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Chrissie Wellington looks forward not back and ‘expects’ her record to be broken

Sunday could be a momentous day for female full-distance triathlon and we chat to the woman who set the bar so high.

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There’s been lots of talk about the world record full-distance time being broken on Sunday by a stacked women’s field at Challenge Roth.

Anne HaugDaniela Ryf and Chelsea Sodaro – who between them have won all the IRONMAN World Championships since 2015 – toe the start line as well as Laura Philipp, Fenella Langridge and Lisa Norden.

Philipp has come closest of all of them – within seven seconds in fact – to the benchmark time of 8:18:13 which was set by Chrissie Wellington at this very race in 2011.

Triathlon legend Wellington – who had an unbeaten 13-0 record at full-distance which included four Kona titles and three at Roth – is in Roth this weekend where, among other things, she’ll be presenting finish-line medals alongside Jan Frodeno.

And we caught up with her to look back at her incredible record in the race and hear her thoughts on the current generation of stars.

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‘Hopefully it set the bar’

Asked what she remembers most fondly about those victories in 2009-11, she replied: “Family and friends and community. For me, sport was so unifying and it was an opportunity to bring all of my friends and family together, but also feel connected to a much wider community. And Roth gave me that opportunity. I just felt this huge sense of belonging and that was an incredible gift. So I think for me, that’s number one.”

Wellington, awarded the MBE in 2010 for her triathlon accomplishments and the OBE in 2016 for services to sport and charity, has been – and still is – a driving force behind the parkrun movement and is their Global Head of Health and Wellbeing.

And she added of Roth: “It enabled me to test myself and kind of explore where my limits are. And as an athlete, I was naturally curious about where those were. At Roth, I managed to test those limits and, to be honest, exceed them. So that was an incredible privilege and an opportunity for me.

I think ultimately it was the place where I feel I was able to demonstrate what triathletes – female triathletes – can do. 

“It was the stage in which I broke the world record a number of times. I feel really grateful for the opportunity to do that, but I think that that’s the kind of visible manifestation of the rise, maybe, in women’s sport and hopefully it set the bar for others to aspire to.”

Chrissie Wellington celebrating win at Challenge Roth 2011
Chrissie Wellington’s famous win at Roth in 2011

‘I expect the record to be broken’

And that wish was very much in evidence when I asked her about this weekend’s race: “As professional athletes, obviously we enjoy the training, but it’s the racing that really matters, which really lights our fire. And every athlete craves a battle. 

“And for me, it was twofold. It was a battle within myself. So just being the very best athlete that I could be, but also the battle with others. 

“So to have that depth in strength right now is phenomenal. And I think that that will elevate the performance not only of the top athletes, but of everyone across the board.”

Conditions look good this weekend too, with a couple of days of thunderstorms having been replaced by brighter and more settled weather.

And Wellington pointed out “Roth is renowned as a fast course, but it’s also an environment, not just a course, that enables the athlete to be the very best. The level of organisation, the support that you get from start to finish, the enthusiastic kind of support from the crowd, everything, when it comes together to enable the athlete to be their very best. Although it’s a high-pressure environment, it also facilitates you being the best version of yourself.”

As to whether she’ll still hold the record come Sunday night, she said: “I expect the record to be broken. I don’t expect it to be by much. But I would expect either probably either Anne Haug or Laura Philipp to break it.”

Anne Haug Laura Philipp press conference 2023 photo credit: Challenge Roth
Wellington reckons Haug and Philipp are the most likely record breakers [Photo credit: Challenge Roth]

And as to how she would feel should that happen: “Sport is dynamic and it’s evolutionary by its very nature. Things need to move on. And I’m surprised that it hasn’t been broken. 

“What I would say is that my legacy – if there is one in the sport, I don’t really like that term – has been to elevate others. I did the very best that I could be. I was the very best athlete that I could be. I’m so proud of that, but I also hope that I’ve been able to elevate others and raise their game. 

If the record is broken, hopefully it’s indicative of the growing strength of the female athletes and if I played a small part in that, I will be very proud.

“So I think there will be mixed emotions. Of course, if the record goes, you feel like you’re kind of being wiped not only from the record, but from people’s memories. 

“But my best memory of Roth is being on that finish line, sharing the moment with so many others and just celebrating this phenomenal event. For me, Roth encapsulates everything that is wonderful about triathlon, testing yourself, challenging yourself, but it really does bring people together and it’s quite unifying in a special way.”

Tech a ‘double-edged sword’

Lovely words and sentiments from Chrissie which clearly came very naturally and there was also a fascinating response when I mentioned to her that Joe Skipper has suggested her time in 2011 is the equivalent of close to eight hours today, given the technological advances.

Reacting to that, she said: “I am surprised the record still stands, given that technological advancements have clearly taken place. But they can also be a double-edged sword. They can also be a distraction. And I think we need to very carefully balance the investment in time spent in training – the most important weapon of all, which is the body and the mind – and investing time and energy in the latest scientific development. 

“That’s not to say that I don’t think they’re valuable. But I think that they need to be used strategically and it’s important that they’re not unilaterally applied by every athlete. Max Neumann kind of follows my kind of style of training and racing, whereas you’d say someone like Kristian Blummenfelt is obviously applying a lot more of the kind of scientific knowledge and understanding to his training. And both are hugely successful athletes.

“So I think that as an athlete, you have to be strategic, work with your coach, look at what’s out there and look at what you can apply and should apply and what suits you, your style of racing and your personality.

“When I raced, I made some strategic choices about what kind of technology I would use. I had the opportunity to wear an aero helmet. I had the opportunity to use a disc wheel. I had the opportunity to ride a different bike. And for a number of reasons, I chose not to. 

“I prefer to think personally that I achieved what I did by virtue of strength and body and mind. There’s more satisfaction in knowing that you haven’t been over-reliant on technology for a time or a victory.”

And hopefully if the record does go this weekend, whoever holds the new mark will be allowed a little time to let it sink in, with Wellington revealing: “I remember when I first broke the record, the first question I was asked was ‘can you go faster?'”

Chrissie Wellington 2023 photo credit: Challenge Roth
[Photo credit: Challenge Roth]
Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  
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