The women’s triathlon event at the Olympic Games on Saturday lunchtime was so inspirational that I felt compelled to investigate more into the multi-discipline sport I knew little about.
After witnessing Swiss triathlete Nicola Spirig hang on for a dramatic photo finish victory over Sweden’s Lisa Norden, the closest ending to a triathlon race ever seen, I hoped to grab a quick interview with one of the top officials from governing body, the International Triathlon Union (ITU).
I was in luck on Sunday, as the Cambodian schedule was clear and the men’s competition had an unusual gap of three days before it was being held around the grounds of London’s Hyde Park.
With an athletes’ meeting still going on, I managed to drag out ITU Sport Development Director Libby Burrell for an exclusive chat on the potential of triathlon in Cambodia.
“There are five continental confederations under the umbrella of the ITU. One of them is the Asian Triathlon Confederation, commonly known as the ASTC,” she told the Post.
The ASTC’s official website reveals the confederation has 28 affiliated members representing Asian nations, six of which are ASEAN members: Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Myanmar is not on the list, which means triathlon is unlikely to feature at the 2013 SEA Games, which will be held there next year. However, the sport has been competed at previous games.
“[The ITU] has done masses of work in Southeast Asia,” said Burrell. “In September, we are going to host a three-point camp in Subic Bay in the Philippines [where the competition for the 2005 SEA Games was held].
“You’d be surprised at our reach. We go into Beirut, we go into Iraq, we go into Iran.”
The former Team USA coach, who represented her native South Africa at triathlon in her youth when it was not an Olympic sport and her country was banned from competing in any sport, has been with the ITU for the past seven years.
Triathlon became the youngest sport to be accepted into the Games by making a debut in Sydney in 2000. ITU President Marisol Casado of Spain was voted in as a member of the International Olympic Committee in 2010.
Burrell noted the ITU focused on developing technical knowledge of athletes and coaches, events and officials. They also looked closely at the administrative, financial and legal development around the governing of the sport.
“For Cambodia to use our resources, they need to be registered and affiliated with the ITU. I believe the federation is currently in the process of affiliation, but besides the supplying of supporting documents they need a letter from their National Olympic Committee saying this is a genuine group that administers triathlon in Cambodia,” she said.
NOCC Secretary-General Vath Chamroeun, who is attending the Games in London, told the Post on Sunday that he was not aware of such a letter being sent to the ITU to date.
“We get a lot of impostors that come in because they want free passes to the Games,” added Burrell. “We went through five guys in Egypt before we found the right one.”
The ITU official also revealed that they direct triathlon federations to the Olympic Solidarity organisation, who have “a huge amount of money available” if they wanted to apply for assistance.
While the work of the Cambodia Triathlon Federation and its president Kong Rithy Chup has seen various events held in the Kingdom, including last month’s Duathlon (a run-cycle-run race) and two Aquathlons (swim-run), a sizeable cash boost could help facilitate the ultimate goal of a full-blown triathlon.
The federation has announced their next race, the 2012 Angkor Wat International Duathlon, will run on October 7 in Siem Reap. The success of the annual Angkor Wat International Half Marathon each December has led many to dream of a triathlon competition to be held around the iconic temple complex.
“If you have a great venue and it’s a big tourist attraction, then it becomes attractive for us at the ITU to go there,” said Burrell.
“[However], we do more than just events. We don’t want to do something in Cambodia if there are no local athletes competing. We’re not interested unless we’ve had time to actually do development and to arouse an interest that will leave a legacy behind.
“One of the things we will want if we put on an event in Cambodia is that local people have been trained as officials to work it.”
The ITU’s global development program has seen 15 of the 17 identified young promising athletes make the starting line in London. Unlike other disciplines, Cambodian competitors will not be granted any invitational places unless they hold a ranking in the world’s top 140.
“It’s dangerous if participants can’t ride a bike well. They can crash and take the pack out. Poor swimmers can also hold things up,” said Burrell.
Japan are currently the powerhouses of Asian triathlon, with China, South Korea and Kazakhstan hot on their heels.
British hopes will be high for today’s men’s triathlon, set for an 11:30am (5:30pm Cambodian time) start at the Serpentine lake, as homegrown brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee look to consolidate their top world rankings and make up for the disappointment of compatriot Helen Jenkins in the women’s event.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Riley at [email protected] reporting from London