By Paulina Anaya.
Triathlon, the world’s booming, leading sport. What is it? Like the prefix indicates, the sport involves three disciplines: swimming, cycling, and running, all in immediate succession over different distances depending on the category. Ultimately, it has never received as much attention as football or basketball because it is not a team sport. In a triathlon, individuals must swim, cycle, and run against all in the hopes of crossing the finish line, which according to the 2015 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Chicago Junior Men’s (16-19 years) champion, is an “incomparable feeling”.
Despite not garnering an amount of support similar to that of the more popular sports, triathlon offers the same adrenaline as them – times three. Fortunately, I have managed to grab hold of Jorge Alarcon, the Mexican triathlete who won Chicago’s ITU Grand Final Triathlon in 2015 for his category, to fill us in on what being a triathlete really means.
“You’ve got to be crazy to practice this sport!” was his initial lighthearted reaction. Triathlon requires thrice the discipline of any other sport; perseverance, endurance, and patience. The latter being extremely important to Alarcon, “You have got to keep pedalling, you will always eventually reach the top of the slope, and when you do, the way down from there is a breeze”, meaning by this that even the roughest patches eventually come to an end, but while that happens one must focus on reaching their desired goal.
At 17 years old, he is already training seven days a week, sometimes for up to four hours each day. On tough days, his trainer requires him to get up at 4 or 5 AM in order to swim or cycle with his team until around 9 AM when he goes back home to take a shower before heading off to school. In the afternoons, he does whichever he didn’t do in the morning plus, he has to run a certain distance. Although triathlon is not a team sport, it is often trained in teams for the company as well as the friendly competition; Alarcon’s team, Alpha, is considered the best in Mexico.The key to a successful training session, as I understood, lies in challenging the body’s ability to adapt to a constant and significant exertion of energy of different body parts, which is why each session must differ from the previous one.
When I asked him what the hardest part of being a triathlete is, his response surprised me. “Besides everything, everything”, he told me. If you know what the distances for each discipline are, you will understand this. Distance depends on age categories; a professional triathlon, like in the Olympics, has left many unconscious in competitions. Here’s why:
- Swimming: 1.5 km
- Cycling: 40 km
- Running: 10 km
The dangers of the competition, and grand distances, along with the hot humid weather that pertains to the coastal cities that host triathlons often take a toll on one or more triathletes before they reach the finish line. Swimming in open waters is dangerous as it is, being kicked in the face by other swimmers while doing it may be even worse if a triathlete is knocked unconscious. The story of Brownlee triathlete brothers during the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Cozumel, Mexico, was an emotional one.
Jonathan Brownlee, the British triathlete who was competing for the world title against Mario Mola from Spain, was under pressure; he had to win first place in order to be named world champion, but if he didn’t, and Mario Mola came in anywhere within the top five places, the latter would receive the title because of his accumulation of points throughout a series of triathlons leading up to the Grand Final.
A short distance from the finish line, Jonathan Brownlee suffered from heat stroke, which affected his performance, allowing Henri Schoeman, a South African triathlete, to get ahead of him. With Jonathan about to faint, Alistair Brownlee quickly closed in and helped his brother to the finish line in the hope of eliminating Mario Mola’s chance at being named world champion. It was the apogee of the Grand Final, touching all those who watched the dramatic moment. Right before crossing the finish line, Alistair pushed his brother over, leaving Jonathan in second place and himself in third. Shortly after, Jonathan received medical attention. Unfortunately, not even Alistair’s timely appearance to rescue his brother in the competition was enough to prevent Mola from winning the world title. After Schoeman and the Brownlee brothers, Richard Murray from South Africa came in fourth, and Mario Mola – to Jonathan’s disgrace, fifth. Even coming in fifth, Mola’s sum of points throughout the season was higher than that of Jonathan’s, consequently making him world champion.
In recent years, it has had growing popularity, although meager are those who remain in it for long. It is a sport of great sacrifice and mental strength. However, even greater than the stress that derives from it is the sensation of pride, Alarcon describes, “After training, I feel extremely exhausted but also happy to have successfully completed the session”. Triathlon builds attitude, something the Brownlee brothers displayed in Cozumel, as well as something Alarcon has. According to him, one of the things he enjoys most about triathlon is getting the chance to excel in all three disciplines that compose it; he likes feeling the water, pulling as much of it as possible and getting exceptional times while swimming; what he likes about cycling is feeling the wind against him, and changing velocities; and feels strong while running when he knows he is going at a good pace.
The Mexican triathlete’s future looks promising, so far having won more triathlons than he could recall when I asked him. Like any sportsman, the greatest honor is to be recognized for hard effort and dedication and attend a competition of substantial importance. For Jorge Alarcon, that dream happens to be the Olympics. With the Olympics happening every four years, and his career just beginning as one of the world’s best triathletes, things are looking sunny for him to attend the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The secret to succeeding, as he taught me, is to love what you love and fight for it every day, and that way, the reward will be that much more satisfying. I wish him the best of luck and will be looking forward to seeing him in the Olympics in the future, and all the other triathletes out there who give their best every day in order to succeed at what they do.