Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Instinctively Synchronised

Saunas, ego and nurturing personal instinct

When does education stop?

This was the title of a stirring essay by the late James A. Michener, a highly acclaimed author of family saga novels with historical and geographical themes. I've got a printed out copy of Mr. Michener’s piece at home and have re-read it many times. I must admit to a feeling of intense motivation each time I read the essay, although I’m not always sure exactly what I’m motivated for. One thing I do know is that writings like these have led to a constantly evolving personal perspective of many things over the years as well as an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

A famous former Le Tour winner once related how he loved testing his limits. In an attempt to understand his own physiology as well as the equipment he had at his disposal, the rider in question referenced such seemingly mundane examples as seeing how far a seat pin could be tightened until the thread stripped to observing his how his sleep patterns evolved through intended bouts of over training. One of his contemporaries even gauged his personal physical “hardness” by seeing how long he could stay in a sauna at pre-Grand Tour training camps!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Rockley Montgomery: Rock of Ages

Gees, vasbyt and sprint finishes in Sun City

For those triathletes around in the 1980s, Rockley Montogmery was synonymous with South Africa's flagship triathlon of the time. With a strong canoeing culture, the nationally televised Leppin Ironman tested athletes across the disciplines of canoeing, cycling and running.

A five-time champion of this event, Germiston-native Montgomery showed his mettle across many a multi-sporting code, with a World Quadrathlon title and victory at the Durban Ultra swim triathlon being but a few of his many dominating victories.

This is his story.

On his entry into the fledgling sport of canoe triathlon:

“Being a frustrated middle-distance track runner that had lost motivation due to not being able to race internationally, I got excited about triathlon, when one Saturday afternoon in early 1986, I was sitting on the balcony of a high-rise flat overlooking the Victoria Lake. Whilst having a beer with Richard Holliday (2nd in the 1987 Iron Man), we witnessed one of the early running’s of a triathlon at Victoria Lake Canoe club. We could not figure out what was going on when we saw canoe’s going around the lake, then cycles leaving the club grounds, then cycles returning, then runners leaving and so on. We went down to the club to find out what this was all about. At the club we bumped into Larry Lombard, a journalist whom I knew from my running days and he filled us in on this new sport that was growing like a wildfire across the country. This was the spark that motivated both Richard and me to go out that very week and buy a bike and a canoe. A few weeks later, I entered my first triathlon race, the VLC champs. I guess the rest is history.”

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mandy Dean: PE's original Ironlady

80's trail-blazing in Europe

In a time when South Africa was still banned from the international sporting arena, a small party of local triathletes made their way to Europe to pursue their dreams of making a living from the sport. ‘Trailblazing’ their way across the continent, this closely-knit group eventually produced two world champions, paving the way for several young South African triathletes to find places in French and German clubs.

One of these hardy individuals was a lady by the name of Mandy Dean, whom most SA triathletes of today would probably have never heard of. A native of Port Elizabeth, Dean pursued a professional triathlon career internationally for over five years, before returning to her home shores. A true pioneer of the sport here in South Africa, Mandy is now a swimming coach in her hometown, providing up and coming youngsters with a platform to develop their skills at an elite level.

“I spent my entire youth swimming up and down a black line” recalls Dean of her formative sporting years. “I was more into the social element, however, and moved into surf lifesaving as I got older.”

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Small Teams Rising

Small teams, low budgets and big hearts

With the international cycling media salivating at the expected General Classification at the 2014 Vuelta a Espana, it is perhaps worth remembering that an entire sub-culture of professional cycling continues, albeit under the radar.

From the windy roads of Belgium to nondescript 1.2 races in France, pro cycling in the lower divisions attracts far less hype than the more mainstream Grand Tours and the like. Even in the United States and Canada, a well-structured and highly competitive racing calendar sees teams big an small duking it out in week-long stage races and one day events.

Michael Creed has experienced both divisions as a rider. A prodigious talent in his junior and under-23 years, the off-beat and quirky American freely admits that he never really lived up to his potential in the pro-ranks. Having ridden for teams like US Postal Service and it's later incarnation as Team Discovery Channel, the irrepressible Creed retired at the end of 2013 after spending several years plying his trade on the US domestic circuit. With chronic injury and fatigue being the contributing factors, he elected to leave the sport on his terms as opposed to being forced out later down the line. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Diversity Par Excellence

Adapting, plotting and swimming to marathon success

Sometimes the shortest of blog pieces are the most informative and this recent post certainly fits that bill. Outlining the pitfalls of being an over-specialized “one trick pony,” the writer goes on to laud those athletes who “are focused on what they can do and optimize those abilities.”

The world of endurance sport is awash with all-rounders, although I sometimes do wonder if the term “all-rounder” is becoming less and less applicable in the seemingly increased specialization of modern athletics at all levels. Why is that? I’m not sure if I have the answer but it does provide some food for thought.

The recent Commonwealth Games and European Athletics Championships have been most entertaining, particularly in the athletics stadium. While I am not partial to track running as a participant, the sheer variety and intensity of the events definitely excites me as an armchair spectator. The decathlon events in particular were most entertaining to watch; well-muscled sprinters hurtling around the track in the 1500m leg of the competition was and is a sight to behold. Decathletes are perhaps the most rounded and versatile athletes around. Take Brian Clay for instance, whose sheer athleticism and adaptability saw him post the highest ever score in NFL fitness testing.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Brian Smith Interview

Of old friends, experience and cultivating belief

With Team MTN-Qhubeka’s maiden Grand Tour voyage just around the corner, both staff and riders are no doubt immersed with final preparations for this historic occasion. While performing well in the Vuelta a Espana is most likely foremost in their immediate thoughts, the management team are already looking towards 2015, intent on bolstering the African squad’s depth and credibility on the greater world stage.

Brian Smith’s appointment as Team MTN-Qhubeka interim general manager last month is therefore quite telling. Tasked with building the team in preparation for next year and beyond, Smith certainly has his work cut out. Attracting marquee riders to a Pro Continental team is but one challenge he faces, not that the term “challenge” has ever deterred the engaging Scotsman in his own eclectic career pursuits.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Ariane Kleinhans Interview

Performance, rest and not setting an alarm clock

It is the penultimate afternoon of the 2014 ABSA Cape Epic. After a week of hard racing and extreme weather, the female riders of Team RECM are salivating at the thought of wrapping up their dominant victory in the world’s premiere mountain bike stage race.

As the sun shines amid a gentle breeze, the tranquility of the afternoon massage treatments is shattered by the squawking of neighbouring birdlife. While this might be pleasurable to some, the riders are a little perturbed by this disturbance, which could affect their planned siesta.

You see, peak performance in any endurance sport is heavily dependent on adequate recovery. While the fans all like to read about reported training volumes and impressive power outputs, rest is perhaps the single most neglected factor in many an athlete’s arsenal.

For Ariane Kleinhans at least, recovery is everything, where adequate sleep is perhaps the most pivotal factor in maintaining her innate athletic ability. Currently back home in Switzerland visiting family and friends as well as fine tuning her preparation for later this season, Ariane graciously agreed to the most insightful of interviews.