Daniela Ryf’s Ironman world best at Challenge Roth last month was wonderful for many reasons, and her finish line embrace with fellow triathlon great Chrissie Wellington ranked high on the list.
It was a moment which truly marked the passing of the torch from incredible athlete to incredible athlete, the type of moment which sport is so good at providing.
Chrissie’s mark had stood for 12 long years before Ryf finally lowered it – going 10 minutes faster with a quite unbelievable performance. For Wellington the day was inspirational, emotional and thought-provoking.
The four-time IRONMAN World Champion spoke at length about the feelings it produced in an interview with the excellent Talking Triathlon podcast (you can watch/listen to the full episode here).
Wellington says Ryf is the GOAT
Wellington started by addressing the debate which either excites or infuriates – depending on your point of view – who is the GOAT?
Chrissie said: “It was such a privilege to be able to be there and witness such an incredible performance. I know Daniela and I know we use the term ‘greatest of all time’ quite a bit, but I really believe that it’s applicable to her.
“She’s such a phenomenal athlete, incredibly versatile, strong across all three disciplines, physically incredibly talented, mentally strong, strategically savvy, technically astute. She’s to me the whole package.
“So to be able to be there and to see her and perform to what I believe is her best was a real privilege. It was an honour to be able to hold the world record for 12 years – I’m really proud to have done so. But sport is dynamic and you compete to the very very best of your ability. I competed to the best of mine and I was able to break the world record then.
“But sport evolves and you hope that you can in some ways be part of a process that see other athletes grow and develop and aspire to be more than you were. And if I’ve played a small part in enabling Daniela to kind of exceed her own limits and achieve more than maybe she could ever have imagined, then I’m really pleased and proud.”
Wellington was open and honest about her own feelings at finally losing that record after so long, revealing: “Although admittedly it was hard to pass that baton on – there’s a finality to that which is difficult, I don’t think I’ll ever again hold a world record – but it was a privilege to have held it and I couldn’t have hoped for anybody better to have broken it and now hold that crown than Daniela.”
Daniela confounds critics
The 36-year-old Ryf has endured moments in the last 18 months where she has been effectively written off by some triathlon pundits and fans. Her ability to rise again, says Chrissie, is something which only emphasises her greatness.
“I think her performances over the years have shown such resilience and tenacity. And that’s the mark of strength in an athlete is the ability to bounce back after disappointment or adversity. She’s had races, quite a few races, by her own admission that haven’t gone according to plan. But yet she remains focused but is also willing to learn from those.
“She races under a considerable amount of pressure. I think any professional athlete at the top of their game can speak to the impact that that pressure has.
“And for her to be that resilient and tenacious and to bounce back – especially when like you said some commentators may have written her off – is really really impressive, and to me that is the marker of a phenomenal athlete. Not just to be able to win, but also to be able to perform subsequent to disappointment or adversity.”
Wellington on career and life lessons
Chrissie also took time to look back on her own career, on the lessons it taught her and the inevitability that all things one day come to an end.
“I was so fortunate to have had the career that I did – it’s something that I would have never scripted, envisioned or expected growing up. I think it speaks to a need to be open to opportunities and to be willing to try new things.
“Had I never said yes to my friend who suggested I try triathlon, I never would be sitting here today having had all those amazing, life-changing experiences.
“That’s a key lesson and learning for me, is to always seize those opportunities and be willing to explore and be curious about one’s own potential. I, certainly, growing up could never have envisioned being a professional athlete, but it gifted me so much. But it’s a finite career, it’s a career that can’t last for ever, whatever sport you embark in.
“As a professional athlete you know there will come a time when you need to transition away from that sport and carve out a new and very very different path. But I’ll always be so grateful that the sport of triathlon and professional sport gave me.”