by Justin Granger
The triathlon scene today, in the Asian region, has become a great alternative or even progression from the sport we have come to know at home in Australia. The quality and depth of races Asia has to offer now days is a far cry from the 10 plus years ago, when Belinda and I first scoped out the region. Back then for us it was all about adventure, a chance to broaden our triathlon careers and maybe a bit of a cherry pick here and there. The further we dug the clearer it became that Asia had some of the hottest and hardest triathlon courses the world had to offer.
The adventure began for us when we first competed in Ironman Malaysia on the beautiful island of Langkawi. This would become our induction into the world of endurance sport adversity in the harshest and most extreme elements that one could endure in the pursuit of chasing an Ironman title. The experience left us physically empty and mentally drained but also opened up a new chapter in our sporting careers that we both felt drawn to. It was the battle within that became the attraction, the pure will to beat all that is thrown your way, be it heat, wind, hills, solitude or attrition. These were all things we desired from our racing experiences and finally we had found it – triathlon in Asia!
The race that February day in 2003 was an eye opener for us, because at that point of our careers we had not had such a raw Ironman triathlon race experience (nothing like the big shows of Ironman Australia, New Zealand and Kona). During the race I had found new competitors that I would end up racing on many occasions in the future. These guys were the best from Japan and Korea at the time and not knowing their strengths and weaknesses was a thrill for me as the day went on. Up front the legendary Luc VanLierde was taking it out hard, almost as if this was just a normal Belgian summer’s day. His lead was over 30 minutes off the bike on the rest of us, and either he or us would be learning a lesson in how to do it today. In second position was another Belgian guy on the rise called Marino Vanhoenacker. Way down on his friend Luc, he was doing his own race up ahead of me and my new Japanese mates. At around 13km into my marathon I witnessed something that not many have ever seen – Luc VanLierde was walking and throwing up.
Yes, he had blown thanks to the wicked pace he had set for most of the day which had eventually derailed him, like it has done to many racing in Asia in the past and present. He did eventually win the race from Marino, but that massive lead had shrunk by half at day’s end. I would go on to finish in 6th place (behind the 2 Belgians, 2 Japanese and Petr Vabroušek). Belinda ending up 2nd to a Canadian girl, Gillian Bakker.
This was the period of the standard Ironman prize purse of US $50,000 paid 10 deep, of which we got our cut of for the efforts. We both walked away from this experience with a huge amount of valuable knowledge that we would use for years to come as we built our Asian triathlon resumes.
Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s Asian destination races, such as Laguna Phuket triathlon, Ironman Japan, Ironman Malaysia, Ironman Korea and Subic Bay in the Philippines were treading the waters for the future of Asian multi sport. The big names of the sport at that time to discover this scene were the likes of Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, Mike Pigg, Greg Welch, Simon Lessing, Jürgen Zack, Carol Montgomery, Wendy Ingram just to name a few. With this type of lineup word spread and races seemed to pop up throughout the region at a rapid rate. This day and age some of the world’s biggest prize purse races can be found in Asia along with all the big name events from the Ironman and Challenge brand.
Belinda and I have made it our thing to discover all corners of the Asian triathlon scene over the last decade and have raced in Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, China, Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines. The journey continues to this day and we look forward to every chance we get to find new events to share with others that have the same passion we do. The development of local athletes and the awareness of the sport is incredible and a thrill for us to watch. With the full domestic season that we have in Australia now days it does seem unnecessary to leave, but I promise you nothing beats an adventure to one of the many Asian destination races to find what you are really made of as opposed to chasing that soft PB time on a flat easy course.
Being able to reward yourself and your family with a post race holiday is icing on the cake.