Canadian Carol Montgomery is one of triathlon’s greatest female athletes, third on the all-time women’s World Cup winners list with 15 and one of the fastest runners in the history of the sport. She’s also one of the only a few athletes to qualify for two different Olympic events in the same Games, when she qualified for both triathlon and the 10km in athletics for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Her long and decorated triathlon career includes two Olympic appearances, Sydney and Athens, Commonwealth Games gold at the 2002 Manchester Games, bronze at the 1996 ITU Worlds, silver at the 1999 and 2000 ITU Worlds, and an incredible string of eight consecutive World Cup podiums from 1993 to 1998 and six of those were wins, before she retired in 2004.
But today we are flashing back to a moment before Montgomery managed to rack up this impressive history, to 5th May 1991, when she became the first Women’s World Cup winner in history, beating Karen Smyers (USA) and Paula Newby-Fraser (ZIM) to the line in a time of 2 hours 53 minutes and 16 seconds on the 2km swim, 50km bike and 12km run course in St Croix, the US Virgin Islands. We caught up with Montgomery for her memories of those early days and what she thinks of triathlon today.
It’s 9am on May 5th this year, exactly 20 years after that first ITU World Cup race, where will you be in 2011 and what will you be doing? I will be in North Vancouver with my two dogs, Bob and Larry, hoping the rain is going to stop sometime soon.
What did it mean to you to win that first World Cup then, and now? Winning the first World Cup in 1991 was big, every time I won a race it was important. At that time, Les McDonald (former ITU president) had a lifelong dream of getting triathlon into the Olympic Games. Getting the series started and trying to get the athletes to support the races was one of many obstacles he faced. At the time I did not realise how significant the World Cup series was in this process. He needed to showcase the sport with as many athletes from different countries as possible. There was not a lot of money back then so it was not easy for anyone.
What do you think of triathlon today, and how has changed since 1991? The sport is much more competitive. There are kids growing up wanting to participate as triathletes in the Olympics. The World Cup series is well established with good money.
What are some of your favourite memories in your triathlon career, great wins, great races, great times…can you describe some? World Championships in 1990 was the first really big exciting race I ever took part in. Being in the USA and Orlando there was a lot of athletes participating and plenty of media attention. I felt it really changed the nature of the sport having an Olympic distance race with athletes from all over the world. Another significant race for me was 2000 World Championships in Perth. It was my first race back after surgery and I did not know how my leg was going to feel running off a hard bike. I ran very well that day, fast enough to win if the course was 10km.
How different were World Cups from that first one in St Croix in 1991 versus the last ones you raced in in 2004-2005? The World Cups today are created for a bigger audience. There is live streaming, the timing systems are incredible now. Back then we were lucky if we got splits correctly. The organization for World Cup races has always been the best races. The St. Croix one stills exist today but with a different format. The competition is amazing. Both the male and female are much more competitive. That has a lot to do with the drafting format but with that said there would be no possible way to prevent drafting with the level of competition competing in the sport.
What were some of your favourite World Cups, for either the location or the course? St. Croix was always an adventure when it was a World Cup. It was an incredible place to race with really nice local support. I always enjoyed the events in Brazil. I met my final qualifying standard for the Olympics in 2000 in Rio. The races there always had so many people watching and cheering, the energy was amazing. I tried to compete in every race that I could in Brazil.
How do you think you would fare if you were competing on the ITU circuit today? If I was 10 years younger I still feel I could be competitive. There are still not a lot of women who can run 33 minutes off the bike. The swim and bike has improved a lot. The men’s run times are much faster than they were 10 years ago but there are still only a handful of women who can really turn it on.
In your long career, who were some of the your toughest rivals, women you knew were going to be tough to beat? Toughest rivals, Karen Smyers pops into my mind first. I had more respect for her then any other female athlete. She seemed to have such great balance and really enjoyed racing. Emma Carney was incredible the few years she was in good health. I don’t think there was a woman who could match her during that time if the race was non-drafting. She was also known to ride away from packs. Michellie Jones was always a strong competitor and is still having a great career.
Who do you think will win the next Olympic gold medals in London? Of course, I would love a Canadian to win both races. Our women are strong and so are our men. Paula Findlay, Lauren Campbell and Kirsten Sweetland all could medal as well as Simon Whitfield and Kyle Jones.
What do you think is the future of triathlon? I hope that one day there will be more than just one race in the Olympics for triathlon. I know drafting had to happen but still would love to see the athletes do a time trial race like in the cycling leaving two minutes apart. I wonder how different the results would be.
Are you still involved in triathlon today? I still follow all the races. I actually follow most sports, I love sport. I coach quite a few athletes. I still train like I am going to race a triathlon but have no desire to race at all. I do the odd 10k and 5k.
Thanks Carol! Stay tuned tomorrow when we catch-up with Mike Pigg, winner of the men’s race from St. Croix in 1991.