Olympic Odyssey: All ambition

by ITU Admin on 30 Apr, 2008 12:00

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

Some athletes are destined for success, thats because they are willing to sacrifice everything to get it. With 60km swim weeks, and run sessions around his fathers horse track, Brad Kahlefeldt has logged the hard miles toward Olympic glory.

Brad Kahlefeldt is ambitious. This ambition has provided the leverage to catapult him into the highest echelon of triathlon. And in doing so, Kahlefeldt has followed in the footsteps of some of Australias most well respected sportsmen.

Kahlefeldt, 28, grew up in the New South Wales country town of Wagga Wagga. While it may be hard to locate on a map, its easy to understand why the place is called the City of Good Sports. Wagga has produced not just good sportsman but brilliant ones.

U.S. PGA golf champion Steve Elkington, 1966 French Open grand slam winner Tony Roche, Australian cricket captain Mark Taylor, countless Rugby League, Union and AFL legends, jockeys and of course Kahlefeldt all grew up in or around Wagga.

Its a long heritage that Kahlefeldt must feel strongly linked with. Asked by ITU announcer Barry Shepley to name his preferred occupation if he was not a professional triathlete, Kahlefeldt seemingly started quoting the contents of a sporting almanac.

Id probably be a footy player back in Wagga, I guess, he said. I always wanted to be a professional sportsperson: a footy player or a runner, a triathlete or duathlete. I am living the dream at the moment, I love my job.

Wagga is the sort of sports town where the job of athlete is not merely an occupation but a birth rite. And if this is so, then the burning desire to play sport must have been passed through the generations, gradually creating a genetic strain for athletic freakiness.

These freaks are then swaddled by their parents to international sporting success.

They are always there, Kahlefeldt said of the stamina his parents literally display following his career. They havent missed a world championships since 2002. So I think as a junior growing up, to have that support was great because a lot people dont see sport as a real job but I think my parents do.

In Wagga, competitive sporting spirit does not fade easily. Both Kahlefeldts parents are keen runners and his father was the Country NSW Horse Trainer of the Year in 2007. This is no mean feat in a nation whose horse racing industry runs 22,000 races and produces a gross economic impact of $7 billion.

My Dad has an accountancy practice and he is also a horse trainer of 30 horses back home at Wagga, Kahlefeldt said matter-of-factly of the duality of his fathers occupations, like doing anything less would be wasting your time. He then added, as if every Australian house has the same, we have an 800m track out the back.

Youd be looking a gift horse in the mouth if you dont believe that Kahlefeldt wasnt out on that same track himself, ploughing up dust with his own run sessions. Of course he was. When you have racing in your blood and a readymade running circuit in the backyard, how could he not?

We used to have some ponies on the farm, Kahlefeldt said of his own track work, my brother would drive in the gig [a horseracing cart] with the pony pulling it. And I would run behind him and pace off the horse.

It was good because every time the horse would go around past where the food was, it would accelerate and I would have to go with it. Then it would realize it was not going to get fed and have to do another lap so it would slow down a bit.

This could explain how Kahlefeldts lethal mid-race surge came into beingracing hungry racehorses.

I would do a full session, he explained, 400s, and 1000s. That was back in 2000 and 2002. I really just needed something fast enough for the pace I wanted and the horse was it. I would get my brother to hold it at a speed and I would tap him on the shoulder to tell him to go faster or tell him to back off.

All this running focus and Waggas proximity to the ocean 400 kilometers away, unfortunately for Kahlefeldt, left no time for swimming. So having given up athletics, duathlon was the next logical step toward triathlon.

After running I got into the sport of duathlon because I couldnt swim. Then from duathlon, I learnt to swim, he said of his sporting progression. And learning to swim meant starting from scratch, I spent many hours in the pool60 kilometers a week in the water and learnt to swim after that. And I finally got into the sport of triathlon.

The 60-kilometer weeks in the pool helped, how could they not?  And it is just as well because it would be a long way to swim only to miss the bike bus. Finally, Kahlefeldt could say he was a bonafide, paid up member of triathlons front group.

You kind of know when youve made it, he said. You finally get out with the front pack or at least with the front group and you know it has worked. Whereas before my swim was maybe two minutes down.

Once he was there, success was not far away because with his proven run the race was now all laid out, all he had to do was dig in and take victories. In 2006 they came thick and fast. Still, it is hard to believe that Kahlefeldt only won his first proper race in Perth early that year.

He must have liked this winning feeling, going on to amass four World Cup victories and a Melbourne Commonwealth Games gold medal with front pack swims and virtuoso runs.

Kahlefeldt had raised the bar by swimming well and lowering triathlon run times. He was well on his way to stacking up race wins in a monument to his own talent when Spaniard Javier Gomez started stealing wins for his own shrine in 2007.

The Mooloolaba World Cup, early last season, was the last time Kahlefeldt beat Gomez. He did it by laying down a sprint that would have made a rocket car proud. This year at Mooloolaba and New Plymouth, Kahlefeldt, by his own admission, was simply out legged far from the finish by the improved model of Gomez.

The fact that Gomez is impossibly better in 2008 is ominous for every other athlete. No one has run him to the line since the Hamburg World Championships last year. This is good for Gomez because it obscures his only perceptible weakness, his wobbly finish.

One thing that Kahlefeldt is not, is a lousy sprinter, you can ask the pony he used to race out at Wagga if you need proof. So if Kahlefeldt can hang on until the sprint in Beijing, Gomez has a good chance of being smoked.

I dont think he likes the sprint too much, Kahlefeldt said of Gomez, but I think he has worked on it a bit since then. And thats one thing I have worked on just a little bit too because the races are getting closer and closer, and more and more they are coming down to a sprint finish.

If there is anyone in triathlon who has the stamina to stay with Gomez and the hyper-drive sprint to torch him, its Kahlefeldt. He has honed these attributes through a mix of dedication and ambition, forever drawing inspiration from his athletic heritage back home in Wagga Wagga, the City of Good Sports.

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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