Having never been beaten in an Ironman-distance event, Chrissie Wellington wrote a new chapter in the history of women’s triathlon. Multiple world titles, multiple world and course records, and one emphatic, undented reputation…
Who is Chrissie Wellington?
In short, Britain’s Chrissie Wellington is undeniably the great female Ironman triathlete of this century – and almost certainly ever. Between 2007 and 2011, she absolutely dominated the sport, grabbing gold medals every time she competed, and often leaving smashed record in her wake.
Wellington may have refined Ironman racing for women, but her destiny was far from pre-ordained. She was still an amateur at the age of 29 when, having won her age-group at the ITU worlds in 2006, she jacked in her day job in the civil service for a life in the water and on the tarmac. As career changes go, few can ever have been so well-judged.
Over the next five years, Wellington was crowned Ironman world champion on no fewer than four occasions (only missing one trip to Kona in 2010 through illness). Indeed, throughout her long-course racing career, she won all 10 Ironman competitions she entered. Add to that her trio of Challenge Roth titles and that means Wellington was never beaten in a full-distance race.
Many of these 13 triumphs were also record-breaking performances, whether setting new course records or world bests. Her fourth and final Kona title, won in 2011 despite crippling injuries from a recent bike crash, was arguably her crowning glory.
This unblemished race record is an extraordinary achievement, one that her former coach Brett Sutton rightly likened to the dominance of Michael Phelps in swimming or Haile Gebrselassie in track running.
Having decided to take a break in 2012 – during which time she wrote a Sunday Times bestselling book and commentated on the London Olympics for the BBC – Wellington decided to make her absence from Ironman competition a permanent one. That Ironman race record would now be unsullied forever.
One further medal did come her way, though, when the MBE she was awarded in 2010 was upgraded to an OBE six years later.
How old is Chrissie Wellington?
Chrissie Wellington was born on 18 February 1977, making her 45 years of age.
Chrissie Wellington’s career highlights
September 2006: The first of many world titles
As a sign of the dominance yet to come, Wellington bags her first world title when she cruises to victory in the female 25-29 age group at the ITU world championships in Lausanne. The success helps to persuade her to trade in her civil service job for life as a professional triathlete.
October 2007: Ironman debut = Ironman triumph
Having won the very first Ironman event she’s entered (IM Korea in August), Wellington takes the Ironman world crown at her first attempt – and within a year of turning pro.
August 2008: Another dominant performance, another world title
As the current Ironman world champ, Wellington goes into the ITU long-distance world championships in Almere-Amsterdam as the red-hot favourite, a billing she more than lives up to, finishing more than 17 minutes clear of the rest of the field.
October 2008: Wellington becomes a double Kona champ
After victories in Germany and Australia, Wellington makes it five Ironman victories from five Ironman starts when she easily defends her Kona crown. The Brit finishes 15 minutes ahead of silver medallist Yvonne van Vlerken of the Netherlands.
July 2009: Little challenge offered by Challenge Roth
After her second successive victory at Ironman Australia in April, Wellington continues her unbeaten streak when she wins Challenge Roth at the first time of asking.
October 2009: Newby-Fraser’s record finally goes
A third Kona title is an inevitability; this year, it’s all about the time. Wellington goes under the nine-hour mark for the first time in Hawaii, slicing 12 minutes off her previous best. More significantly, she also breaks Paula Newby-Fraser’s long-standing course record.
November 2010: The fastest female Ironman in history
Having missed the world champs through illness, Wellington bounces back to dominate Ironman Arizona, in the process setting a world record for an Ironman event of 8:36:13.
July 2011: More history making in southern Germany
The records keep tumbling. In winning her third successive Challenge Roth, Wellington sets a new course record in Bavaria. Her time of 8:18:13 still stands more than 10 years later.
October 2011: An immaculate foursome of Kona titles
Still very much feeling the effects of a recent bike crash (her coach at the time, Dave Scott, said she shouldn’t be on the start line), Wellington pushes through the pain barrier to take her fourth – and final – Ironman world title, holding off the challenge of reigning champion Mirinda Carfrae of Australia and fellow Brit Leanda Cave.
Chrissie Wellington in quotes
On her first Kona win in 2007: “I don’t think I’d ever struck anyone as obvious world-champion material. For a start, there’s my nickname. It’s Muppet. And, yes, it’s for pretty much the reasons you would think.”
On job satisfaction: “Is it more satisfying to break a world record than to win at Kona? No. I want to beat the best athletes in the world in the most important race of the year. That’s what Kona requires of you.”
On turning her year off into a permanent retirement: “The World Ironman Championships in 2011 was the icing on the cake for me as an athlete. It was my ‘perfect race’ and it ‘completed’ me.”
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