Get To Know Pro Leon Griffin

After a five-year break from the sport, Australia's Leon Griffin is back on the pro stage.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

The 31-year-old Aussie pro first burst onto the triathlon scene after garnering the duathlon world champion title in 2006, and he soon established himself as one of the top 70.3 biker-runners on the circuit. When a series of injuries and then a family illness caused him to step away from top-level training and racing for more than five years, he wasn’t certain he’d ever be able to stage a full comeback. But 2011 brought some encouraging race results—he won the Challenge Cairns half-iron-distance event, and then Shepparton 70.3, the race that proved to be the confidence boost he needed to quit his full-time job in banking and go all in. 2012 marks Griffin’s first season back as a full-time pro—he is currently training in Boulder—and so far he’s finished runner-up at the Geelong Long Course Triathlon and Ironman 70.3 San Juan, and finished fourth at Ironman 70.3 California and Ironman Australia. After a couple of disappointing results at the Ironman World Championship 70.3 (18th) and Ironman 70.3 Cozumel (DNF), Griffin will next take on this weekend’s F1 Triathlon in Coronado, Calif. 

» I did my first triathlon when I was 16 or 17. This kid was signed up to do the race and I thought, “I know I could beat that guy—I’m a better football player than him.” It was a 300m swim, then a 3K run and then a 10K bike ride, which was strange. This guy took a wrong turn on the last leg and it’s the only reason I won. I got hooked after that, but I really took it on to lose some weight during the football off-season. I was a bit of a chubby little porker when I was a teenager and used to get teased on the football team for carrying a little bit of extra weight. It gave me the determination to better myself, and the more I did it the more I enjoyed it and the more weight I lost. The better I looked, the better I felt. I guess that’s why a lot of people do the sport.

» I’ve only done two world championship-level duathlons. At the first one I came in fifth, and the second one I won. I’ve never been back to defend the title. The next year I was injured, and then I lost interest. It’s just a really poor sister to triathlon. I could probably just do lots of duathlons and win lots of duathlons, but I set about the challenge of winning triathlons. Duathlon comes easy—cycling and running come easy—but that’s not why we do things, now, is it? It’s more about the challenge.

» I haven’t worked out how to pull out a good Ironman. I’ve just done two in two months, and both times I bonked halfway on the run. I feel like I can get through the half with no problems at all, I don’t worry about bonking or running out of energy, and I can recover quickly from them as well. It’s just a great distance. You still get a lot out of racing that distance—it’s a lot fairer than shorter races, where guys are bunched up. Guys with certain strengths will play to those strengths in this distance and it makes for a more interesting race. My strategy is: “Go as hard as you can for as long as you can.” If you blow up, you blow up, and if you don’t, you might win a race.

» I was training 10–15 hours and knew I could get the fitness back. I think sitting at a desk and looking at results and seeing guys I was beating and competitive with a few years ago—seeing they were finally coming though and winning some races, I have to be honest: That cut pretty deep. I felt like I had every bit as much talent, if not a little bit more, yet they were living my dream. Seeing guys like Craig [Alexander] and Macca doing well into their late 30s just kept that glimmer of hope alive. I feel like I’m capable of ripping out a potential top-five result in Vegas this year. I’d love to say top three but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself the first year back.

» The bad five years in a row I had didn’t come down to reasons such as me not being good enough or losing form or forgetting how to race—it just came down to circumstances. I’ve always kept that flame flickering and have never let it die. Now that I’m back to it I’ll get the results I thought were there years ago. It’s been a little bit depressing winning a world championship in your first year and then not doing too much since. Riding with Greg Bennett the other day, he was going on about how he wanted Crowie to let him win Kona or this or that, and he was saying to me, “At least you’ve won a world championship. I’ve never won a world title.” I said, “I’ll swap all those big-money paydays you’ve had for a world title!”

Trending on Triathlete

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.