Sportswoman of the Year finalist Chrissie Wellington is aiming for a third straight victory in the Ironman Triathlon


Chrissie Wellington describes herself as a “Duracell Bunny”. This is scarcely surprising, for she competes in that most arduous of physical endeavours, the Ironman Triathlon. Next Saturday, she aims to win her third successive world title in Hawaii, where the sport was invented amidst the sun, surf and entrancing scenery of the Pacific Islands. Sport_623040q

Wellington has a reputation for invincibility in the Mecca of the sport, ever since her stunningly unexpected breakthrough at the 2007 world championships. Many years of training and competitive racing are normally required for success over the three disciplines of swimming, cycling and running. Although Wellington is 32, she has not had a long career in any of the sports, competing in a sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike ride, 5km run) for the first time in 2004. “I would never have predicted what has subsequently happened,” she says. “I never thought even in a million years that I would do the Ironman, let alone become world champion. I would have thought myself crazy.” However, her athletic ability and zealous intensity have helped propel her onto the short list for The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year award.

Victory on Saturday will further advance the status of Wellington, who was not particularly physically outstanding at Downham Market School in Norfolk. She explains: “I was always a sporty kid but more interested in the social side of the sports scene.” She swam for a local club, the Thetford Dolphins, but concentrated on her academic work.

“I have always wanted to do the best I could in everything,” she says. “I am fiercely competitive with myself.” Wellington gained a first-class degree in geography at Birmingham University and a distinction in her MA in development studies at Manchester University before working on international development policy for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London.

She began running in her spare time and, encouraged by her time of 3hr 8min 17sec in the 2002 Flora London Marathon, she began getting guidance from Frank Horwill, the controversial and inspiring athletics coach. “He was fantastic for me,” she says, “giving a structure to my training programme.” However, being hit by a car just before the following year’s marathon forced her to return temporarily to swimming and she took part in her first sprint triathlon at Eton in 2004, finishing third. It was nothing sensational but enough to encourage her to continue.

Then her life changed dramatically. Frustrated by “bureaucracy and paper pushing”, she took sabbatical leave to work in Nepal and it was there, amid the soaring peaks and winding paths, that she unknowingly laid the foundation for her future triathlon triumphs. Every morning before work, she would ride her mountain bike or run along the trails in the Kathmandu Valley. “There was no structure but there was a rawness about the training,” she says. She once cycled 800 miles in two weeks, scaling tall mountain passes through sandstorms and blizzards, and even reaching the base camp of Mount Everest at over 17,000 feet.

Back in Europe, she won an age group world amateur title in 2006. That made her, she says, determined to “give this triathlon malarkey a really good shot”, initially still on the Olympic distances (1.5km swim, 40km ride, 10km run) but then moving up to the Ironman distances (3.8km swim, 180km bike ride, 42.2km run). Wellington gave up her job and was rewarded with her first world championship victory in 2007 to earn herself $110,000 in prize money. Her time of 9hr 8min 45sec included a marathon of 2hr 59min 58sec, the second fastest ever on the celebrated Hawaii course.

Wellington now coaches herself but has some advisers. Such a solitary, self-improving existence could lead to extreme selfishness but this is certainly not the case with Wellington. She has set up a women’s empowerment network, GOTribal, to help women develop themselves through sport, particularly those who are underprivileged. It is an extension to her former academic and working career.

For the moment, however, she is focused on Saturday’s race. What does she think about during the event? “I try to stay in the moment,” she says. “When times are tough, I have images of my family in my mind and I remember when times were tough before and recall how I got through those times.

“I think I am consistent across all three sports. My strongest aspect is what I can do in the later stages of the bike ride and the run. I keep going.” Just like the Duracell Bunny.

Vote for The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year

Nominations for the Sportswoman of the Year have closed and a shortlist of six finalists has been chosen. Now it is up to you to vote for the winner. The closing date is midnight on Tuesday, October 27, 2009. Only one vote is allowed per person. The winner will be announced at a lunch at the David Beckham Academy in London on Tuesday, November 3. Once your vote has been cast you will be entered into a prize draw for one of four pairs of tickets to attend the event To vote please visit

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