Belgian athlete Marten Van Riel is one of the most consistent short-distance performers, with two top 10 Olympic Games finishes to his name and an overall world championship silver in 2021. Bizarrely, he’s yet to register a World Triathlon win, but it can’t be long before Belgium makes its mark…
Who is Marten Van Riel?
At a young age, many future triathletes have sporting glory in their sights; they might just not realise that triathlon is the way to achieve this at the time. Not so Marten Van Riel. As a boy, he fostered ambitions to become a zookeeper.
The animals’ loss was multisport’s gain, as Van Riel progressed to become the foremost Belgian triathlete of current times.
Not that, as he climbed through the ranks, his path was littered with endless age-group titles. He was much less visible than many of his contemporaries, something of an anonymous member of the World Triathlon Series pack.
Then came the August of 2016 when Van Riel found himself, much to his own surprise, on a plane bound for Rio. And at the Olympics, he surprised a great many more people. With only two WTS top-10 finishes at that point, he came sixth in Brazil, truly announcing himself to others, including the imminent world champion Mario Mola whom he beat.
Since then, Van Riel has become one of the more dependable athletes on the circuit, overcoming his weaker swim speed with determined prowess on both the bike and the run.
Although still yet to register that first WTS race win, his consistency not only saw him finish fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, but also rewarded him with overall silver at the end of the 2021 series.
With certain targets remaining unfulfilled, we’re unlikely to see him turn his back on Olympic-distance racing just yet, although his impeccable Ironman 70.3 record – two starts, two wins – hints at further glory to come.
How old is Marten Van Riel?
Marten Van Riel was born on 15 December 1992, making him 29 years of age.
Marten Van Riel’s career highlights
May 2011: A maiden climb onto the podium
On home turf, the 18-year-old Belgian lands on his first podium by taking silver in the junior European Cup race in Zwevegem.
September 2013: Capital gains in London
At the Grand Final in London, Van Riel comes 1oth in the U23 category at his first World Triathlon Series race. Twelve months later, at the Grand Final in Edmonton, he jumps up into the top five.
April 2016: A top-10 placing Down Under
In his third season as an elite athlete, Van Riel belatedly claims his first top-10 WTS finish, coming home eighth on the Gold Coast. A week later, he takes bronze in a World Cup race in Chengdu in China.
August 2016: A Rio revelation
After another top-10 WTS placing, this time in Hamburg, Van Riel surprises many (not least himself) when he takes sixth place at the Rio Olympics.
He finishes ahead of soon-to-be-crowned world champion Mario Mola and the highly rated Australian pair Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie.
August 2017: Double European Cup glory
Van Riel’s season is largely spent in European Cup and World Cup action, with just a single WTS appearance. In the European Cup, he records back-to-back wins in Malmö and on home ground in Wuustwezel. November sees a World Cup victory in Miyazaki in Japan.
June 2018: The ascent continues in Leeds
Back into proper WTS racing, disappointing run-outs in Abu Dhabi and Bermuda are followed by something much better: his first top-five finish in the series, coming fifth in Leeds.
At the end of the month, Van Riel wins the Wuustwezel European Cup race for the second successive year.
August 2018: A first major championship podium
The Belgian takes bronze at the European Championships, forcing Alistair Brownlee out of the medals. Van Riel wins a second bronze the following day in the mixed relay.
July 2019: A WTS top three for the first time
After a series of consistent top-10 finishes on the ITU circuit, Van Riel finally makes a WTS podium for the first time, taking bronze in Edmonton after losing out to Jonny Brownlee and Mario Mola on the run.
November 2019: Awesome half-Iron debut
After a solid WTS season, Van Riel travels to the Chinese port of Xiamen to compete in his first-ever Ironman 70.3. And he does more than compete, winning at the first time of asking, having obliterated the competition on the run.
July 2021: Another commendable Olympic adventure
Having shown fine post-pandemic form by taking third in Leeds, Van Riel travels to Tokyo where he improves on his Rio Olympic experience by pipping 2016 silver medallist Jonny Brownlee to fourth.
In the mixed relay, Team Belgium finish fifth behind the Netherlands team by 2secs.
August 2021: Overall WTS silver
In the Grand Final in Edmonton, after a shorter-than-normal five-race WTS series, one of which is the Olympic event in Tokyo, Van Riel takes second place in a three-way sprint for the line involving Kristian Blummenfelt and Léo Bergere.
However, disappointment about not scooping that first WTS win (he led the race coming out of T2) is partially compensated by him finishing nine places ahead of Alex Yee, allowing him to leapfrog the Brit in the series standings and take overall silver.
March 2022: A second IM 70.3 start, a second IM 70.3 win
Although this season will be a frustrating one for Van Riel thanks to injury, one highlight is competing in his second half-Iron – IM 70.3 Dubai. And he wins again, beating the more experienced Daniel Baekkegard into second and France’s impressive Pierre Le Corre (making his middle-distance debut) into third.
Marten Van Riel in quotes
On his favourite triathlon disciple: “For me, it’s definitely cycling that I love the most. It’s my way of discovering the world.”
On his Olympic ambitions for Paris 2024: “I want to go for it. I’ll be 31 and I have a sixth and a fourth. So I feel like this isn’t the point that I can leave short distance.”
On how seriously he’d take long-course racing once his ITU and Olympic days are done: “I definitely don’t see it as a retirement option.”
What’s next for Marten Van Riel?
After that tighter-than-tight race in Edmonton in 2021, that first WTS win still eludes him and is surely a target that fuels his motivation, as is an Olympic medal of any colour.
Longer-term ambitions include the inevitable move to long-course competition after victories in both Ironman 70.3 races he’s competed in.
Top image credit: Dan Istitene/Getty Images