead up to the race on our website you will see we purposely play down the fact it's Hawaii. We have always prepared meticulously for each race so for me, it's just another race, and we prepare for it from six months out.
Tri247 Moving on from the women’s race, you did have a couple of guys racing in Hawaii, how did you rate their performances?
BS As a team, we decided on doing the same as we did with the girls in the squad last year, but there was ITU Olympic qualification to deal with, so as a group we said we'd kick off with the guys Hawaii preparation after the Olympics, and asked those who didn't want to be part of our Hawaii push to say so, and move on. The men's squad in 2009 will look to Ironman on a much stronger footing. Stephen went to have a look and gain experience. Reinaldo Colucci (Brasil) doesn't need to have a look, he knows what it's all about already. They will head up the men's team next year, maybe we can talk AJ into captaining them, we'll see.
Tri247 What did you think of Craig's (the men's winner) performance?
BS I admire what Craig has done, he is a very nice man and I couldn't have picked a nicer guy in that field to win, I congratulate him and I'm very happy for him. The men's performances, I'll say it now, as I did with the women's, SOFT! I expect one of my guys to go 4:30 on the bike and run 2:40 for the marathon inside the next three years.
Tri247 Obviously the weather in Kona can effect the times on race day quite dramatically, but even so, Luc Van Lierde’s record of 8:04:08 from twelve years ago hasn't ever really been challenged. With the right weather conditions how long do you think it will be before a man goes under the eight hour mark and who if anyone do you think is capable of doing it?
BS Look, the record thing is a non issue, oranges and apples. Who did what back in the day, the day of what? I had a very distraught girl who finished fourth in the World Championships who was running around asking to be drug tested as she has had people insinuating things, as people do. But nope, no test for fourth at the World Championships.
There is lots to do and lets hope the new owners get about doing it. As a coach I think that athletes have a very rough ride, they get blasted about drafting, when they are trying to race, sometimes they get bad calls. Drugs, somebody does a great race or has a breakthrough and everybody says, they must be on something. This can be cleaned up with some thought, lets worry about developing that, so we have a really true, clean sport. We have that opportunity as we don't have to bow to the Olympic rings!
Tri247 And finally, what would you consider are the three most important components to make a successful Ironman athlete?
BS Consistency, strength and self discipline.