Olympic Odyssey: Petzold power

Olympic Odyssey: Petzold power

By ITU Admin on 20/05/08 at 12:00 am

Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes eyes

An injury on the run course at his home countrys World Championships in Hamburg last year threw Maik Petzolds Beijing selection campaign into disarray, but fortunately for him, there is still one more place on the German Olympic team this weekend in Madrid.

Maik Petzold has triathlon in his bones. Following in the well-heeled footsteps of his father Reinhard, how could he not?

In his athlete biography, Maik lists Reinhard as his sporting hero. This influence, from one of the pioneers of German triathlon, accounts for the classy competitor Maik is and reveals why he sports the biggest smile on the BG Triathlon World Cup tour.

Maik, 30, started triathlon way back in 1990. His father was his first coach and as coaches go, he couldnt have had one more experienced. Reinhard won the first triathlon contested in East Germany, a race which ran against the will of the isolationist authorities.

He did the first triathlon in Germany in 84, Maik said proudly of his fathers history. He read about it and said, What is a triathlon? Nobody knew what a triathlon was. But the notice said, Swimming, biking and running. My father he did swimming and he rode to work, so he said, Yes, I will to that.

So he turned up to the race with a friend and the police were there and they forbade it. They said it was from the USA, and asked for the organiser.  Then they took the organiser to the police station. So the athletes said, Ok, well just do a training session, not the official race. And the police could not do anything about it.

This decree could not quell the enthusiasm of these new triathlon nutters and their appetite could not be sated by training alone, they had to race.  A few months later they gave triathlon a new name and held their first official event.

They said, Well call it Ausdauer Drei Kampf, which means Endurance Three Fighting, instead of triathlon, Maik said. They gave it another name and it was accepted by the system. And my Dad won the first official one in East Germany. After that they organised more triathlons and my Dad did more and more of them.

This obviously provided the impetus for Maiks own desire to get involved in the sport of triathlon.

We were always around triathlon, me, my sister and mother, he said. So I was pretty excited to do my first one. It was 1990, the wall was coming down and I got tenth. I was 12 years old, one of the youngest in the field. Then it started slowly, with state, national and then international races. My first triathlon outside of Germany was the European Champs in Hungary in 1994.

As his sons skill grew, Reinhard constantly passed along advice he had gathered as a competitor in the new sport of triathlon; advice about the unique demands of the sport only a true competitor would know.

Thats what my Dad taught me, never to overtrain and to always have a good body feeling, Maik said. He is so relaxed. He taught me to do less training, the best I could do. Not to train too many times on your limit, which is good for your mind, so you dont burn out so quickly.

Maik used this wisdom to steadily become one of the best athletes in Germany. He placed fifth at the European Championships as far back as 2000 and placed fourth at the Lausanne World Cup in 2001.

But it was his win at the Salford World Cup in 2004 that propelled him into the top echelon of the sport. All was looking good for the Olympics one month later in Athens, but the intense atmosphere left him flat on race day, finishing 19th.

At Athens, I was not really confident, he said. Everything was new and there was a lot of extra stress. I couldnt really enjoy it before the race because I put too much pressure on myself. It would be different for me now. I know how to handle that situation and for most athletes who went to Athens it would be the same.

Having learnt from this experience Maik went into his countrys Hamburg selection race with high hopes. His father had raced earlier placing sixth in the 55-59 age-group but an injury during the run would spoil Maiks race. As he misfired, Daniel Unger and Jan Frodeno stormed into the German Olympic team with first and fifth places respectively.

It was pretty strange, said Maik. I have never had problems like this. I felt in the run after about one kilometer that my calf muscle was hurting. And after four kilometers I got some cramping and thought I could still finish, so I did another three kilometers at high speed with Bevan [Docherty] to try to get back to the first pack. But then it cramped worse and I couldnt run anymore.

This was at seven kilometers with only about ten minutes to run. I was pretty disappointed because I was probably a hundred meters behind and could see the leaders. I thought I had a good chance to finish in the top ten which was not enough to qualify but enough for my confidence.

Maik had been dealt a rough hand.  He won the Geneva European Cup race only two weeks before and looked set to present this form again in Hamburg.  It must have been tough in front of a home crowd.

I wouldnt care if I only got into the top ten, he said. But the experience of not finishing was hard. All the people around were saying, Go, go, go, that was the worst thing. After the race I had to go out, I couldnt stand to stay in the hotel. So I went out with my girlfriend and some friends and we had a good time.

It is in these situations that Maiks healthy sporting attitude and optimistic persona come to the fore.

Some athletes attract friends by the magnetic force of celebrity that winning races provides, but Maik is so likable, he could attract friends if he were the worst triathlete on the planet. Around the hotel foyer or at a session with his training partners he is always full of life, ready for a joke, or light-hearted prank. And he always wears a smile.

Thats what I realize after this experience, he said of his Hamburg race mishap. Its part of the sporting life. Sport is a big thing for me, for sure, but it is not all. There is much more: family, friends and those sorts of things.

With a strong tenth place at the European Championships two weeks ago, where he had the third fastest run split, Maik is perfectly placed for one final surge at Beijing selection at the Madrid BG Triathlon World Cup this weekend.

I read Hamish Carters book, and his coach said, Without the Olympics under your belt you cant race well there. And I think thats true, said Maik.  I think I am at a really good age for the Olympics now.

With the benefit of a long triathlon history behind him, support from his father, one of the pioneers of the sport in Germany, and an ever positive attitude, Maik Petzold is poised for another Olympic Games, really ready this time.

Click here for Maik Petzold’s profile

Former World Number one Chris Hill brings his unique elite athlete perspective in weekly Olympic columns to ITUs website, triathlon.org.  He competed on the ITU World Cup circuit, winning three titles and ten medals in total.  He was crowned the overall World Cup series champion in 2001.  That same year he was silver medalist at the ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada.  Watch for Chris Hills column, Olympic Odyssey every week on triathlon.org.

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