19 July 2012
This month, seven Olympic triathlon teams, including 23 of the highest ranking triathletes in the world, will be arriving at Imperial to train in Ethos, just a few minutes away from the Olympic course in Hyde Park. Reporter asked the experts for an insider’s view of Britain’s fastest growing sport.
Triathlon is one of the most demanding Olympic sports, as competitors have to excel in three different disciplines. An Olympic triathlon starts with a 1.5km swim, followed by a 40km bike ride and finishes with a 10km run.
“The time between these sections, called the transitions, counts towards the total time as well, so you have to be quick to change from your wetsuit into your biking kit and from the biking kit into your running shoes.” explains Pit Pillatsch, a second year PhD student (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) and treasurer of Imperial’s Triathlon Club, TriIC.
Having competed on most of the course that the Olympians will be covering in Hyde Park, Pit thinks it is the perfect venue for the sport. “There are no major hills and the tarmac is smooth, which makes for a quick bike section too. I have to admit though that the swim in the Serpentine might be tough, but let’s hope the water warms up a little before then!”
With the GB team training in the Ethos pool in the run up to the Olympics. Pit is pinning his hopes on either Alistair and Jonny – the infamous Brownlee brothers – winning the men’s triathlon. Indeed, the pair came first and second in the final world series triathlon circuit in Austria last month.
Malcolm Brown, British Triathlon’s Olympic Performance Group Manager, who has been coaching the Brownlee brothers for the last seven years, will be coming with the brothers to train at Ethos later this month. He described a typical day’s training for the boys: “Their day starts with a swim session from 7.00–8.30, then cycling for two to four hours, followed by a run for an hour and a half. Between the core triathlon disciplines, they do strength and conditioning work in the gym, have massage and physio sessions, and answer questions from journalists!”
With their intense training schedule, Malcolm says that the biggest challenge for the brothers is getting enough food on a regular basis. “They are burning around 6,000 calories a day, so finding time to eat in addition to training for over 35 hours a week can be tricky. We encourage them to eat as much as they can at every opportunity.”
Such dedication clearly requires determination of Olympic proportions. Malcolm says that, in his opinion, what makes the boys so motivated is that they really enjoy the training in the open air in Yorkshire, where they are based. “While, of course, they are motivated by success, by competition and by winning, the amount of training triathletes have to do to become world class is enormous. It really is a way of life, so you have to enjoy the lifestyle.”
Being brothers, the boys know each other inside out and there is a natural air of competition. “When you get to a high level of sport, finding a training partner as good and committed as you is a massive advantage,” confirms Malcolm.
Alistair and Jonny will spend their last month at an altitude training camp in Switzerland before heading to London. Altitude training is known to be good for athletes as the human body produces more red blood cells at higher altitudes. The theory is that the presence of these oxygen-hungry cells boosts athletic performance for a few weeks after an athlete returns to sea level – putting them at a competitive advantage. The brothers won’t be coming to London until the final few days before the event. “By that point there will be a wind-down stage where they will be doing just enough training to tick over, and keep the muscles used to the movement.”
Malcolm says that the boys are looking forward to testing themselves on home ground and, given their recent performances, he is hopeful of a good result. “The guys are in really good shape – I have high hopes to see them on the medal podium – but in what order has yet to be seen!”
See the Olympic triathlon schedule