Chrissie Wellington & Craig Alexander
The veteran champions
With five Kona wins between them, Chrissie and Crowie chat about the pressures, leasures and pursuit of perfection at triathlon’s top level.
Chrissie Wellington: For Kona this year do you feel more pressure or less?
Craig Alexander: I feel less, to be honest. I felt pressure the first year because I was the reigning 70.3 world champion. … As you know, the common school of thought is that you don’t have success immediately. I wanted success immediately, so there was a lot of internal pressure. Then after winning that first time, I didn’t feel a lot of pressure to defend. Even though people kept reminding me that only three other males had been able to do it, I remember ’09 being a fun year. I remember you saying the crown was not a burden; it was uplifting. That’s how I felt. It was an absolute honor to have won that race once. Then when I defended and came back to go for a three-peat, I felt a lot of pressure. I felt like I was doing the rounds with the media every other week, and I got a little tired to be honest. The fun came out of it a little bit.
CW: I have to say my proudest year was my win in ’08, because I wanted to prove to myself that ’07 wasn’t a fluke. … And then with the flat tire, that’s the race result I’m most proud of. And last year, contrary to the rumor that I had a nervous breakdown, I really didn’t feel that much pressure! The dynamic of Julie [Dibens], Caroline Steffen and obviously Rinny [Carfrae] upping her game—you know, it excited me rather than gave me pressure. … I just want to fight. I want a good, hard race. And they were going to offer me that. … I think going in this year I feel the least pressure, and that’s largely because of the result I had at Roth. … I think confidence in your own preparation without being arrogant takes some of the weight off your shoulders.
CW: So with a wife and two kids, how do you do it? Prior to meeting Tom [Lowe], I couldn’t imagine even having a boyfriend and being able to hold down a functional relationship.
CA: Neri and I have been together since before I was a triathlete. I don’t know what it’s like to be on my own in the sport. I think it evolves. We just keep adding people to the party, I guess! … I think it’s uplifting. Whatever perceived disadvantages there are, the advantages swamp them and overwhelm them. I come home from training absolutely beat, and I see the kids and I get more energy. I don’t know where I get it!
CW: I once had a conversation with Torbjørn [Sindballe], and I asked, “If you hadn’t had the problem with your heart, when would you have chosen to retire?” He said, “When I had the perfect race.” I said, “Do you really think the perfect race is possible?”
CA: Is that not a fairy tale?
CW: Yeah, because every time I finish a race—even Roth—I think it was perfect because I managed to overcome imperfections. There are areas where I think, well it was fantastic, but I can improve. … So I wonder when we all make that decision. I don’t want it forced upon me.
CA: It’s funny, when you get to my grand old age—I just turned 38—people ask you that all the time! To be honest, I’m still improving, physically, especially at the longer races. But there are other things obviously, aside from your physical preparation. Other things in your life. How motivated are you? Are you still prepared to do the things you did five years ago to prepare? And if not, why not? … I don’t think anyone will have to get the big shepherd’s crook out and get me to exit stage left. I think I’ll know. Part of the fun is that I just love this sport. I think it’s in my blood.