Being a photographer involves a lot of sitting at a computer. Arguably too much. For someone who love fresh air and activity as I do, the climate and countryside in the south of France is too good to appreciate from a window. I don’t have a dog, so instead I walk myself every day. Or run, or bike, or swim in the sea. End result being that I am fairly fit. However, next to a good friend of mine, Chrissie, my swim-run-bike fitness levels are laughable.
Queen of long distance triathlon
Chrissie Wellington is something of an exception. Right now she is the world’s no. 1 female Ironman triathlete. She has been crowned Ironman World Champion at Kona (Hawaii) four times and is the first British athlete to hold this title.
For those who don’t know, an Ironman consists of a 4 km swim (outdoors, in a lake), a 180 km bike ride and a 42 km run (yes, you finish the race with an actual marathon). Chrissie has competed in 13 Ironman races. And won them all.
Race photography in Germany
Last summer, I went to see her race the Challenge Roth triathlon in Germany. I have photographed Chrissie for various publications during her career as an athlete, but this time, as well as pictures, I wanted to capture ambient sound and do an interview with her, for the making of an audio slideshow (see below).
Photographing Chrissie’s performance on the bike and run courses of the race itself was challenging as the press motorbike which had been assigned to me never materialised. So it took some impromptu cross-country driving (thank you Murray) plus a pedal bike (thank you Cannondale) to get around the road closures and crowds for a few shots on the course. I pedalled hard to make it back and find a place for myself amongst the other journalists on the finish line press stand in time for Chrissie’s arrival.
The morning after
The next morning, I had been booked to do a cover shoot of Chrissie, Rebekah Keat and Belinda Granger for Australian Triathlete Magazine. I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel the day after competing in an Ironman. After my exploits photographing one, I felt adequately beaten.
But Chrissie was up bright and early, with fellow Ironman athletes Rebekah and Belinda, and the delays to the start of the photo shoot were due to the stylist being held up rather than the triathletes being unable to haul themselves out of bed. I interviewed Chrissie straight after the shoot, but by the time we got going, my window of opportunity very brief indeed, as the race award ceremony was due to get underway.
Trying to capture good audio in the less-than-ideal empty roadside village hall, with no time for re-takes, I’m afraid I studiously ignored Chrissie’s manager, who called repeatedly to point out that everyone was waiting for her at the ceremony (sorry Ben).
Turn your sound up to play Chrissie’s portrait:
This resulting portrait is about Chrissie, as much as being a visual account of her record-breaking performance at Roth. It has taken me some time to get around to producing and publishing it, but the timing has turned out to be particularly poignant, as Chrissie announced a few weeks ago that she will be taking a break from competing in Ironman events.
Aside from being an incredible athlete, Chrissie is an exceptional woman, with many strengths, boundless positivity and a great sense of fun. We both went to Italy on a break last month, and Chrissie’s followers on Twitter will have some idea of the amusement we had on our Thelma-and-Louise-style road trip (although, just to be clear, our misunderstanding with an Italian policeman didn’t end with him locked in the boot, and we did not drive off a perilous cliff-edge road into the sea on our last day, though the snow plough hadn’t yet passed and the road conditions left our destiny in some doubt for a few kilometres…)
Chrissie: here’s to you and your sabbatical. It might not yet be time for Category A, but enjoy pausing to smell the flowers.