McCormack gambles on Olympic triathlon berth
NOOSA HEADS, Australia (AP)
Chris McCormack's friends joked that he was going through a ''mid-life crisis'' when the two-time Ironman world champion decided to try to represent Australia in the London Olympics.
Weeks after winning the Ironman title last year in Hawaii, McCormack decided to switch from the much longer Ironman triathlons - 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and a full 26.2-mile marathon run - to the much shorter Olympic distances - 0.9-mile swim, 24.9-mile cycle and 6.2-mile run.
Enduring many finishes in the back of the field as he adapts to the shorter distance, the 38-year-old McCormack is back where he started in the sport nearly 20 years ago, competing Sunday in the Noosa Triathlon.
''It's been an enormous change,'' McCormack said Friday. ''A big jump, but the opportunity presented itself to maybe make an Olympic Games. I spoke to my family last year after winning Kona and said, 'How about we venture down this path? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.'''
McCormack hopes to learn whether he makes the Australian team in early April, about the same time he will celebrate his 39th birthday.
''It's been a very enjoyable process,'' McCormack said. ''But a lot of my friends thought I was nuts - they said I must be having a mid-life crisis for me to give the longer distances away and try to make the Olympic team.''
McCormack, who splits his time between homes in Los Angeles and Sydney with his wife and three children, began racing professionally in 1996. A year later, he became the first man in the sport to win the ITU world championships, the ITU World Cup series and be ranked No. 1, a position he held for more than two years.
In 2000, when triathlon made its first Olympic appearance at the Sydney Games, his top Australian ranking and No. 3 overall in the world didn't do him any good and he was left off the Australian team, a decision that rankled him for years to follow.
In 2002, he shifted most of the focus of his training to Ironman racing. He failed to finish his first Ironman at Kona, but moved slowly up the field in the ensuing years to win for the first time in 2007, and again in 2010.
Australians have ruled the Hawaii Ironman for the last five years, with Craig Alexander winning in 2008 and 2009, in between McCormack's victories, and again this year when Alexander set the course record of 8 hours, 3 minutes, 56 seconds.
McCormack has been impressed by the young crop of Olympic hopefuls led by Britain's Alistair Brownlee. The 23-year-old Brownlee, a two-time ITU world champion, will be among the gold medal favorites on his home turf next year in the Olympics.
The Australian has had to endure some mediocre finishes this season while guys like Brownlee race past him.
''It's tough finishing 30th, and 25th, around the world when you're used to crossing the finishing line first,'' McCormack said. ''But that just shows the intensity and pace of these young kids.''
McCormack will have at least three more chances to impress Australian Olympic selectors between now and April, including the Noosa event, which he first raced in 1992 and won in 2005. He'll be trying to prevent Beijing Olympian Courtney Atkinson of Australia from winning his fourth Noosa Triathlon in a row.
After Noosa, there will be an ITU World Cup race in Mooloolaba and a world championship series event in Sydney.
''I can feel the speed coming back and while it hasn't all gone according to the script, I'm positive I still have a lot to offer,'' McCormack said.
''We'll find out come April about the Olympics. For me, in five or six years when I'm no longer competing at a high level, I'll be able to say to myself that I tried.''