One of the sport’s true characters, Tim Don has also been one of its most successful athletes in a globetrotting career split between short-course and long-course racing. He’s won four world titles, has competed in three Olympics and once smashed the Ironman world record. He’s an undisputed legend of British triathlon.
Who is Tim Don?
Tim Don has been one of the most colourful, most exuberant elite triathletes over the past 25-odd years. Still competing in his mid-forties, he gave his career a vitamin boost when he moved to long-course racing in 2013, where the Englishman proved as committed and successful an athlete as he had been in his short-course days.
Over that short-course career, Don achieved plenty. He’s a three-time Olympian and, in 2006, he beat all-comers at the world championships in Lausanne, adding the title to the three world crowns he had already secured (junior, duathlon and aquathlon). Don also, briefly, raced in the World Triathlon Series that was introduced in 2009, gaining a podium place in Hamburg in 2010.
When he switched codes, Don proved to be a natural in middle-distance races – and then in full-distance competition too. He registered no fewer than 13 victories in Ironman 70.3 events across the globe, from Boulder to Brasilia, as well as taking bronze twice at the 70.3 worlds.
At full-distance, he won on his debut in Mallorca, but three years later in 2017 came his crowning Ironman achievement when, in Brazil, he knocked a full four minutes off the existing world record.
Don looked to be the favourite going into Kona that year, but an horrific traffic accident left him with a very serious neck injury that removed him from competition for nine months. Ever the give-100-per-cent competitor, Don returned to win Ironman 70.3 Costa Rica the following year.
How old is Tim Don?
Tim Don was born on 14 January 1978, making him 44 years old.
Tim Don’s career highlights
August 1998: World-beating junior leads the pack
In Lausanne, 20-year-old Don takes the first of his four world titles when he comfortably captures the world junior crown.
September 2000: Don’s first adventure as an Olympian
Triathlon makes its first-ever appearance in the Olympics and, in the opening race in Sydney, Don makes the top 10, finishing just behind his ninth-placed compatriot Simon Lessing.
October 2002: A Georgia peach of a performance for first elite world crown
In Alpharetta on the outskirts of Atlanta, Don takes his second world title, when he beats Australia’s Greg Bennett by a single second at the ITU duathlon world championship, becoming the competition’s first British winner.
April 2003: Don rushes to his maiden World Cup win in the States
The first of many Don victories on the ITU World Cup circuit is achieved in St Petersburg, Florida.
May 2004: Edging closer to that world triathlon title
On the Portuguese island of Madeira, Don just misses out on a medal at the ITU world championships as Australia’s Bevan Docherty stands atop the podium.
At the Athens Olympics three months later, Don finishes in a disappointing 18th place.
September 2005: Don goes big in Japan
A third world title is won at the ITU aquathlon world championships in the Japansese city of Gamagõri.
September 2006: Don climbs to the top of the triathlon world
And here comes world title number four – and it’s the big one. Still in the days when a single race decided the ITU triathlon world championships, Don takes victory in Lausanne, and it’s an impressive one after he missed a break during the bike leg and had to close the deficit riding solo. Plus, the Jason King-style moustache he was sporting at the time must have added unnecessary drag.
The following month, though, the new world champ is banned for three months for missing three out-of-race drug tests. A joint statement from an independent tribunal and the then British Triathlon Association attributed his mistake to “a combination of forgetfulness and a lack of understanding of the new [testing] system”.
August 2008: DNF at final Olympics outing
The three-month ban also stipulated that Don would be banned from competing in any future Olympic Games, but he was cleared by the British Olympic Association after appealing in 2007. At the Beijing Games, a pre-race illness results in a DNF as officials pull him out for being too far behind on the bike leg.
July 2010: Don’s first – and only – podium in new world series
With the world championships now a season-long series, Don scores his first podium finish of this new WTS competition when he finishes third in Hamburg.
August 2010: No gold for Don as Brownlee the younger takes world title
Don just misses out on his fifth world title when, back on his happy hunting-ground of Lausanne, he comes second in the ITU sprint triathlon world championships. The winner is 20-year-old Jonny Brownlee, 12 years Don’s junior.
September 2013: Don leaves short-course racing to go longer
After failing to qualify for the GB team at the London Olympics the previous year, Don switches to middle-distance racing. Although he fails to finish at the Ironman 70.3 world championships, he wins Ironman 70.3 Augusta later that month. The next chapter has opened.
September 2014: Podium finish at the 70.3 worlds
September 2014: Commanding win on Ironman debut
Later that month, Don makes his full-distance entrance at Ironman Mallorca – and it’s something of a dream debut as he wins by four clear minutes.
October 2015: Makes his Hawaiian debut
May 2017: Don shatters full-distance world record
At Ironman South America in the Brazilian city of Florianopolis, Don absolutely smashes Lionel Sanders’ world record time. At 7:40:23, he comes home more than four minutes inside the Canadian’s previous best.
September 2017: A second bronze at the middle-distance worlds
After middle-distance wins this year in Campeche, Liuzhou, San Gil and Boulder, Don finishes third at the Ironman 70.3 world champs behind Gomez and Ben Kanute.
June 2018: Brave return after nightmare road smash
Don’s latest Ironman 70.3 win, this time in Costa Rica, is particularly notable. It comes nine months after he was hit by a truck while out bike training two days before the Ironman worlds in Kona, resulting in broken vertebrae in his neck. That October, a year and three days after the accident, Don competes in – and completes – the 2018 Ironman world championships.
Tim Don in quotes
On his three-month ban for missing drugs tests in 2006: “I have never taken, or even considered taking, a performance-enhancing drug in my life. And I am absolutely devastated to receive a suspension for contravening anti-doping regulations.
“I fully understand that it is my responsibility as a professional athlete to log my whereabouts on the UK Sport system and accept that it is due to my forgetfulness and lack of understanding of the online system following its launch last year that I have received this ban.
“However, I am a clean athlete who has been tested for drugs on nine separate occasions this year with no adverse findings, and the tribunal and British Triathlon acknowledge there is no way I was deliberately trying to miss a test.
“On two occasions I was travelling overseas to represent Britain in international competition and failed to amend my location details. On the third occasion I went to an athletics competition in Loughborough which ran late. I arrived back home later than intended and minutes after the one-hour window that is given for testing had expired.”
On triathlon’s rise in profile during the course of his triathlon career: “My daughter is 11 and when we lived in America, we were already doing triathlons. When I was at school, my PE teachers genuinely didn’t know what triathlon was.”
On moving up to long-distance racing in 2013: “They don’t call it ‘Ironman’ for nothing. You almost have to be Tony Stark and create a superhero suit in order to compete professionally in these races.”
On wearing a halo device after breaking vertebrae in his neck on the eve of the Ironman world championships in 2017: “They get four titanium screws and a torque wrench and tighten them into your skull with just a local anaesthetic. Every time a screw comes loose, they screw it deeper into your skull. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.”
What’s next for Tim Don?
Now in his mid-forties, Don continues to occasionally race. Now, though, his main focus is on coaching, transferring the wisdom gained throughout that long triathlon career to athletes such as Emma Pallant-Browne.
Top image: Donald Miralle/Getty Images