SA’s GOT TRI TALENT?
After the recent Discovery World Cup Triathlon Event down in CT where the SA men (Richard Murray/Henri Schoeman and Wian Sullwald scooped a clean sweep of the men’s podium, South African triathlon certainly seems to be in a healthy position when it comes to an abundance of talent.
After last year’s Rio Olympics where Schoeman surprised many by claiming the bronze medal with Murray just behind in 4th, the rest of the triathlon world must have been thinking, what are they doing that we are not?
We know triathlon in SA is a minnow sport, I would dare to say 95% of the population do not even know what a triathlon event entails. Add on the fact that we are based at the tip of Africa and to get to the top events world-wide means travel and that means spending big money. Our currency strength is not that great which compels financial matters even further when it comes to competing on the global stage. The one PRO however being that if you are winning Dollars overseas in prize-money earnings, you are bringing back more Rands into SA.
Anyway, the point being, a South African triathlete has it pretty tough and to reach the standards that these guys have achieved over the last few years takes something special. I believe just being born in South Africa adds that “something” special
Jan Frodeno, Terrenzo Bozzone, Ryan Bailey, 3 of the worlds’ current top triathletes competing for other nations were in fact born in ZA. There are others, I just don’t know about them yet. So they were born in SA but left for various reasons and now compete for other countries. Something to be said about athletes coming from this part of the world having that something “special”. Yes talent is a big part of any successful athlete but there are thousands of talented athletes world-wide but only few possess an “X-Factor” that puts them above the rest. I am 100% convinced that athletes/Triathletes coming out of RSA, especially the super talented ones have that “x-factor” that produces these world-class performances
We are going to study the current crop of short distance triathlon talent but if I may, just a dwelling on some past achievements from triathletes now retired from the sport. Simone Lessing, the fastest triathlete in the world over almost every distance back in the nineties was born and bred in Durban. He competed for GBR after leaving our shores post matric but he is a prime example of an athlete that was totally dominant over all formats of triathlon coming out of RSA. He never managed an Olympic Medal (2000 was his one and only shot at it before moving onto the longer distances and then retiring early from the sport through injury. Paula Newby-Fraser. Born in Zim but plied her triathlon trade in ZA before heading to the USA. A prime example of one of the world’s best female long distance triathletes. She is still hailed as the Kona Queen. For a male competitor to come top 10 at any big event back in her day, you just had to beat Paula and you were assured of this position. There was Mandy Dean, another lady that excelled at the long distances in the late eighties. Moving forward a couple of years, we had the likes of Raynard Tissink and Jan Van Rooyen over the long game, Conrad Stoltz over the X-Terra game and a good few others (please excuse me if I don’t mention them all) who have graced the world triathlon stages back in their heyday
Let’s talk about the current crop of triathletes, focussing more on the ITU short distance game as this is where the biggest exposure comes from. Everyone watches the Olympics and for a 3 week period every 4 years, most South Africans are glued to their screens. You produce a result like Schoeman did in RIO last year and suddenly everyone knows who you are. Before that Henri could have trolled the streets without even a 2nd glance from passer-by’s
On the Male side of things, we are very strong at the moment. Murray, Schoeman and now returning to form Wian Sullwald (Junior World Champ just a few years ago). Having watched the World Cup Race in CT last weekend, it was encouraging to see the likes of Nic Quenet<Rinaldo Morgio, Marc Greyling and Dylan Nortje riding in the main packs alongside our trio of medal winners on the day. Jean-Paul Burger who was also in the mix and hails from Namibia but also trains in SA can be mentioned. You need to be able to swim fast and be aggressive enough on the bike in the early stages to get into that front pack. These youngsters lacked a bit of speed on the 5km run but to see them all in the main group was encouraging and bodes well for the future. Ben De La Porte, Jamie Riddle, Finn Elliot, Matthew Greer and a few others are also looking to stake their claim at representing ZA in and amongst the senior ranks one of these days which all bodes well for the future of SA in triathlon on the male side
On the ladies side, Kate Roberts from the last 2 Olympic Games and now Gill Sanders and Marie Rabie also did us proud in RIO last year, although it went somewhat un-noticed after Henri’s sparkling performance. Sanders claimed a top 3 at a world cup event after RIO and really seemed to hit her stride and form once the Olympics had passed. Having considered retirement after RIO, we are glad to see she is still going to continue on for at least another season or two. With Rabie now retiring, we need the likes of Sanders to show the young kids how to do it. For some reason, the ladies always seem to battle on the ITU world stage to make the in-roads like the men do but that is not due to lack of trying or the abundance of female talent in this country
The “down-grading” of the annual CT WTS triathlon event to a World Cup event presented many of the young SA ladies, a shot at the big-time racing and a small taste of what it takes to make it big in the triathlon world these days.
Anel Radford was in the main chase group behind the British duo who took off after the swim leg which was rather pleasing to see as she ended up finishing top Saffa in 15th position overall. Our other ladies, Carlyn Fisher, Vicky VD Merwe, Cindy Schwulst, Jodie Berry, Shanae Williams and Celeste Renaud were encouraged to work together in the 2nd chasing pack on the bike. Perhaps a step up in the swim department and a quicker transition might put them into the front pack next time. At this level, if you waste 2-5 seconds at any time during your race, you are bumped from a possible 1st pack position on the bike into the 2nd pack and sometimes out on your own so seconds are crucial. A mention goes to Alex Quenet who was just behind Radford on the swim but did just not have the experience and aggression needed to stay in the front pack and she was unfortunately bombed out the back and forced to ride with another young lady Maude Elaine Le Roux. These ladies however have many years ahead of them and if they can consistently race at this level, there is no doubts they will improve. The junior ladies in SA Tri are also showing encouraging signs for the future (I know this because my daughter very much wants to be part of the SA contingent in future years. The likes of Amber Schlebusch, Tegan Gore, Ashleigh Irvine-Smith, Angelique Moller and Kelly Fairon are only 4 of a big group of about 6-8 young ladies that are looking at the likes of Richard, Henri, Wian, Gill and Marie and saying that they too can reach these heights and standards in future years.
I must just mention TSA (Triathlon South Africa) into the frame here as well. I know they often get stick for a number of reasons but having first-hand knowledge, I can certainly say they are trying their best to develop the sport of triathlon in SA. A host of Junior Tours and Training Camps for example have been organised over the last few years and that is encouraging to see. They are recognising the talent at an early stage and trying to do their bit to hopefully produce many more Murray’s and Schoeman’s in the future
I have no reason to believe that as a born and bred South African triathlete, our current group of seniors and those youngsters sitting on the fringes are going to continue lighting up the world stage of Triathlon in the years to come. The other countries are thinking, “What are they doing right that produces such phenomenal results with so much less support than we have at our disposal”. Sorry to tell them, Africa is not for sissies and if you are born in this country, you already have an edge over your rivals. You just need to train yourself up to their level before you take over with that something “special”. A proper short distance series in SA over a draft-legal format is something we desperately need as well and without a doubt, we will be earning medals at future Olympics in both the Male and Female Divisions