PROfile: Todd Skipworth

Australian Todd Skipworth found triathlon after a successful career in rowing.

Photo: Thierry Sourbier

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It’s not uncommon for high-level athletes to find their way into triathlon via a different sport, but in Australian Todd Skipworth’s case, it wasn’t a collegiate swim or running background—it was Olympic-level rowing. As a 2011 world champion and two-time Olympian on the Australian lightweight four team (2008 and 2012), the 30-year-old got into triathlon during a break in 2009. He qualified for Ironman Hawaii as an age-grouper at his first Ironman in Western Australia (9:03), and after his rowing team placed fourth in London (missing bronze by less than a second), he committed to triathlon as a full-time pro in 2013 under coach Brett Sutton. After a string of bad luck, he won the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon and Ironman 70.3 Cozumel in 2014. Look out for Skipworth to emerge as one of the first out of the water at upcoming races.

Initially I was attracted to rowing because it was an afternoon sport and we used to go down to the sheds on the Swan River and just paddle out and jump in the water. I think what I really enjoyed was the challenge—technically and physically—in making a boat sit up and move through the water well.

I’ve never really thought about missing out on the bronze [in London]—it might sound a bit arrogant, but we really were only there with one thing on our mind, which was to execute the best race we could, as we were relatively confident that our best race would deliver us a gold medal. … I guess it taught me that you can do everything right and tick all the boxes with your training and preparation, but ultimately to win or to be able to deliver your best on any given day, you certainly need a few things to go right or not go wrong.

I was taking a break in 2009 to complete some studies, and triathlon seemed like a good way to keep fit and try something different. So a rowing friend and I signed up for Busselton Ironman in December of 2008, and we both really enjoyed the training and racing for a year. I knew I wanted to have another crack in London so was always going to hop back in the boat. It wasn’t until after London that I started to think more seriously about triathlon.

I had been used to dealing with a few injuries from rowing and I thought switching to a less physically demanding sport [in terms of load and biomechanics] I would avoid too many more. Unfortunately not long after switching in 2013, I got Dengue fever and took a while to get fit again. Then I had a nasty crash racing in France and cracked a rib later that year. And just as I felt I had strung together a good block and was back on track, I had acute appendicitis the night before I was meant to race in March of 2014 in Mexico, which set me back a bit again—as I also had a hernia—so I needed to wait for the internal stitching to heal before I could return to training.

I really liked [coach Brett Sutton’s] ability to look at an athlete and assess what they looked like they needed rather than just handing out a generic training set. He was honest from the start and didn’t try to sell me on the lifestyle or his methodology. He really just spoke about what was needed and the commitment required. You can also tell he is passionate about what he does, and that can never be underestimated.

Alpe d’Huez Triathlon really is a race like no other. The atmosphere is great with everyone riding down to the swim start on the morning and all the French people out as you ride through these little towns. The course is nothing like a normal race—it’s much more a case of surviving or overcoming the course as opposed to racing individuals. It is a real privilege to be able to race these kinds of races, and to win it was a really nice bonus.

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