x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Al Sultan prepares to defend title

Triathlon's unglamourous standing in world sport is such that triathletes suffer the ignominy of being classed as fitness experts, as opposed to reputable sportsmen.

Triathlon's unglamourous standing in world sport is such that triathletes suffer the ignominy of being classed as fitness experts, as opposed to reputable sportsmen. Indeed, a triathlon comprises swimming, cycling and running, and yet triathletes' unfashionable endeavours are at odds with the global glory bestowed on stars from other individual disciplines.

Ask a person on the street to name a swimmer, cyclist or long distance runner and Michael Phelps, Haile Gebrselassie and Lance Armstrong will be the probable answers. Ask them to name a famous triathlete and silence is the likely response. With triathlon's derisory standing in mind, it is understandable why even hard-core sports observers struggle to define a "megathlon". However, the Megathlon Bodensee - Germany's premier multi-discipline event - attracted 2,500 competitors this past weekend. It is a key date on Germany's extensive endurance sports calendar, and - as such - was deemed important enough for a Team Abu Dhabi Triathlon quintet to break their intensive training programmes and take part.

Tasked with one discipline each, the UAE capital's five-some completed the 2.5km swim, 25km inline skating, 66km road cycling, 38km mountain biking and 10.5km running legs in 4hours, 48mins and 58secs - only 47secs behind "Chain Reaction", the mixed team category winners. But despite finishing second, even captain Faris al Sultan was not overly excited. "It was more of a promotional race. Our wetsuit and goggle sponsors asked us to take part, but none of the team were at peak fitness in terms of race preparation," he said.

Then why do it, one might ask. "August brings the team's final major events before October's world championships in Hawaii," said al Sultan, adding: "Four of us, including me, have Ironman 70.3 Germany in two weeks, and others team members will cross the Atlantic to contest Ironman Canada and Ironman Kentucky in four weeks." Hawaii is triathlon's pinnacle. It is covered worldwide on satellite television and provides its participants with one annual opportunity to match their single discipline rivals in terms of international recognition.

"The Ironman 70.3 Germany is an official World Triathlon Co-operation event and it is serious. I am the defending champion and I hope to get close to top spot again, but I won't sacrifice my Hawaii training to peak for it," said al Sultan - the 2005 world champion. The half German, half Iraqi admitted he faces a tough task in Weisbaden on August 16, fingering Michael Raelert and Sebastien Kienle as top contenders.

"Michael is a very good short course racer and has won Schliersee [a classic German half-triathlon] twice, while Sebastien is a young rookie who has developed into a very strong 70.3 athlete. It will be tough but with luck I'll win again," said al Sultan. World-class triathletes can only tackle three triathlons a year, such is the degree of muscle destruction and physical fatigue a race brings. The shorter 70.3 races - exactly half a full triathlon event - offer less arduous opportunities to fine-tune and monitor fitness development.

Megathlons? They are just for fun. @Email:emegson@thenational.ae