By Greg Hopkins
Bermuda Triathlon Association got more than they bargained for when they invited top Australian professional triathlete Greg Bennett to be the guest speaker at their annual awards dinner at the Fairmont Southampton Princess on Saturday evening.
They got his wife, American Laura Bennett, too.
And Reback just just happens to be one of the top women triathletes in the world, thereby justifying their reputation as the fastest couple on the ITU (International Triathlon Union) World Cup circuit.
The two athletes, who begin their 2005 campaign in Honduras this weekend, shared much of their knowledge and experience with local triathletes during the two days they were on the Island.
They ran clinics for a large group of juniors on Saturday morning at Southside and then for seniors in the afternoon, before attending to their more formal duties at the evenings prizegiving, where they showed videos, discussed their careers and opened up the floor to a question and answer session.
No stranger to the Island, Bennett, who competed in the Bermuda ITU races in 1996 and 1997, was full of praise for the enthusiasm of local athletes and organisers.
It was unreal, there were just so many kids down at the clinic in the morning and then later the adults, he said. The kids just looked so fit and healthy, its such an amazing environment here.
Laura and I looked at each other and said, hey maybe this is where we should end up.
Whats going on here in Bermuda, the outdoor life, the sports the kids are involved in, not just triathlon and cycling but all sports . . . its fantastic. They were just running around laughing all morning and they have such good people taking care of them.
Its very important to keep it fun, especially for the young kids. They shouldnt be taking it too seriously too soon. Give them a BMX and tell them to go and do some jumps, and have fun with a lot of different sports, there is plenty of time to get into it more seriously later.
Taking things seriously, however, is just what Bennett and Reback have been doing for some years, with Bennett competing in the last 10 world championships, finishing in the top ten four times.
Hes also won numerous World Cup races and was the leader in the ITU points series from mid 2002 to mid 2004.
One of the fastest runners in the sport, he thrilled spectators in Athens in last years Olympic Games when, coming off the bike in midfield, he reeled in all but the top three finishers to take fourth overall.
While some might say thats the worst position to finish in an Olympic final, the personable Bennett was quick to give credit to those ahead of him. I was injured for a while in the lead-up to the Games and only got eight good weeks of preparation when really I needed 12. So to finish fourth was very satisfying.
I told a major Australian media station I wanted to give a performance that would be exciting, and I think I did that. The three guys ahead of me deserved their medals, they were the best on the day.
Reback, who also held the top ranking in the ITU, has an impressive record in world championships, having finished seventh in Cancun in 2002, second in Queenstown in 2003 and third in Madeira in 2004.
It is such a tough sport with all the demands of travel and I think had I not met Greg I would have probably quit the sport in 2000, she said.
It is so hard on your own. I have been doing this for so long now that a time comes when you need stability, and the two of us together has given us that. We both know what each other is going through and so it makes it easier in many ways.
The couple make no secret that it is a shared dream to become the first married couple to win the world championships which will be staged in Japan this year. But Bennett is more interested in their staying at the top of the sport on a consistent basis than on any one individual performance and cites Russian pole vaulter Sergei Bubka as his sporting hero, emphasising the point that Bubka was at the top of his sport for so long and was so dominant.
Athletes can have a great performance on a given day, but to be consistently at the top of your sport like he was for so many years is to me what it is all about, said Bennett.
The pair hope to visit Bermuda again and have been brainstorming ideas with Triathlon Association president Steven Petty to try and bring a top professional event to the Island.
Meanwhile, award winners on Saturday night for the 2004 season were:
Most Improved Triathletes Matthew Godfrey and Carolyn Conway
Special Achievement Awards Lynn Patchett and Evan Naude
Club Person of the Year Neil DeSte Croix
Long Service Award AON Reinsurance
Best New Triathletes Craig and Rachel Rothwell
Junior Triathletes of the Year Coyatito Smith and Flora Duffy
Triathletes of the Year Tyler Butterfield and Karen Smith