When Australian Melissa Rollison won Muncie 70.3 two weeks ago, we thought, “hmm, interesting.” But when she went 4:09 at Vineman 70.3 to beat a stacked field including Leanda Cave and Mirinda Carfrae we thought, “wait, who the hell is this girl?”
Turns out Rollison is one of the few athletes who has successfully translated a track and cross country background into triathlon. And judging by her crazy fast 1:16:28 half marathon on Sunday—she could be the new kid on the block to watch out for.
Quick running stats:
• Two silver medals at the World Cross Country Championships
• Bests of 2:05.72 in the 800m, 4:09.80 in the 1500m, 15:55.19 in the 5000m, to name a few
• Numerous 1st and 2nd place finishes in the 3000m Steeplechase (best of 9:24.29)
Having only started doing triathlon last fall, Rollison admits she can barely tell her competitors apart from one another. “I don’t know anyone at the moment—or I’m just starting to get to know them from the last two weekends,” she says. “I kind of went into it not knowing anyone, just giving it a go.”
Her boyfriend, who’s in Australia, even emailed her a couple days before Vineman to tell her which pros were swimmer/riders or swimmer/runners and who to watch out for. “He gave me a heads up, but I didn’t know who anyone was anyway. If you know who’s in it, or you don’t, it shouldn’t make a huge difference in this sport, since you’re pretty much going all out in all of the sports. It shouldn’t really matter—a race is a race.”
Rollison is proof that you can bounce back from injuries and a series of bad coaches. The 28-year-old was plagued by stress fractures that forced her into an on-again-off-again running career throughout the last decade, with coaches that often made it worse. She remembers one coach in particular. “He mentally abused me, overtrained me and it put me out for four years,” Rollinson says. “I had a good year in 2006 but then got injured and it brought that all back again. I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got so much unfinished business [with my athletic career], and I haven’t achieved nearly what I know I can.’ I stopped enjoying running.”
Running injuries led her to cycling. Then, having never swum before, she decided it was time to learn. She started working with a triathlon coach, but had to keep reminding him that she had ZERO swimming background and needed to learn very basic technique. She says she still doesn’t love the swim, but if it allows her to bike and run, she can deal with it. At Vineman, she came out of the water in fourth—not too shabby for someone with about a year of experience.
Just last September, Rollison did her first-ever Olympic triathlon (“just to get a feel for it”) and won. She went on to win Australia’s Gold Coast Half Ironman in October, running a 1:22:06—good enough to be a fifth-place men’s time.
You might think more track stars like Rollison would switch to triathlon and crush the running field, but she recognizes that running off the bike is a whole different animal. “I think some runners think, ‘I can run, I can outrun those triathletes,’” she says. “But what they don’t understand is those triathletes know how to run off the bike. It is completely different and it needs a lot of practice. I know some track athletes that have tried triathlon and it hasn’t worked.”
Rollison is currently living in Boulder, where she’ll stay through September. Next on her plate is the Boulder 70.3 and then on to 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas.