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Branson’s team tame London

Sir Richard Branson, JLS and Nell McAndrew – it can only be The Virgin Active London Triathlon

Today’s Virgin Active London Triathlon has been a day for the sprint-distance bridge, Belron (who had over one thousand racing – a record corporate contribution) and the celebs. Stacey Solomon, Mel C, Nell McAndrew, Liz off ‘The Apprentice’… It may not have been a Who’s Who – rather a Who – but it characterises the glitz and glamour Sir Richard Branson brings to an event. (This being the first year Virgin has sponsored the world’s biggest triathlon.)

Ever the swashbuckler, Sir Richard was part of an eclectic relay team that comprised him, Oritse Williams from JLS and Nell McAndrew. They completed the sprint-distance course in 1:39:54 with Williams recording 47:46mins for the bike and McAndrew a lively 19:31mins on the final leg (she told us beforehand of her delight at knocking out a 3:08hrs London Marathon in April).

Brandon, a competitive swimmer as a youth but now 61 years old, recorded a credible 27:05mins, comprising a unique mix of front-crawl, breaststroke and backstroke.

We spoke to Sir Richard before the race…

So, are you honed to perfection for this, your maiden triathlon swim?

Sadly not, though I’ve been swimming off Necker Island quite a bit [Richard’s home and the island he owns in the Caribbean]. I haven’t swum in cold water yet, and I’ve not even swum in my brand-new wetsuit.

You didn’t fancy the bike or run then?

Well, I enjoy swimming but I had an anterior cruciate ligament four months ago from a skiing accident, so swimming seemed to be a sensible compromise.

What are your ambitions for the 750m swim?

I’ve reached an age where if I get round I’ll be happy. My son and daughter are doing all three.

Why did you choose to link up Virgin with triathlon?

We sponsored The London Marathon with Virgin Money and I’d pushed Virgin Active to take that on – we’ve got the largest chain in the country now – so when I heard that triathlon came up, we went for it. Triathlon is a growing sport and it fits well with health club chains.

Do you know much about triathlon? Heard of the Brownlees?

[Pause] I’m going to have to start getting educated on triathlon.

This will act as a gentle warm-up to the Irish Swim, a 56-mile relay that you’re competing in this September?

That really was a stupid thing to agree to [the Irish swim]. It’s 36 hours of swimming and bobbing in a boat. I tried to farm it off on the kids but they wouldn’t have any of it. There are five or six of us relaying [including Ronan Keating] it across the Irish Sea. I think it’ll be one of the most unpleasant 36 hours of my life.

Any more extreme challenges for 2012?

There are two. The first is reaching the five deepest places in the world. We’re building a little sub to go down 36,000 feet. The five include the Mariana Trench in the Pacific and the Porta Rican Trench in the Atlantic… And after that there’ll be the space flights that we’re involved in. The kids will come on that, and they’ll be with me when later in the year we kite surf the English Channel.

Finally, if you could be one sportsman for one day, who would it be?

One sportsman through history? I love the character of Muhammad Ali. I’d like to be him at his peak, though – not with brain damage please.

Profile image of Matt Baird Matt Baird Editor of Cycling Plus magazine


Matt is a regular contributor to 220 Triathlon, having joined the magazine in 2008. He’s raced everything from super-sprint to Ironman, duathlons and off-road triathlons, and can regularly be seen on the roads and trails around Bristol. Matt is the author of Triathlon! from Aurum Press and is now the editor of Cycling Plus magazine.