Headstrong and determined, Joe Skipper has forged his own path towards triathlon’s top table. It’s not been the most effortless of ascents, but the Englishman is now one of the leading Ironman contenders in the world, an athlete who knows how to get to the finish line first.
Who is Joe Skipper?
Joe Skipper is arguably Britain’s most successful long-distance triathlete of recent years. He’s been on the podium at the ITU Long-Distance Worlds as well as taking commanding Ironman victories in Florida, New Zealand and, somewhat closer to home, Bolton.
But his journey has been far from the smooth ride that his results suggest. A Norfolk lad who later relocated to Manchester (he’s now back in Norfolk), he’s always ploughed an independent furrow through the sport – often out of financial necessity.
Without central funding, he’s been forced to become his own coach while also going without the infrastructure and accoutrements enjoyed by other, better-funded athletes. More than once during Skipper’s career has his circumstances caused him an existential, ‘should-I-just-quit’ crisis.
But this independence means that, when the good times roll, they feel of even more value. And the good times have rolled frequently, particularly over the last few years. It was just a source of frustration that the pandemic struck just as Skipper was showing the form of his life.
Victories at Ironman Florida at the tail end of 2019 and at Ironman New Zealand in early 2020 couldn’t be capitalised on as the race calendar was decimated.
How old is Joe Skipper?
Joe Skipper was born on 25 March 1988, making him 33 years old.
Joe Skipper’s career highlights
July 2011: The amateur victory that led to going pro
Having taken second place at the British Sprint Triathlon Championships at Belvoir Castle in May, Skipper shows his versatility by taking the national middle distance title in rural Buckinghamshire, finishing nearly five minutes clear. He turns pro shortly after.
August 2013: Podium finish on his Ironman debut
Skipper’s first full-distance Ironman – held in Bolton – sees him take an impressive bronze. The following year, he converts this into silver.
May 2015: Pain and sacrifice earns the rewards deep in the heart of Texas
In the heat of east Texas, Skipper’s best international performance so far comes at Ironman Texas where he takes an imperious silver. ‘It was by far and away the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,’ he later observes.
July 2015: Third place at the world champs
Two months after Texas, Skipper travels to Motala in Sweden for the ITU Long Distance World Championships, returning home a happy man with a bronze medal in his luggage.
July 2016: Record-breaking Roth performance makes the history books
An extremely satisfying trip to Bavaria for Challenge Roth ends with both a silver medal and the honour of being the first Brit to go under eight hours on this famous course. Skipper posts a time of 7:56:23, which includes a 2:38 marathon. There was never a chance of gold, though. Winner Jan Frodeno finished more than 20 minutes clear of the Englishman.
- Brits Joe Skipper and Lucy Gossage make Ironman New Zealand podium
- Joe Skipper finishes second at Challenge Roth 2017
July 2018: Skipper finally nails Ironman UK
After multiple podium finishes in Bolton, Skipper makes Ironman UK his own leading the field home by more than seven minutes in front of an ecstatic home crowd. In October, he takes seventh place at Kona.
November 2019: First in Florida is maiden victory on American soil
Skipper follows his best-ever Kona performance (6th) with a comfortable victory in Panama City Beach at Ironman Florida, confirming his status at the very top of long-distance triathlon.
March 2020: Skipper breaks the tape in Taupo
Skipper maintains his fine form into the new season with another Ironman triumph, this time in Taupo on New Zealand’s North Island where he is the only competitor to post a sub-eight-hour time. But he’s unable to make this excellent form count at this year’s world championship, with the event being rescheduled and then cancelled because of the pandemic.
July 2021: A run of success
With racing back on the calendar, Skipper gets to work. First, he ticks off win number 2 at Ironman UK in July; then, as GB’s only male representative, he competes for the victorious Team Europe at the long-awaited Collins Cup; a week later he’s racing Ironman Switzerland where he collects silver; three weeks after that he’s crossing the pond to take on Ironman Chattanooga – he wins.
Joe Skipper in quotes
On his motivation to come second at Ironman Texas in 2015: “Failure to get a result would have meant looking to do something else and would mean lining up at the job centre – not by choice but because I was out of money.”
On his sub-eight-hour Challenge Roth performance in 2016: “It’s something I had wanted to do for a long time, partly because no Brit had achieved it yet and partly because it fascinated me. I just wanted to say that I’d achieved a seven-hour-something Ironman.”
On being an independent sportsman: “I’ve never had any support from a national governing body. I don’t bother with massages or any other kind of physio as I don’t have the budget. And I coach myself – I always have as it doesn’t cost anything.”
What’s next for Joe Skipper?
With his best Kona performance being the sixth place he achieved in 2019, Skipper’s overriding ambition must still be to take the world Ironman title – or at least secure a place on the podium. Now in his mid-30s, the time is now, especially as 2022 offers two cracks at the big one, following the rescheduling of the postponed 2021 race.
However, Skipper has been ruled out of St George due to Covid-19, so all eyes must now be on Kona.
Top image credit: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images for Ironman