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Chrissie Wellington - supreme champion athlete

Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington is a phenomenal athlete. On 10 April 2011, she smashed records yet again at the Ironman* South Africa. The three-time Ironman world champion finished more than thirty minutes ahead of the second-placed woman in an extraordinary record-breaking performance. She shattered the Ironman South Africa bike, run and course records, and recorded the fastest time for a woman (8hr 33m 56 sec) in an Ironman race, ever, coming in 8th overall. Her marathon time in the race of 2:52:54 was faster than all of the men. She would have finished the race in first place in 2007.

[ * Ironman: a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim + a 112-mile (180.25 km) ride + a 26.2 miles (42.195 km) run, which is a full marathon. ]

Chrissie is an amazingly successful world-class athlete who is still not as well known in her home country as some other athletes who have been far less successful. Despite having an unsurpassed string of first places in races around the world since 2006, she still remains below the radar for many people in her home country. Nevertheless, she now holds both the course record for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and the world record for Ironman-distance triathlon races. Wellington is one of only three women to have achieved three consecutive victories at the Ironman World Championships. She is the first British athlete to be the Ironman Triathlon World Championship champion, and remains undefeated.

Chrissie was born 18 February 1977 in the UK (Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk). She was good at various sports but showed few signs of the amazing athlete she was to become. She graduated with a first-class honours degree in Geography from Birmingham University in 1998 and then travelled the world for two years. While at university she swam for the university team and was a member of the BRAT Club (Birmingham Running Athletics & Triathlon Club) where she competed in the National Club Relays on two occasions. In 2000, she enrolled on an MA course in development studies at Manchester and graduated with distinction in October 2001. She then joined the UK government body DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to work on international development issues. She worked on issues around sustainable development and post-conflict environmental reconstruction policies.

In September 2004 she took sabbatical leave from DEFRA to work in Nepal for Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN) a Nepalese development NGO (non-governmental organisation). Based in the capital, Kathmandu, she managed a community-led total sanitation scheme in Salvan, a conflict-affected district in the west of the country. While in Nepal she ran and cycled regularly. In February 2006 she entered the Coast-to-Coast, a 243 km, two-day endurance race across the Southern Alps of New Zealand involving running, cycling and kayaking. She finished 2nd in this race, despite having little previous kayaking experience. She returned to the UK in May 2006. She left DEFRA in February 2007 to become a professional triathlete.

Shortly after her return to the UK she won the 2006 Shropshire Olympic Triathlon. This qualified her to enter the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Age Group (Amateur) Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland, a title which she won on 2 September 2006, beating her nearest rival by 4 minutes and 2 seconds.

In mid-July 2007, she entered her first Ironman race. After 10 days of acclimatisation in Thailand, Chrissie won Ironman Korea in very hot conditions, finishing over 50 minutes ahead of the second-placed woman athlete. On 1 August 2007, Wellington took on her toughest challenge to date, the long-distance Alpe d'Huez Triathlon, known for its difficult summer heat, its altitude, and its hard climbs on both the bike and running stages. Despite a puncture and being forced off the road by an oncoming vehicle during a fast descent, she finished 29 minutes ahead of the second-placed woman, in 9th place overall. By winning these races, she earned the right to take part in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in October 2007.

To many people's amazement, she won! As she powered on through the race, the commentators frantically tried to find something to say about this virtually unknown British runner at the front. Chrissie won the Ironman World Championship less than a year after turning professional. It was described as "the biggest upset in Ironman Hawaii history" by one commentator. The British Triathlon Federation described this as "a remarkable feat, deemed to be a near impossible task for any athlete racing as a rookie at their first Ironman World Championships."

In Frankfurt, Germany on 6 July 2008, Wellington recorded the second-fastest time to date by a woman over the Ironman distance to win the Ironman European Championship. In August, she retained her title at the long-distance Alpe d'Huez event, finishing second overall, more than 25 minutes ahead of second-placed woman, and only 1 minute 23 seconds behind the winning man. Two weeks she won the ITU Long-Distance World Championship title. She was more than 17 minutes in front of Denmark's Charlotte Kolters.

In October 2009, Wellington returned to Hawaii to defend her Ironman World Championship title, and won again.

Wellington went on to set a new record for ironman-distance races of 8:31:59 on 12 July 2009 at the Quelle Challenge Roth, beating the course record by 13 minutes and 49 seconds. Commentator Timothy Carlson wrote "Superwoman Chrissie Wellington didn't just break it, she obliterated the ... world record today".

Wellington won the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii for the third time with a new course record of 8:54:02 later in 2009. She finished 19 mins 57 secs ahead of the second-placed woman.

On Saturday 2 January 2010, during an 5-hour training ride in Surrey with her boyfriend and two other friends, Wellington fell from her bicycle when it slipped on black ice. She fractured her right arm and hand. She had to wear a cast on her arm for six weeks. She said later that the crash was a blessing in disguise. It gave her a mental and physical break and enabled her to focus on other areas of improvement such as her strength. She returned to competition on 6 June, when she defended her Ironman triathlon title in Kansas. She won in a time of 4:07:49, more than 16 minutes in front of the second-placed woman.

On 18 July, 2010, she won in Germany in a new iron-distance, world-record time of 8:19:13, improving on her own record by more than 12 minutes.[ She won the final marathon stage in 2:48:54, breaking a record which had stood since 1990. Only three men recorded a faster marathon run, two of whom were less than a minute faster. She beat the second-placed woman by nearly 33 minutes. Her former coach, Brett Sutton, wrote "You have in Chrissie a person of true international sporting excellence who is overshadowed by no one in any other sport."

On the day of the Ironman World Championship, 9 October 2010, she decided not to start the race because of illness, describing it as "the hardest decision of her life to date". Subsequent blood tests, which also included an anti-doping control, showed that she had, or had had recently, bacterial strep throat, bacterial pneumonia and West Nile virus.

Barely a month later, in November, she set a new world record (8:36:13) for an Ironman full-distance event in Tempe, Arizona 8:36:13. She beat the previous course record by 35 minutes, and runner-up woman's time by 29 minutes. Her marathon time was only 4:44 slower than the fastest men's run, and her swim time only 32 seconds slower than the men's winner. Wellington's boyfriend said, "It's a sign of a true champion that she can pick herself up after something as painful as her withdrawal at Hawaii. Six weeks later, all the issues from Hawaii were behind her, and today she was phenomenal". The interviewer commented, "Phenomenal might have been an understatement."

At an awards ceremony on 23 November 2009, Chrissie Wellington was announced winner of the 2009 Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year. She received an MBE for services to Ironman Triathlons in the 2010 Queen's birthday honours. In December 2010, the University of Birmingham awarded her an honorary doctorate "... as a tribute to her work in both her passions: sport and international development."

Chrissie was awarded lifetime membership of the BRAT Club (Birmingham Running Athletics & Triathlon Club) in 2008.

Adapted from Wikipedia April 2011.


 

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