Chrissie Wellington breaks the tape and the women’s iron distance
world record with a time of 8:31:59 at Quelle Challenge Roth 2009.
Photo courtesy Ben Mansford and Chrissy Wellington

Chrissie Wellington won her first Ironman in Korea in 2007, and then she took over the world. No one knew who this hunch-shouldered Brit was who had left the entire field in the dust at the Ironman World Championships in 2007. …And why the heck was she smiling? The flabbergasted Ironman commentators scrambled for content as the motorcycles followed the smiling, waving, giggling stranger into the Energy Lab.

She was wearing black. Her head was bare. Surely it was just a matter of time before she overheated and crashed, the commentators clucked. Didn’t she know that Kona wasn’t a race for rookies? Once her gap on second place runner Sam McGlone stretched to five minutes, the commentators had to admit that Wellington probably wasn’t going to be put in her place. She crossed the finish line waving an anemic British flag because (come on!) who was expecting anything from Great Britain in 2007? By the next morning everyone had heard of Chrissie Wellington, Brett Sutton’s star pupil who had had the fastest bike and run in Kona.

And where had she come from? Why, Nepal of course. Prior to starting her career as a pro triathlete, Wellington had spent 16 months working for a Nepalese nonprofit called Rural Reconstruction Nepal. Between intestinal parasites, Wellington rode her mountain bike. She also enjoyed going for hilly trail runs, even if it meant fleeing rabid stray dogs through the mountains.

The rest is history. Wellington went on to win the ITU World Long Distance Championship, Ironman Australia, Timberman 70.3, Ironman Frankfurt, and the Alpe d’Huez Long Course triathlon before she came back to Kona to stun everybody once again. Usually if you have the slightest hiccup in Kona, you’re out of the game. So when Chrissie got a flat tire on the Queen K and misfired her two CO2 cartridges, everyone sighed in disappointment–Chrissie too had fallen victim to the curse of defending in Kona (only Mark Allen and Tim DeBoom had ever defended their first World Ironman title). Watching the world champion on the side of the highway begging, “Have you got a pump???” as other competiors sped by was heartbreaking. Finally, Rebekah Keat tossed Chrissie a CO2 canister, and after losing ten minutes she re-mounted. What happened next would set the triathlon world in a tizzy all over again. Despite her setback, Chrissie Wellington won the race by fifteen minutes, breaking the marathon course record in the process.

Chrissie’s midas touch has continued into the 2009 season. She won Ironman Australia, Kansas 70.3, and Timberman. But the real jewel in her crown was freezing the free-falling women’s Ironman world record by lopping almost 14 minutes off of Yvonne Van Vlerken’s world best time from the year before at Quelle Challenge Roth.

What makes Chrissie Wellington the apple of everyone’s eye, though, is the personality she brings to the sport. While most champions race with a grimace on their face, Wellington races with her head up and one eye on the crowd. She always races with a big smile on her face, a gleam in her eye, and a laugh in her throat. While making women’s triathlon history, she cheers for the pro men she sees along the way. Wellington is like a superhero who feeds solely on love for the sport and the charged race energy.

Wellington does the Blazeman log-roll over every finish line in
solidarity with the war on ALS.
Photo courtesy Ben Mansford and Chrissie Wellington

The most important aspect of the sport for Wellington is what it allows her to give back to the community. All of the fame and exposure that Chrissie gains from her triathon success, she funnels right back into the sport through groups like GOTRIbal, an organization that aims to empower women through triathlon and sport. At Timberman, Wellington made it a point of hanging around at the finish line to hand out medals and hugs to grimy, sweaty age groupers.

There was a time when the medics would rush in to your side if you did the Blazeman log-roll over the finish line. Now that Chrissie flings herself to the floor at every finish line and rolls around like a playful kid, everyone is aware of the Blazeman Foundation and its war on ALS; and the log-roll has caught on among other pro’s. (Reminder: Don’t forget to bid at the Great Athlete Auction, Leanda Cave‘s fund raiser for the Blazeman Foundation).

Perhaps the greatest measure of a champion is what their competitors have to say about them. Far from being jealous, Chrissie’s peers are in awe of her. She rules the triathlon world with benevolence and class. The only wild card this year which may threaten Chrissie’s title is her decision to prepare for the race self-coached. Then again, Wellington is a wise woman, and perhaps she will come forth with a feat of strength that will shock us for the third year in a row. While it would be exciting to see someone pull out the race of a lifetime to dethrone Chrissy, triathlon fans everywhere would be heartbroken to see her streak broken.

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