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Tim Don is one of those rare sporting talents to show success across all distances in triathlon. He’s a three-time Olympian (2000, 2004 and 2008), owns four world titles (1998 World Junior Triathlon Champion, 2002 ITU World Duathlon Champion, 2005 ITU World Aquathlon Champion and 2006 ITU World Triathlon Champion) and transitioned seamlessly from short to long course racing. Most recently Don took the victory in his Ironman debut [Mallorca]. And with a third-place podium finish at the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship and several 70.3 titles to his name, Don is one of the men’s favorites for Saturday’s inaugural Challenge Bahrain, his first visit to the Middle East and likewise his first experience racing a Challenge Family event. I chatted with Don, a soon-to-be father of two, to learn a little about what makes this British star tick when it comes to the triathlon battlefield.
Triathlete.com: You’re no stranger to high stakes racing, having won the $200,000 top prize with your 2010 victory at Hy-Vee. Challenge Bahrain will award $100,000 to each winner as part of a half million dollar overall professional purse. Let’s be honest–how much are you money-motivated when you race? Does the prize purse figure in your head in the heat of the moment?
TD: Not at all. I want to be the best in the world. I want to be world champion. That’s what I’m after. And I don’t want to cherry pick races. Maybe I’ll do a race that doesn’t have as good a field because it’s a preparation race or something, like Ironman Mallorca, to get the Ironman experience and qualify for Kona and tick those boxes. But now if I do another Ironman it will either be another one to gain more experience or else one like Melbourne or South Africa–one of those 4000 point races. I prefer to race the top guys. So that’s what it’s about. I guess this year maybe money does factor in a bit more, just because we’ve had a tough two years because I haven’t got many sponsors, believe it or not. Thank God I had a good year! So money has been more of an issue than ever, and with a new baby on the way that will be more important [Don and wife Kelly will welcome their second child in late December].
Triathlete.com: But let’s say you’re in a sprint for the finish in Bahrain. Will you be thinking: It’s $100,000 on the line. Run!
TD: No. In a sprint I’m thinking tactically: How can I beat this person? Do I go at 400? At 200? Do I soft go? Do I drop back and go around the other side? Is there a corner leading into the finish? Is there this, this or this? That’s what I’m thinking. Maybe that moment you cross the line is when it hits you. You can see in the photos when I crossed the line at Hy-Vee I was like: My god! Now what happens?
Triathlete.com: You promised your four-year-old daughter Matilda the gift of a trampoline if you won Rev3 Knoxville, which you did. Is there something specific on the line if you’re successful in Bahrain?
TD: There is, actually. We don’t have a television, so a television we’ll get. When I won my Ironman Kelly got an iPhone 6. So she’s got that, and this is my phone [laughing and showing me a completely cracked screen].
Triathlete.com: I read that you grew up running in a place called Bushy Park in London, with lots of deer running around, and where many of the top runners in the world trained at the time. It made me think about the run course in Bahrain, because it goes through a wild animal park, and you’ll have many of the top triathletes in the world vying for the win. What excites you most about the Bahrain course and the competition?
TD: It’s just soft game, I hope–no big cats! I’ve ridden in the Zambezi Valley [in Africa] many times where there’s steaming elephant shit because a whole herd has just crossed the road, and I’ve swam in lakes with crocodiles in Zimbabwe, so I love that wild side of things. That will be fun, and the field the race has drawn excites me. Also the fact I’ve never been to the Middle East and that I’m going to go and do what I hope will become an iconic race. I’m a big fan of Formula One racing, and the fact that we do a lap of the Formula One circuit, then run through the animal park and then finish on the Formula One track is amazing. I just think that when Middle Eastern countries do something, they do it right–whether it’s constructing a building or a man-made island or putting on an international event–and I think it’s great to be a part of it, especially the first year. For the age group athletes it sounds like the race packet is going to be the best ever, and from what I hear and from my own experience so far they look after people quite well. I don’t have the Royal Package [awarded to top professional finishers at key Challenge Family events], but they’ve gone above and beyond in helping so many pros come to the event–a first for me since I left ITU. They’re doing it right and showing that they really appreciate the pros. I think the whole thing will be unique. Every so often you just have to take a step back and realize how lucky we are to do what we do and really appreciate these opportunities. I did the only World Championship series race in Washington D.C., and it was a terrible course, but I’d never been to Washington D.C. so I wanted to see it. The race went up Congress Hill and the bell rang as they came into session. I’ve done a French Grand Prix race around Longchamp, the horse racing circuit. It’s just cool to do these iconic races and again I love racing against the best in the world.