The Spe­cial­ists

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - SPORT SPECIALTY -

Through the ’80s and ’90s, as com­pet­i­tive as triathlon might have be­come, it still re­mained a sport that good ath­letes from other back­grounds could take up and ex­cel at. Lisa Bent­ley ran at univer­sity be­fore be­com­ing an 11-time Iron­man cham­pion, for ex­am­ple. To do that, though, Bent­ley be­came ex­tremely pro­fi­cient in all three sports.

The Olympics changed all that, though – sud­denly a weak­ness in any of the three sports be­came a huge is­sue. Draft-le­gal rac­ing sud­denly re­quired the abil­ity to swim ex­tremely well. Af­ter his dis­ap­point­ing race at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Si­mon Whit­field, con­sid­ered one of the sport’s pre­mier run­ners, im­mersed him­self in swim­ming in or­der to rou­tinely come out of the wa­ter with the lead­ers. As triathlon con­tin­ued to gain in pop­u­lar­ity, it joined the big leagues in other ways, too.

Ever heard of a guy named Nick Bol­let­tieri? In 1978 he be­gan the process that has changed sport as we know it with the cre­ation of the first ten­nis academy. Bol­let­tieri sud­denly made it the norm for elite level ten­nis play­ers to start spe­cial­iz­ing in their sport from a young age. Par­ents would move their en­tire fam­i­lies to Florida in or­der for one (or more) of their chil­dren to be part of the academy. In­ter­na­tional Man­age­ment Group even­tu­ally took over Bol­let­tieri’s camps and started the same process in other sports – there are now acad­e­mies and camps for vir­tu­ally ev­ery sport, even to the point of spe­cial­iz­ing in spe­cific po­si­tions. (Quar­ter­back camps for 10 year olds, any­one?)

The ex­tent to which this spe­cial­iza­tion has ar­rived in triathlon is em­bod­ied most in Alistair Brown­lee. The de­fend­ing Olympic cham­pion swims like a fish, can ride a bike with the best and is so fast as a run­ner there’s a se­ri­ous chance he’ll rep­re­sent Eng­land at the Com­mon­wealth Games in the 10,000 m. His brother Jonathan is ev­ery bit as fast. Their big­gest com­peti­tor, Javier Gomez, is equally as pro­fi­cient in all three sports. The Brown­lees grew up swim­ming like their mother and run­ning like their dad. They started com­pet­ing in triathlon races at 10, but re­mained com­pet­i­tive in the pool and in run­ning through their teenage years. It was that com­pet­i­tive mix that helped set them up for the ex­cel­lence in all three dis­ci­plines they’ve brought to the sport now. That tem­plate has set the stage for the sport’s elite these days – Paula Find­lay swam and ran at a high level be­fore she turned her sites on triathlon and went on a world cup-win­ning tear.

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