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This week at the Challenge Laguna Phuket Tri-Fest Australian pro Belinda Granger will celebrate a major milestone. It’s her 12th and final time racing here over a 14-year span and will mark the official end to her professional triathlon career–a career that includes 50 iron-distance races, 15 iron-distance titles and more than 20 short course and half-distance victories. I asked Granger to share a few of the most memorable stories from a dozen years racing in Phuket.
“Definitely the most memorable moment for me happened when I won for the first time in 2008. I’d been coming here for quite a few years and I’d always finished on the podium, so I was quite happy about that but I’d never got the top spot. One of the reasons I wanted to get the top spot is because traditionally at this race you get to run down the chute with a young elephant. I mean there’s no race in the world that does that, so it’s a big deal. I’d seen other girls get that opportunity to run down in first place, but I’d always come second or third. So the year that I finally won the race, I remember knowing that I’d won with pretty much two kilometers to go and all I could think about was getting to that finish chute and running down it with the baby elephant. The elephant was there waiting, but for some reason unbeknownst to anyone, he decided to run the opposite way. So as I got into the finish straight and saw the little elephant and I was thinking he was going to run with me, he did a U-turn and ran in the complete opposite direction. I was left halfway down the chute going, “Come on! Wrong way! It’s this way!” Long story short, I didn’t get to run down the chute with the baby elephant. I don’t even know where he ended up! Everyone could see the humorous side of it, except I was left at the line without the baby elephant.”
“Obviously other memorable moments here have been from the after parties. Of course we’ve got to keep this G-rated, but they’re just so much fun! Like the shirtless boys on stage doing the YMCA dance, which made YouTube and got so many hits it was just ridiculous. And we all like shirtless triathlete boys! I still remember Tim O’Donnell playing the starring role in that YMCA dance. Since then the Phuket after parties have become infamous around the world.”
“I still remember the first year I was invited to Laguna Phuket. It was my very first proper professional invitation to a race where everything was paid for. I must have been late 20’s or early 30’s, so I was young compared to today and I had never been on a holiday anywhere like this. We turned up to the Banyan Tree and were shown our villa for the first time and Justin had to keep reminding me to close my mouth. I think my jaw was hanging open that far, because obviously the accommodations are beyond anything we’d ever stayed in anywhere. It really is one of those races where you think you know what you’re getting, and then you actually get here and it’s just so much better than you ever could have imagined–in every aspect, from the carbo dinner to the awards dinner to the accommodations here in Laguna Phuket to the race itself. It’s just spectacular.”
Granger celebrated her birthday in Phuket last week and was honored with a special cake, courtesy of the Banyan Tree, one of many surprises they’ve presented to her over the years.
“By my 10th year here it had become a well-known thing that I love mango sticky rice. To celebrate my 10th race, the Banyan Tree made me a sticky rice and mango cake and presented it to me at the press conference, which was pretty unbelievable. I got through quite a bit of it that night, which was probably not the best thing the night before the race, but oh well! This time they told me they were going to make me a cake for my birthday. Justin and I went to the Banyan Tree’s signature restaurant, Saffron, which is an incredible Thai restaurant, and they presented me with the cake there. They’d obviously gone out of their way to decorate it with a picture of me running across the finish line, and it’s the funniest thing. The comments on Facebook are just priceless. Someone said it looks more like Sebastian Kienle than it does me! And someone commented about my short stumpy arms. But that’s how I’m going to look in two weeks time when I leave the buffet breakfast at the Banyan Tree for the last time–stumpy! It’s just too good.”