Welcome to the third installment of “Who Ya Got?” Each month in this column, we’ll choose two experts to debate tri fantasy matchups with former world champions, current pros, athletes outside of our sport, and even celebrities. This month we’ve asked coach, triathlon personality and YouTube star Taren Gesell (check out more from him on mymottiv.com) to debate with pro triathlete and writer, Laura Siddall. They’ll argue the undercards first, then the celebrity matchup, then square off in the main event at the end. Be sure to weigh in on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!Section divider
Undercard 1: Peak Chris McCormack Vs. Peak Greg Welch (Long Course)
“I got Welchy”
I’m a big fan of Macca. In 2013 I tricked my new wife into spending our honeymoon on the Big Island of Kona, spectating at the Ironman World Championship. Somehow, while on a run on Ali’i Drive I made friends with the Clif Bar people who invited me to a party later that evening. Not knowing anyone whatsoever on the island, my wife and I went to the Clif promo party hoping to make some friends. Who did we end up having a beer with? None other than Macca himself! Since then I’ve been a fan.
But while Macca might have my undying adoration for sipping a hoppy IPA with me, one thing he doesn’t have is a Grand Slam of endurance sports, which Greg Welch (“Welchy”) does have. To my knowledge Welch is the only holder of all four of the following titles: the ITU Triathlon World Championships (1990), the Ironman World Championship (1994), the ITU Duathlon World Championships (1993) and the Long Course Triathlon World Championship (1994). An absolutely amazing accomplishment that shows just how well-rounded he is.
Some readers might ask, “Well why isn’t Greg Welch in all the Ironman commercials and highlight reels like Macca is?” Welchy unfortunately had to end his career early due to heart problems, eventually having to go through nine open heart surgeries between 2001 and 2003.
Everything that Greg Welch accomplished happened within a span of just ten years, whereas Macca’s record took roughly fifteen years to accumulate. This additional five years is a lifetime in long distance triathlon racing; quite often athletes don’t reach their ultra endurance triathlon potential until they’re much older and towards the tail end of their career. Had Welchy kept racing it’s entirely possible that he could have matched or surpassed Macca’s pair of Ironman World Championships.
In fact, Greg Welch won his sole Ironman World Championship in the very middle of his ten-year career, while he was still focused primarily on short-course Olympic-distance triathlons. His ability to move successfully between short-course and long-distance racing is an ability that we saw Chris McCormack try and unfortunately fail at.
“I got Macca”
Now I know Greg Welch can talk a good game—we all hear him on many race commentaries—but can anyone out smack Macca? I don’t think so! (Although a battle of words between these two would be an interesting contest!)
OK, so they are both Aussies, so no real separation there, and we can’t even separate them with rugby league style State of Origin* as both were born in Sydney. (*State of Origin is the annual rugby league series between the Australian states of New South Wales (Sydney) and Queensland.)
But Macca has an impressive resume of races, as well as a grasp of the English language. (Hmm, well, maybe.) Ironman world champion in 2007 and 2010; long course world champion in 2012. Undefeated in the U.S. for three years and 33 races! He won Ironman Australia in his debut in 2002 and then went on to defend and win in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. He won Challenge Roth in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007! He was also the first non-European to go under eight hours (in Roth in 2004), and the first man to go under eight hours on two different courses (going sub-8 at Ironman Frankfurt in 2008). Macca has one of the best winning percentage statistics (granted, according to his own website) at 76%, and was on the podium 89% of the time! Back in only his second year full-time in the sport, in 1997, Macca became the first man in history to win the World Championships, World Cup Series, and be ranked number one in the same season.
Welchy was anointed the world’s fittest human by the Australian 60 Minutes, but Macca was voted the World’s Fittest Athlete by ESPN. I’m pretty sure ESPN trumps Australian 60 Minutes.
And let’s face it, if Macca didn’t win on the race course, his ego would squash out anyone else out of the race!
– LSSection divider
Undercard 2: Peak Gwen Jorgensen Vs. Peak Vanessa Fernandes (Olympic Distance)
“I got Fernandes”
I’ll give it to Gwen, she does have an Olympic gold, and was relatively (OK, pretty) dominant over those years. However let’s look at the stats for Vanessa Fernandes.
While you may think Gwen was dominant, Fernandes has the most ITU World Cup wins in history—men or women! She was a five-time European champion (2004-2008), twice world duathlon champion (2007, 2008), and was the ITU world champion (2007) and a two-time Olympian. She was also the Olympic silver medalist in Beijing 2008, where she split the formidable Aussie “Emma” duo—Snowsill winning gold and Moffatt winning bronze. Fernandes was also dominant for ten years, whereas Jorgensen only really came into top shape after London 2012 and in just the four years leading up to Rio.
If we go onto the race course, I reckon that Fernandes’ swim was slightly better than Jorgensen’s, so she’d be consistently out of the water in the front pack—being ahead of Jorgensen from the start would give her the edge. Fernandes would then be able to stay ahead on the bike, as she’d be able to work together in the lead pack, or in a solo race hold the gap to Jorgensen. Jorgensen would be working hard to either have to bridge up on the bike, or just set her sights on the run. Now Gwen’s run is good—it was, possibly still is one of the best–but it was also beatable (as we saw on the Gold Coast in 2016 where Helen Jenkins held off a charging Jorgensen to take the win, and in Hamburg when she couldn’t quite run down Katie Zaferes and Rachel Klammer). Fernandes clocked a 34:12 in Beijing to take silver only a few seconds behind Jorgensen’s 34:09 in Rio.
It’s certainly a close call but Fernandes would hold on for the win.
“I got Jorgensen”
I’m going to be honest here and start by saying that when I was first given this matchup I thought, Vanessa who? Just Google “Gwen Jorgensen” and loads of articles pop up, Google “Vanessa Fernandes” and you get results for a singer from Singapore.
After doing a little more digging I found out that Vanessa Fernandes was a hell of a triathlete, sorry V! But the Gwensanity run of thirteen consecutive World Triathlon Series wins is really quite remarkable. When you talk about an athlete dominating their sports, this is one of the best examples of all time.
Gwen Jorgensen developed into a well-rounded ITU athlete—swimming with the front pack and staying close to the front on the bike. But her most dangerous weapon was her strength on the run; race after race seemed to be decided two kilometres into the 10 kilometer run course.
In the 2016 Rio Olympic race, where Gwen won her gold medal in a head-to-head matchup against Nicola Spirig, she ran the 10k run in 34:09, which was a full 41 seconds faster than the next fastest split! This is an eternity in short-course ITU races, which are often decided by mere seconds. In some cases, Gwen’s run would be as much as a minute faster than the entire field, and the rest of the athletes wouldn’t even be in sight when she crossed the finish line.
Fernandes may have 38 total wins to Gwen Jorgensen’s 25; she may have 49 podiums to Gwen’s 37. But Fernandes’ entire career lasted roughly fourteen years, while Gwen Jorgensen retired from triathlon after just two Olympic cycles, setting her records in less than half the time that it took Fernandes.
Of course, comparing the trophy cases isn’t enough to decide who would win in a head-to-head matchup. Ideally, we can look at what they did in previous head-to-head races, which unfortunately we can’t do in this instance, but we can look at their performances relative to the field in swim-bike-run.
In this case, starting with the swim, I’d give the edge to Fernandes, who used to come out of the main swim pack close to the front, while Jorgensen tended to hang on to the back of the main pack. This gets both athletes into the main pack of the bike where they could both hang in; so we’d expect them to come off the bike together. At this point, the edge has to go to Gwen. While Vanessa Fernandes was a great runner, she wasn’t head and shoulder above every single one of her competitors the way that Gwen was.
In the end, Gwen Jorgensen runs away with this the same way she’d run away from Vanessa Fernandes in a race.
– TGSection divider
Celebrity Matchup: Bradley Cooper Vs. Chris Hemsworth (Olympic Distance)
“I got Bradley”
Rocket vs Thor. Limitless vs Extraction. Tone vs Muscles. Brunette vs Blonde. Forget Dave Scott vs Mark Allen, Nicola Spirig vs Lisa Norden, Roadrunner vs Wile E. Coyote, or Godzilla vs King Kong, this may go down as one of the best all time matchups in the history of the universe. Expect fans around the world to be on the edge of their seats from the first swim stroke to the final running stride.
I’m a huge Avengers fan, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are two of my favorite characters in the series. I’m a massive fan of Bradley Cooper’s work in Hangover 1 and 2 (let’s just pretend #3 didn’t happen), and Chris Hemsworth on Instagram is totally worth a follow. But how do these two lads stack up against each other in a race?
Chris Hemsworth has clearly branded himself as one of the fittest dudes in Hollywood, and hailing from Australia, I have to assume he could swim under 60 minutes in an Ironman without more than a few weeks of retraining. But Bradley Cooper has that sweet hair flow, damn that thing is mesmerizing!
Cooper is no slouch in the gym himself. Notably his “3-2-1 workout routine” has been written about as a component to how he stays in great shape. The 3-2-1 workout is a 120-minute program that he does three times per week, it includes: 3×10-minute cardio sections, 2×10-minute strength circuits, and a 10-minute core routine. The entire routine hits his entire body and is not for the faint of heart.
I’m going to have to go with Bradley Cooper on this one because you know what they say, “Muscles are for show, but sweet hair is for dough.” They say that right?
In all seriousness, I’m going to pick Bradley Cooper because I think Chris Hemsworth is just too muscular to perform well in a triathlon. Now I know that there are studies out there that say lower body weight isn’t correlated with good triathlon performances, and that a lower body fat percentage is actually more important; so you’d think that Hemsworth’s added muscle wouldn’t actually slow him down. But both Bradley Cooper and Chris Hemsworth are coming into the race lean and mean with a trim body fat percentage, so at that point I think in a head-to-head matchup, body weight will make a difference.
I’m taking Bradley Cooper (aka. Rocket The Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy) by a whisker.
“I got Chris”
Do we really need to argue this? I mean, Chris Hemsworth….Thor…there is simply no case or discussion here! I mean he’s Thor right? He’s not a racoon or the star of romantic movies! He’s Thor. Have you seen his muscles and six-pack? Sorry, I’m getting distracted….but he’s Thor…he’s hands down going to beat the cr*p…sorry I mean, win a triathlon.
Keeping the Aussie theme, Hemsworth would have grown up at the beach and in the water, like all Australians (right?) so will of course be able to swim in a short-course triathlon. Whilst his older brother Luke has already competed in a tri, Hemsworth is regularly snapped rocking around on his bike as a way to keep fit, or taking his kids for a bike ride. (Dad bonus points right here.) Running too seems to be a staple in this actor’s routine, as a way to keep in shape and fit for the action heroes he plays. Did I say he was Thor?
As we are playing up in the galaxy, let’s look at star signs? Hemsworth as a Leo means he’s a go-getter and knows what he wants and will do whatever he has to do to complete his goals. I wouldn’t bet against him therefore in a triathlon. Leos also like to keep up their appearances as a big part of keeping fit…yep that doesn’t sound like Hemsworth at all. Cooper however is a Capricorn (as well as a racoon), there is just no match.
And let’s face it, if Thor wasn’t winning in the race, I’m pretty sure he’d just destroy everyone else to get to the line first.
– LSSection divider
Main Event: Peak Paula Newby-Fraser Vs. Peak Mirinda Carfrae (Long Course)
“I got Newby-Fraser”
Three words: “Queen of Kona!”
Paula Newby-Fraser’s accomplishments on the Big Island, with eight world championship titles, is a record that I don’t believe will ever be matched again. Eight world championships is an almost unbelievable amount of titles for a triathlete to gather up over the course of eleven years; for an athlete to perform at such a high level for over a decade requires immense natural talent and an unreal level of intelligence to stay healthy for that long.
Counting up championship titles shouldn’t be the determinant of who’s better than who; if that was the case, Sam Jones and John Havlicek would outrank Michael Jordan and Lebron James in the list of best all-time players in the NBA. But here’s why I feel that Paula Newby-Fraser is the winner of this matchup: Her winning times were nearly as fast as Rinny’s, but her winning times smashed her competition.
Rinny’s game plan in races is: Survive the swim with as little damage as possible, try to stay close on the bike, then run like hell and hope she has enough time to catch up to her competitors. Her largest margin of victory in races was just seven-and-a-half minutes.
PNF was relatively much stronger against the best in the world for over a decade. Her largest margin of victory was over 26 minutes, and her average margin of victory was more than Rinny’s largest margin of victory.
Paula Newby Fraser simply won more, won for a longer period of time, won in similar times with worse equipment and less access to scientific training data, and beat some of the best of the best of all time.
Now I’m not saying that Rinny isn’t talented, she was likely the best female runner Ironman racing has ever seen. Her come from behind wins require mental toughness and a level of self-confidence few athletes have. But Paula Newby-Fraser also showed grit when she won the 1996 world title after her famous 1995 fail that resulted in her lying on the side of the run course thinking she was dying—such an enormous meltdown that it’s been replayed almost every year since.
I think it’s clear that Paula Newby-Fraser comes ahead in this matchup.
“I got Carfrae”
Well I’m just a little biased on this one, as we have the same coach (Julie Dibens) and are in the same squad, so I couldn’t really bet against Rinny! But I don’t think I would anyway.
Three-time Ironman world champion, 70.3 world champion, ITU triathlon world championship medals, and an ITU long course medal. Rinny could run down anyone, and regularly did—that was how she won so many of those titles! Remember 2014? The 14-minute deficit she had coming off the bike to run down Daniella Ryf and take the world title for the third time? Rinny’s run times beat most of the men in races. In Kona 2013 she had the third fastest run split overall.
Now I appreciate and admire Paula Newby-Fraser’s achievements and record, but Rinny doesn’t need eight titles to match PNF. Rinny won the races in a way no one had done before. She set a marathon record on debut in Kona and went on to break that again and again, and again, and again. She has a never say die attitude and can find another gear in the run to close down any gap by anyone.
Rinny, I believe, has also been racing in a much tougher era (controversial I know) against the likes of Chrissie Wellington, Rachel Joyce, and an era of British dominance in the sport (also including 2012 Kona champion Leanda Cave) and the Swiss queens of Caroline Steffen and Daniela Ryf. The depth of the women’s field in the early 2010s was so strong that Rinny’s performances required to win were over and above. Also, Rinny had the ability to perform when needed on the big stages—Kona and Roth. So for a big race against PNF, if they were both on their game, my money would be on Rinny running PNF down to take the win!