Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironmanlife: Catching up with Faris Al-Sultan

Faris Al-Sultan (Photo courtesy of Kevin Mackinnon)

(Kevin Mackinnon catches up with the 2005 Ironman World Champion)

It’s hard to believe it will be seven years since Faris Al-Sultan led from start to finish in Kona and took the 2005 Ironman World Championship, wearing a Speedo the whole way.

How easy-going was the German champ (as if racing in a Speedo doesn’t say enough)?

His bike came and left Kona in a cardboard box. When asked if he’d like something to eat before the press conference, he said he’d just scoot up the road and grab himself something from Taco Bell.

To this day Al-Sultan, 34, remains that straight-shooting easy-going guy. Sure he gets intense before big races, but as an interview he always tells it like it is.

A few years ago I interviewed him at the Frankfurter Sparkasse Ironman European Championship and he told me his training hadn’t really gone well enough for him to realistically contend for the win.

He gave it a go and was with the leaders off the bike, but wasn’t a factor later in the run.

That kind of honesty is always appreciated as a journalist. That’s why when Al-Sultan does say he’s in good shape, I take notice. He was confident going into the Frankfurt event last year, which he won.

The other thing that is impressive about the many-time Ironman champ is the fact that he’s happy to help others along the way. As an up-and-coming triathlete Al-Sultan was on a team in Germany with Thomas Hellriegel (1997 Kona champ), Stefan Holzner and Markus Forster.

They helped him a lot in his early career, teaching him how to deal with sponsors and the media, among other things.

Now Al-Sultan finds himself in a similar position with Team Abu Dhabi – and he’s quite happy to help.

“On the one hand it is a little bit stressful, not because it’s so much work, because Werner Leitner, our team manager does most of the work, but because I am involved in all of the decisions,” he said. “That requires a bit of energy because you think about everything that happens on the team. This takes up some resources but it is big fun.”

It can also be very satisfying. Al-Sultan has enjoyed watching one of the new team members, Jeremy Jurkiewicz, this year.

“The kid is overwhelmed about the professionalism that is around him,” Al-Sultan said. “Last year he bought his own bikes. This year we dropped a truck-load of a equipment on him. That gives you some satisfaction, as well. I learned about the team atmosphere from an early stage. Now I’m passing that experience on at a bigger level than I had.”

Does that mean he’s not gunning after another Kona title? Hardly.

His impressive go-for-broke race at the Abu-Dhabi International triathlon a few weeks ago left him just a few seconds short of the win there – Rasmus Henning had to pull out an incredible run to pull out the win.

“The last couple of years I didn’t have the fitness and that level of shape to win that race,” Al-Sultan said of the Ironman World Championship. “I always have been honest with myself. Last year I didn’t perform as well as I could have. My run level was way better than I ran. But, even if I had the race of my races, I think I would have still been fifth. This year I hope I can get to the starting line with the level of fitness to know that if I have a great day, I can win the race. You have to be real with yourself.”

Al-Sultan’s goal this year is not unlike a whole pile of other athletes who have a legitimate shot of contending for the Ironman World Championship – to arrive on the starting line with the fitness to win the race.

“It comes down to the whole preparation in that year,” he said. “You know if 100 percent will be enough to get you the win or not. I hope I get to that level.”

Al-Sultan is amongst a precious few who do know what it takes to get to that level. He’s also amongst an esteemed list of classy Ironman champs. Seeing him win another would be just fine for many of us in the Ironman world.

(Reach Kevin Mackinnon at kevin.mackinnon@ironman.com)

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