Brad Beven: “Triathlon is a great product that still has places to go”

We chat to the Aussie tri legend about his own heroes of the sport, his racing regrets and why he would love to see a return to Grand Prix-style racing

Brad Beven and Emma Carney on the steps of the Sydney opera house after the win at the 1995 Sydney World Cup

For the latest instalment in our Legends of Tri series, we chat to Australia’s Brad ‘The Croc’ Beven, who dominated the ITU’s World Cup scene in the mid-90s (back when World Cups were the premium ITU series event), and is cited by racing greats Hamish Carter, Simon Whitfield and Courtney Atkinson as their tri hero.

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From October 1993 to July 1997, Beven entered 15 ITU World Cup races and won every single one, leaving a trail of world-beaters in his wake. However, he was forced to abandon racing just before triathlon’s Olympic Games debut at Sydney 2000 after being hit by a car, and has since moved into coaching the next generation of triathletes.

220: What do you rank as your greatest achievement(s) in tri?

Brad: I think it is hard to put down one event to stand out, but my greatest achievement I think would be my longevity in the sport at a high level. As they say it is easy to get to the top but hard to stay there, and I’m not saying I was the top but I was competing at an elite level for a long time. Consistency is tough when there are so many great athletes out there.

Hamish Carter and Simon Whitfield have both cited to us that you are their tri hero of 220‘s lifetime. How does that feel? And who would be your own hero of triathlon?

That means more than any award, however I think the feeling is mutual because of the fact we used to race each other so much and literally go head-to-head. We have had many battles over the time and it is the fellow athletes who have an appreciation of the workload required in training and during the actual race to get to the pointy end of a tri.

Hamish, Simon and I were there at an exciting era for the sport with the Grand Prix style of racing, the introduction of drafting and the opening up of the sport with media becoming more involved. It was at a time when we were all trying to grab a little piece of it each but we were also together getting swept along with the progression of the sport. At the end of the day though it comes down to respecting each other’s ability and sportsmanship, which they had it in buckets. I liked to see them do well as I see them as flying the flag for the old guys of my era. They weren’t ratbags as well so it means a lot coming from them.

Also the character of those two and a lot of the others of that era was something to be admired. We were all in the same arena competing for the same titles, dollars and sponsors but that didn’t get in the way of leaving the rivalry until race day. They were true gentlemen who excelled far beyond where I left off, notably the Olympics. The Olympic gold was something that all of us would have liked and Hamish and Simon got there and that pretty much says it all in terms of their ability.

Any racing regrets that you still think about?

Definitely missing my chance to go to the Olympics, as being an Olympian is something that any layman can respect or equate to, regardless of whether you did well or not, although that is a big part of it – getting a medal. I worked hard at doing well, competing and racing for my country and I thought that was where I was headed and would have stopped at nothing to get there and race well. Circumstances dictated that I didn’t get my shot, and I hear echoes of that movie, “I could have been a contender”.

Seriously I would have loved that experience and to not get it would be my greatest regret. It was also harder to swallow as I was in good shape and it was taken from me not because I didn’t perform on the day. I watched the qualifier from a hospital bed and although I didn’t get there I had to put it in perspective that I came out of a bad situation relatively in one piece even though it stole a fairytale exit from the sport, ending my career in the blink of an eye.

What for you have been the major changes in tri since 1989?

It would have to be the way races are these days, going from the non-drafting to the drafting, weighted or slanted towards the run leg races of today. I am a big advocate of the days of the Grand Prix. Not because I did well at them but that they had such exciting races with more tactics involved. As such I would love to see the Olympic-distance races in the pros for World Cup and Olympics more based on it. That is to say, two continuous back-to-back races of half-Olympic distance.

That way, for example, the runners waiting for the run would have to swim solo (less feet to sit on) and there would be more chances to go for a breakaway. Tactics would be, “Do I wait for the pack or do I go for it?” Looking at the form of the guys going around these days like the Brownlees and Gomez they would still come out on top but it would be interesting to see.

And what would you hope triathlon achieves in its next 25 years?

I think the only thing I hope for it is it continues to hold onto that innovative personality it is renowned for, and not get complacent with its place in the world order of sport. It is a great product that still has places to go.

It must promote all abilities, and I hope it continues to open its stage to even more corners of the world. It wasn’t that long ago that not even the word triathlon was something that lay people would acknowledge they had heard of, but these days it is very mainstream.

Also the “type-A” triathlete – although generally a type-A alpha, training-obsessed techno junkie – is triathlon’s greatest asset. It never ceases to amaze me the people that are attracted to the sport in my role as a coach and an observer. Let hope this continues.

(Main image: ITU)

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For more on Brad pick up the latest issue of 220 Triathlon magazine, on sale now