Up close with triathlon legend John Hellemans

When legendary coach Brett Sutton looks up to him as a pioneer, you know John Hellemans is a man worth listening to...


As a young sport with an adventurous nature, triathlon produces its fair share of characters, but when legendary coach Brett Sutton looks up to him as a pioneer, you know this is a man worth listening to.


Simply put, few people on the planet know more about triathlon than the adopted Kiwi John Hellemans.

A forefather of modern training techniques and one of the greatest thinkers the sport has known, Hellemans reveals rare insights from 30 years of experience as the latest star to be interviewed on the Thanyapura Legends of Triathlon podcast.

Raised in Holland and brought up with a swimming background, Hellemans thought his competitive sporting career was over before he moved to the southern hemisphere and stumbled on triathlon in 1983.

Immediately, both his talent and visionary thinking shone through as he won his first competitive event with ease after focused preparation on all three disciplines, swimming, biking and running, gave him the edge.

As with so much of what Hellemans has achieved, what seems obvious now was revolutionary at the time.

That experience lit the fuse and despite practising medicine and with a young family to support, Hellemans was captivated by the sport

He soon found himself winning event after event alongside female elite Erin Baker, who would go on to twice claim the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and had an appetite for triathlon to match Hellemans.

The two struck an instant rapport and became their own devoted lab rats as they introduced new training methods, including punishing brick sessions to see how far the body could be pushed and how long it would take to recover.

The Christchurch resident was also the brainchild of the New Zealand Triathlon Academy, set up to assist the professional development of Kiwi elites as triathlon readied itself for its Olympic bow in Sydney 2000.

Four years later that infrastructure would lead to gold and silver in the Games, as Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty ran to a one-two finish in Athens.

Yet despite often racing at the highest level, Hellemans focus has never been purely on the elite.

He has gone on to coach hundreds of triathletes from first-timers to world and Olympic champions, always innovating to find the winning formula and documenting the methods in training guides, making him a successful author in the process.

From experiments with altitude training to adapting his nutrition to even wearing women’s swimming togs (pinched from Erin Baker to improve his transition time), Hellemans continued to improvise.

Now approaching his sixtieth birthday his passion for triathlon remains undiminished.

Still competing, he took the last of an impressive eight age-group world titles last year in Auckland and will head to Hawaii this October for his first stab at conquering the challenges of the Big Island.

His controversial views on the sport still challenge conventional wisdom; among them his contention that Ironman should become draft legal and even that the birthplace of the sport was not really in San Diego at all.

Hellemans may not always be first to take the finish tape any more, but when it comes to fresh thinking on the sport, he is still rarely beaten.

To hear more, listen to the full Thanyapura Legends of Triathlon interview by visiting www.legendsoftriathlon.com or download the podcast via I-Tunes


Victories fade, legends don’t. The Thanyapura Legends of Triathlon podcast is a monthly brought to triathlon fans by John Newsom and Bevan James Eyles.


Legends already interviewed include Mark Allen, Greg Welch, Mike Pigg, Scott Tinley, Erin Baker, Karen Smyers, Scott Molina, Simon Whitfield and Spencer Smith.