Last week 2005 IM World Champ Faris Al-Sultan announced his retirement from the triathlon pro field. After more than 15 years career he decided to end before he expected due to many injuries and not being able to struggle as he did before. All triathlon fans know the guy racing in speedos, but actually Faris Al-Sultan is much more than an old-school fashioned triathlete. I had the opportunity to speak to Faris few days after IM Texas and here is what the interview was all about.
VC: Hi Faris, for me it’s an honour to interview someone who is part of the history of triathlon, especially on the long distance course!
FAS: Thanks for having me.VC: I’m sad that this interview becomes few days after you have announced retirement but I think it was a must speaking with you not just about your career but about triathlon in different ways. So, you where racing IM Texas and after suffering pain on your ham strings you decided no to run the marathon. Is in that moment when you have realized that you need to drop off pro triathlon?
FAS: Well it was more a constant development. Since IM SA in 2014 I´ve had only bad races (at least the important ones) and together with other issues it was simply the sum of many things plus the disappointment of the Texas race itself.
VC: Once you win Kona, the demanding level you must show in every performance is very high not just for you but also for the crowd… is that a difficult situation to deal?
FAS: Expectations are high from yourself and everyone else, it isn’t easy but I handled it well in 2006. Later of course I started having some problems but bounced back.
VC: You’ve raced many IM distances, more than 30 I guess… you have been a pro for more than 15 years in IM distance…and of course you won Kona in 2005, so how do you think triathlon people will remember Faris Al-Sultan? Or maybe better, how would you like people remember you?
FAS:I hope to be remembered as a fair sportsman and a tough athlete, but I think it´s more likely that I’m remembered for racing in a speedo.
VC: Nowadays the main pack of long distance triathletes where first PRO short distance guys. That wasn’t your case and there still some like you (Kienle, Van Lierde…) Do you think this will be more difficult to see in the future? Or do you think you can become a Long Distance Pro Triathlete without being first at WTS or similar?
FAS: Sure of course there is a fair share of former WTS guys but if you look at last years Kona results, we have Kienle, Hoffman, Viennot, van Lierde, Aernouts, Guillaume that were not WTS.
VC: Do you think you began to young to race in IM? If you could turn back time would you began to race long distance much later?
FAS: There is no real answer for that because when I started triathlon I had no intention to turn pro. I was a 19 year old that wanted to prove himself and long distance was my challenge. If I had to advise a young triathlete today I certainly would recommend to start a bit later but motivation is key if you want to race IM you have to do it to fulfil that want. If you really crave chocolate ice cream won’t satisfy.
VC: I don’t know but maybe it’s one of the reasons why you are not in the mood of suffering anymore. So many races, so many training hours. I mean, everyone has their own story but with 35 to 37 years your body should be ready to perform as he did before, isn’t it?
FAS: Age is to some degree just a number it depends on what you’ve done with or to your body and your mind. Physically I’m damaged but still able to perform solid. I’m pretty sure, assuming to be fit and healthy, I’m able to be first pack in the water, ride 280 watts and run 3:00 at any Ironman but that isn’t satisfying to me any more.
VC: Everyone agrees you are an authentic triathlete. Racing in Speedos, carrying your bottle during the bike course on your back, putting the helmet straps offside… I do believe everyone on the triathlon field recognize you for your style a part from your brilliant career. I’m sure this is just the way you are, but how come you feel comfortable with a bottle inside your speedo for 180km???
FAS: The speedo doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all and was simply “the gear” when I started. The bottle in the speedo simply occurred out of necessity, I had only one bottle cage, didn’t like the old aero bottles in the front, and didn’t want to carry a backseat cage as I often lost bottles there. And in the windtunel there wasn’t much difference anyway.
VC: Which is the best triathlete you have raced with? And why?
FAS: That isn’t easy, to me 1995 is a big break in triathlon, talking long course racing. So Allen and Scott are in a different era. On long course the answer resultwise is simple, Peter Reid. Overall it’s difficult to answer.
VC: It’s amazing how much is growing triathlon in every place. Will this mean triathlon professionalism will be better in all ways? Or the amount of age-groupers will decrease soon? or will not be enough for triathlon taking to a next step?
FAS: I’m pretty sure numberwise the growth will continue, unfortunately our sport doesn’t develop in other areas. For a professional athlete the situation is worse then 10 years ago.
VC: Maybe it’s to early to make this question but what are you going to do now? I can imagine Faris getting involved in triathlon, as ambassador, is this path the one to follow?
FAS:I don’t know but I’m tempted to try something completely unrelated to sport.
VC: Which is the best (pretty, spectacular) race you have ever done?
FAS: That’s very difficult, but I will say Saint Croix.
VC: As an age grouper I’ve never pulled out of a race… but I understand PRO’s doing it in some cases. Do you remember first time you made a DNF? Can you explain the feelings?
FAS: Pretty early in my career as an age group athlete I dropped out in Roth with a mechanical issue that was heartbraking, I dropped out a few times mainly with mechanical issues. Dropping out is the worst because you can’t tell a story afterward it is as if you havn’t done the race. As a pro it sometimes makes sense to drop out although it is a tough call as dropping out makes it easier to give up the next time.
VC: You’ve won Kona once and ended top5 and top10 many times. We can say you have been a regular triathlete during your career. Has that something to do with your personality? You had to work so tough to arrive here… is constancy one of your main weapons?
FAS:Yes but also the fact that I handle the heat well helped me a lot and that I really do like Kona.
VC: Is there any question you have never been asked but you would like to answer it? You can make it happen right now!
FAS: Not really…
VC: Teammate Marino Vanhoenacker announced he is not going to race Kona anymore. Marino has been chasing a win in Kona for many years and as he said…. Kona beat him. Do you think is fair that Kona has to be always de IM WC? Should it move to other places as 70.3 WC does? I mean some triathletes just don’t perform as they should in Kona but they can be very strong in other places… I know Kona is all about and the atmosphere over there is probably the best in triathlon’s worldwide but… what do you think?
FAS:No. I think Kona is it The race. We should emphasize the new regional championships or individual races, increase their value but there is only one Kona.
VC: Well Faris, thank you very much for this interview. I’m really happy about it. I whish you all the best in the future and in your life’s new chapter. I’m pretty sure you will succeed in whatever you do!
FAS:Thank you very much.
Goodbye Faris Al-Sultan. Pure long distance triathlon history! We will never forget you…