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Michellie Jones Interview

Here's the full interview with Michellie Jones that we featured in International News in issue 271

220: Hi Michellie, can you tell us why you’re over in the UK at the moment?

Michellie Jones: I’m just here for the bike show – the London Cycle show – with ISM Saddles. We actually uh… have you ever heard of the Ragner Relay? [220: vaguely, yeah]. We well had a team that went down and did that in the Florida Keys, so we did that Friday, Saturday, Sunday and the flew here Tuesday, so it’s been a fun week so far.

You must be worn out after all that!

I know! I only ran like 24-miles, but my legs are a little beat up still.

In terms of racing this year, what are your plans?

I’m trying to work out my schedule. Last year was going to be my last year, but I got injured in a car accident. I’d like to do a couple of fun races, I’d definitely like to do some races that I’ve done in the past and I really enjoyed and then, just trying to work that in with my work commitments, as I also work for ISM doing all their athlete sponsorship and then I worked for Ironman Live – on the broadcast stuff last year – so it would be nice to do more of that. And I’m expending my coaching business, also. So I’ve got plenty of fun things on the horizon.

Okay, so moving on to the Olympics – how exciting did you find it to be involved in the first ever Olympic triathlon at Sydney, 2000?

To have the Olympics in your home country just makes it even more special. Like, to be in the Olympics is really special, but then to have the chance to race in front of your hometown/home country – for a lot of the athletes it’s their friends and family that would never have seen them at another Olympics. And that’s what makes it so special – when you get to host a games.

Did you feel like there was a burden of expectation on your shoulders, being a home athlete?

No, I tried – and I think I’d recommend this to anyone who’s doing a high-profile event – to keep the same sort of routine as I would before any other race. So it wasn’t anything different to what I was used to doing even though there was extra security etc, so I didn’t put any extra pressure on myself.

That was going to be the next question! About whether you have any advice on how to deal with the expectation and media coverage for the Brit athletes this year…

Yeah, and you guys have like a huge expectation because you did so well at the test event so that definitely puts a lot of pressure on everyone. The bottom line is, the Olympics comes every 4 years, so you throw that in, plus the fact that triathlon is very dynamic and anything could happen on any given day – there’s no guarantee. It’s not like you can go out and run your fastest possible time – If you could, then you’d just do that. But there’s all sorts of things that play against you in an Olympic triathlon field; the field’s smaller, nobody really knows who’s gonna be towing the line, as a lot of teams at this point, haven’t been selected so that can change the dynamics of the race a bit. There’s always that little extra pressure because it is the Olympic games and it’s a very emotional experience and a lot of athletes will be surprised and caught by that.

Even though the Brownlees and Javier Gomez have shown consistency over the last few seasons, the Olympics tends to be different because it’s just that one-off race – look at Devan Docherty and Simon Whitfield…

Yeah, and experience definitely helps, there’s no doubt about it. This is going to be the third time that triathlon’s in the Olympics if you’ve done it before you know what the expectation’s going to be and what it feels like. For someone who hasn’t been in that, even though I say ‘just keep it like it’s always been’ you still know it’s different, you know it’s bigger. It’s important to have a pre-determined plan and try to make it like you’ve done before.

Do you see anybody in the men’s or women’s events that you think could upset the odds? Obviously taking into account that the teams haven’t been finalised yet.

I know! I asked this question all the time, about who I think’s gonna win, or who I think can cause an upset! Definitely we know who the favourites are, and they have UK beside their names! So definitely you guys have a lot of pressure that way. It’s hard because, really, an off-season can change an athlete so much – so until people start racing, we’re not gonna know who the surprise horses could be. Wait to see who is in form, and then see who can hold that form. I definitely think there will be some surprises early in the season because of the fact that the off-season can bring so many things.

Look at last season, someone like Emma Snowshill didn’t have the greatest year and now we all wonder if she’s gonna turn it around for the Olympic year. She knows how it’s done, she knows how to win a gold medal, and some people may start counting her out but she may surprise a few people and go ‘you know what. I’m a champion and this is why I’m a champion.’

They had an interview with Simon Lessing on the BBC website recently where he was talking about the thing that noticed is how people, in that one Olympic race, can put in a performance that they’d never be able to replicate under other circumstances…

Yeah, that’s the dynamics of the Olympic Games, and of triathlon; that you’ll have someone who really rises to the occasion and you’re like ‘wow, where did that come from?!’ But, you know, you only have to get it right on that one day but you can also get it wrong on that one day.

What’s the feeling in Australia with regards to the Aussie team? Are you guys confident?

You know, it’s funny, cos I get asked a lot about Chris McCormack – what I think his chances are, and I sort of have like two different views on it. I know that Chris McCormack is one of the most talented athletes; I’ve trained with him, I’ve seen what he can do – he is very talented. But, I look at it and I go, okay, he didn’t make the team in 2000 so if he makes the team in 2012 do we look at it and go: has Australia really not brought along the talent for the last few years? You can look at it in that direction and you can look at it as; is Chris McCormack really a faster athlete than he was back in 2000? I would say I don’t think he is, and I know that the talent in triathlon has improved significantly since 2000, so it’s like, he’s a great athlete, but should Australia turn around and go ‘oh my goodness, why haven’t we produced better, consistent athletes over a long period of time?’

Do you think it’s more difficult for him, going from long-distance back to Olympic distance than it would have been the other way around?

You know, it’s hard both ways because you have to give up so much of who you are as a short course athlete to go and do an Ironman race. Ironman racing, and I think every discipline of triathlon is getting very, very competitive, and you have to choose what you want to do – it’s only a very small amount of people that can do both. It’s easier for Olympic athletes to go up to 70.3, than to go up to Ironman racing because it’s a totally different mindset and totally different training, so for somebody to come back who has been a strong, dominant athlete to go to someone who’s super quick and fast on the run – you need to be a good swimmer, but you need to be a really good runner because there’s a lot of guys who can run really good times out there.

What did you find were the biggest things you had to overcome when you made the transition from Olympic distance to Ironman?

The fact that I had to slow down a little! And I had to get stronger on the bike, I had to get in the gym and get stronger, that’s something that Craig Alexander did this year as well – he got in the gym and you definitely saw that on the bike [at Kona]. It’s very different because for short course you have to get out and do intervals twice a week, it’s very fast and furious, whereas Ironman, you still have to have some speed but it’s a different type of speed and you need a lot of strength.

Over the time that you’ve been competing, what are the major changes that you’ve seen in triathlon?

There’s been a huge amount of the years. It’s interesting because sometimes you see the men’s triathlon developing faster than the women’s and sometimes it’s the other way around. I definitely think the women have made huge inroads in short course as well as long – if you look at the times you’re like ‘oh my goodness’, the women are getting closer and closer to cutting those minutes down on the men – I’ve definitely seen that. Particularly with someone like Chrissie Wellington, she changed the dynamics of Ironman and I think that’s good because we’ve seen so many women go under nine hours, which is great. And then you have someone like Emma Snowshill, who came in and it became ‘you’ve gotta run this time for a 10km otherwise you’re not competitive’, and so you’ve seen a bunch of girls who are getting themselves to that point where you can run fast. Then in the guys, when you look at Ironman there was always ‘can we run under 2hrs40’, and still the guys haven’t done that yet, but there’s a lot more guys who are consistently in the 2:40-2:50 range and there’s a lot of girls now who have gone under three hours. But then you look at the men’s race – you know, the girls race has always been dominated by really good swimmers – but the men’s race gets dominated by really good runners. Although the women have really good runners, I just think the women’s swim is probably a lot more advanced than the men’s.

So, looking back over your career, do you have a particular moment that you can pick out as your favourite?

[laughs] I have so many! I look back and think ‘man, I was so lucky’. It’s funny because there’s definitely points in my career where I thought that it was an unbelievable achievement – when I won my first World Championship in 1992, and being the first person to defend it in ’93, that was, for me, and amazing performance. And then, to make the Olympics in my home country when Australia dominated the year before at the Worlds, I think we finished with like the top five girls in the women’s top 10, it showed you how competitive the team was, and to walk away with a silver medal was a highlight. And then, to win the Ironman Worlds when I said I never wanted to do an Ironman! It’s like, absolutely amazing. So I look back and think that I could’ve probably been done after my first World Championship and been very happy, and then you get to do the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics and all this other stuff and you think ‘am I getting too greedy here?!’ So I’ve had a great journey and I’m very appreciative of everything that triathlon has given me and continues to give me.

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.