In his latest column for Triathlon Plus magazine, Steve Trew says it’s time to make a change and tip from mediocre to mind-blowing What’s the trigger that says: “That’s it, I can’t go on like this any more!”? That tipping point for 1972 Olympic 1500m champion, Pekka Vasala (Finland), came around three years earlier. Vasala had finished a distant 41st in the ’68 Games in Mexico, not even getting through the first round of the 1500 metres heats. Vasala was in the middle of that great Finnish running supremacy of the early 70s; Viren, Vaatanen, et al, and he felt that he wasn’t getting what he deserved in races. It took just a few hard words from legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard: “you’re not training hard enough!”
Vasala took note, doubled his training load and added in specifics – including vast amounts of hill training. And that was it; from a ‘good’ international standard runner, Vasala stole the Olympic Gold medal from all-time great Kip Keino (Kenya) and Rod Dixon (NZ). Sometimes the tipping point is as simple as that; why aren’t I getting the results I think I deserve? Answer: you’re not putting in the work.
Stupidity and shame
If stupidity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’, there are a significant number of triathletes who are stupid. The training stays the same, the results stay the same, and the question stays the same: “Why?”. But how many triathletes do take notice and change their training dynamics? It’s amazing that poor triathlon swimmers ignore their weaknesses in that area and allocate time to their best disciplines. Remember the old maxim: ‘Race to your strengths, train to your weaknesses’.
Where is the tipping point that will persuade us to invest in our weak area? The humiliation of being completely dropped by the swim pack and entering transition in splendid isolation? For some, that’s what it requires. Sometimes it’s necessary to be completely out of that comfort zone before the kick up the backside reaches and hurts us. That’s the tipping point.
Only two Olympic Golds!
For Mark Spitz (USA), one of the greatest swimmers of all time, his tipping point, like Vasala, came at the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City. Spitz was expected to take six Gold medals at the Games. However, he took only two in both freestyle relay events. Being beaten by fellow American Doug Russell in the 100m butterfly meant Spitz was dropped from the medley relay. Only two Gold medals at the Olympic Games! That was Mark Spitz’s tipping point. Back in the USA, Spitz chose to go to Indiana University where he could train under Doc Counsilman (who had been USA coach at Mexico). The rest is legend: seven Golds and seven World records in 1972.
In the 1995 Triathlon World Champs in Cancun, Mexico, young Canadian Simon Whitfield finished in 10th place. In the juniors. Good? Certainly, but not enough to anticipate that a good junior would win the Olympic Games five years ahead. And yet Simon had that belief. Simon’s tipping point came when he was just 17, living in Australia and training with Greg Bennett. “He was an inspiration to me, I learned so much from him. I always wanted to be the best in the world at something”.
After Cancun in ’95, Simon was on a mission; he asked questions, he trained where he could get the best advice and best improvements. Well-planned races, victories over top athletes in those races, making top ten at senior Worlds. The signs were there, but no one thought Simon could win the Olympics, except Simon. Going into the run Simon was a minute down, but he kept on plugging, even when he was behind Stefan Vuckovic (Germany) with just 100 metres to go. But that wasn’t the tipping point. The tipping point was all those years earlier when he wanted to be the best in the world. The Olympic victory was just the fruition of that
And for us?
It’s our decision guys; what’s that single thing so important that it makes us change our attitude, hopes, lifestyle, and training patterns? Shame? A realisation of stupidity? Or a self-belief that, yes, if I make changes, I really can do it! What and where is your tipping point?
Steve Trew is a coach, commentator, Triathlon Plus columnist and Speedo ambassador. Steve’s tipping point often occurs in the late evenings, it’s almost certainly the weight of the wine and not the alcoholic content that makes him start tipping… allegedly.