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Experiences

THE PERFORMER

Chris McCormack

Text — Dirk Rheker Photos — Maurice Haas Date — 10 October, 2012

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Chris McCormack has accomplished a lot as a pro triathlete. Clearly, he is here to win. But what is most striking about “Macca” is the passion and enthusiasm he has for the sport.

It’s kilometer 39. The cramps in his thighs have finally gone away. Swiftly, the athlete downs some water, gel and an isotonic drink at the hydration station. With renewed vigor, Chris “Macca” McCormack flies onward, towards the finish line, driven by a mix of endorphins, adrenaline and sheer will. A few Australian fans, on mountain bikes, appear next to their idol. They cheer him on enthusiastically, just as at many other waypoints during that day in the heat of Hawaii’s lava fields. The track has been cordoned off to the sides. Chris ­McCormack bulls through the tunnel of unbridled shouting and enthusiasm. Finally, he reaches the home stretch – after more than eight gruelling hours. As Macca sends his fans to the finish line, their throats grow sore with cheering. With his last strides, tears fill the winner’s eyes. Now, there’s nothing left but happiness, pure and unrestrained.

That was the summary of 2010’s Ironman Hawaii. It may have been one of the most thrilling duels of his career – three years after his first win. This time, Macca had run neck to neck with Andreas Raelert from Germany – until the final ten minutes, when he managed to launch a decisive offense, leaving his opponent behind. With his unbending will and the collective experience of 13 Ironman wins, McCormack had exercised the psychology of a real champion. “I had nothing to lose,” he explained afterwards. “I just told myself I’d stay in the moment.” He was 37 back then – the second oldest winner ever. Only American Mark Allen was one month older when he won his last race in Hawaii in 1995.

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When Chris McCormack won his first Ironman Hawaii in 2007, a collective sigh of relief rose from the in-crowd, as if to say: “It’s about time!” Three years later, he showed them all his stealth once more, by doing exactly what he em­phatically describes in his book: “I am here to win.” Macca’s ­recipe for success: if you want to belong to the world’s ­triathlon elite, you have to go above and beyond a daily ­regimen of training runs, swims and bike rides. Training, he argues, must also occur in the mind. “Each race is a battle,” he explains during a week of high-altitude conditioning in the Swiss Alps. “I never allow myself to think about the ­difficulties or the extreme challenges during the race – only about how to master them.” In the end, he defeats those doubts in his mind, just as he physically defeats his opponents.

Chris McCormack has always been defined by his strong mental control and his non-compromising attitude towards life. His competitions keep him focused on only one goal: to win the race. “I really shouldn’t have beaten Andreas in ­Hawaii,” Macca said about his younger opponent. “But on this day, and at this crucial moment, my will was just stronger than his.” He has managed time and again to intimidate his opponents, literally browbeating them mentally. Of course, he is a model athlete as well, every fiber in his body trained to the max. But “I believe my psychological ­advantage gives me the biggest edge over my competitors.”

Naturally, Macca had hoped to run the short distance in the London Olympic Games this year, but for varied reasons, the Australian Sports Commission did not nominate him. This was a big disappointment, but a champion has to deal with those, too. Instead, McCormack is considering competing at the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Las ­Vegas this September, or to eventually take up the challenge of competing against cycling legend Lance Armstrong, who has moved on to triathlons and wants to measure himself against the best of the best. Such a meet-up would indeed be a battle of giants. Would he go for Ironman Hawaii one more time? “Only if I feel I actually have a shot at winning,” he says, unambiguously. That’s typical Macca: should he return to the Big Island, it won’t be to cheer on his colleagues at Palani Road, but to win. “I owe it to my wife and three children,” he said, before he takes his leave to go on a 10K training run. Yes, it has to do with passion and commitment. Of course, he owes it to himself as well.

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