Don graduates to world title

In the build-up towards the 58th annual SJA Sports Awards on December 13, we take a look at one of the outstanding candidates for your vote for the Sportsman of the Year

After a success-starved sporting year for Britain, you might have thought that Tim Don’s becoming world champion would have merited a touch more coverage than a couple of hundred words in the Telegraph last Monday.

But sad to say, the triathlon world championships in Lausanne did not even merit a mention in the six-point results section of at least one national broadsheet. Oh, the travails of a “minor” sport.

In the 1990s, Britain’s Simon Lessing and Spencer Smith dominated the world championships, between them winning the title six times, a fact contributing to Lessing having travelled to Sydney in 2000 as the favourite to become the sport’s first Olympic champion. His disappointment there has heralded some thin times for British men since, but the racing in Lausanne last weekend, where Don took the men’s title and his British team mates Will Clarke and Alistair Brownlee won the under-23s and junior world titles, too, will have delighted Corus, the sport’s new sponsors in Britain, and all those crystal ball-gazers looking for potential heroes in London in six years’ time.

Don’s thrilling victory has propelled him into the reckoning as a candidate for the SJA’s Sportsman of the Year. He would follow Leanda Cave, who after winning the women’s world title in 2002 won the SJA’s Peter Wilson Trophy for international newcomer, as only the second triathlete to figure in our awards.

The most recited fact about 28-year-old Don is that he is the son of Phillip Don, the former World Cup football referee. Don, a former world junior champion, finally graduating to the senior world title may save him from always being thus tagged for much longer, and allow him to avoid having to work as a model in Lucozade ads.

His Lausanne win came after a mediocre season in the sport which, in the Olympic distance races which last a little inside two hours, sees the competitors swim 1,500 metres in open water, cycle 25 miles, and then sprint away into a concluding 10km run.

It is a format which has won the acceptance of the IOC, but is some way short of the more notorious Ironman event, with starts with a two-and-a-half-mile ocean swim and finishes with a full marathon run. The 112-mile cycle ride in Ironman races outlaws “drafting”, and so makes the bike section far more significant than in Olympic races, which some purists have dubbed “a wet run”, because the races are so often dominated by the stronger runners.

Don has always been among triathlon’s best runners, and in and beside Lake Geneva – on the course where he had won his world junior title in 1998 – he found his best form for the first time this year.

“Lots of people had been looking at my season and I had not managed to put everything together in one race” Don said. “But things had gone right in certain aspects. Training has gone fantastically and I knew that all the tools were there – I just needed to access them.”

And he accessed them in a final stage running duel against one of the sport’s all-time greats, Hamish Carter of New Zealand, the Olympic gold medallist in Athens two years ago. But to get into that footrace, Don had had to defy triathlon’s conventional “wet run” wisdoms during the bike ride.

Don was isolated after the swim. On their bikes, Carter and some other strong cyclists were working together to take the strength out of the legs of the better runners. Don had a choice to make. “Those great riders started to go hard and I was caught alone and behind,” he said.

“You take chances in races. I attacked on the big hill to jump across, I caught them in half a lap and sat in for two or three minutes before starting to work again. I took a big risk – and it paid off.”

After the ride, the title was soon down to Don and Carter. “At the start of the third lap, I picked up the pace,” said Don. “Then I saw a window of opportunity. You take the lead from an Olympic champion and you put your head down and go.

“You must savour these opportunities,” said Don. “You live for the moment and you race for the now. You don’t look behind. And you don’t look ahead. You live in the now.”

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