Epic triathlon fails: Pro triathletes on when things go wrong

Yes, even the world’s best triathletes have had their fair share of multisporting ‘moments’. Here, they share their most embarrassing mishaps… and what they learned from them.

So read on to hear stories from the likes of Lucy Charles-Barclay, Jess Learmonth, Georgia Taylor-Brown, Sebastian Kienle and Hayden Wilde…

Lucy Charles-Barclay

2021 70.3 world champion, 3 x Kona runner-up

Credit: Talbot Cox

“After 18 months of no racing due to the global pandemic and switching bikes from disc to rim brake, it’s fair to say I was a little rusty going into Challenge Miami in March 2021.

Heading towards the dismount line with a strong tail wind, I underestimated how early I needed to start slowing down. A very strong last-minute pull on the brakes caused me to fly over the handle bars, with the triathlon world watching on live stream! I should’ve probably practised my dismounts after so long away from racing. Lesson learned? Practise those little skills.”

Sebastian Kienle

2014 Ironman world champ & 2 x 70.3 world champ

Germany’s Sebastian Kienle competes in the Ironman 2019 World Championships (Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Ironman)

“I got into quite good shape leading up to Challenge Daytona 2020 and was ready to deliver something big. Two weeks out of the race, and I was running with my wife: 8 x 1km hard with 1km rest. My calf was a little sore thanks to some track running with racing flats, but I was in ‘Rocky’ mode.

“My wife noted that I was limping a little bit, but when she asked me if I should quit after five reps, I almost screamed at her: ‘THIS IS THE TIME TO HARDEN UP, NOT TO QUIT’. A week later, I couldn’t run anymore. I traveled to Daytona, quit the race, and it took me another six months to fully recover. So, always listen to your wife (or partner)!”

Jess Learmonth

2 x Commonwealth silver medallist, 2020 Olympic mixed relay gold medallist

Credit: Delly Carr

“I spent a month in Australia in 2018 on a pre-camp with Team England for the Commonwealth Games. I was training hard with long sessions in the heat, completely unaware of all the nutrients I was losing from sweating over 3kg per session. Over a month this added up.

“Two weeks out from the Games, I got a stress response in my hip. Although with most injuries it’s a chain of events rather than one key problem, I later realised my calcium and magnesium was massively affected by sweat loss. I’m now very aware of my sweat rates, and I supplement well while away on camps or when in intense training.”

Jodie Stimpson

2 x Commonwealth gold medallist

Jodie Stimpson wins WTS Auckland (Credit: World Triathlon)

“I remember this as my first ‘bleep’ moment in triathlon. I was taking part in the Youth Relay Championship in a three-women relay. I was the middle leg and got passed over in the lead, which was great but things didn’t go to plan.

“Previous to the race, the coaching staff had asked us to use Pyro platform pedals, which allow you to cycle with your running trainers to give you a quicker T2. I wasn’t used to putting on my trainers in T1, so I jumped on my bike expecting my cycling shoes to be attached to the pedals.

“I ended up having to cycle the whole bike barefoot and put my trainers on in T2 – don’t worry though, I still kept the lead onto our last leg. Moral of this story is, don’t do something new on race day!”

Hayden Wilde

2020 Olympic bronze medallist, 2021 Xterra world champion

Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

“My first proper mishap would have to be at the Tongyong ITU World Cup Sprint (Commonwealth selection race for Team NZL) in 2017. I had one of my best swims ever, but got hit in the head a few times.

“I came into T1 and took my wetsuit off, then began putting on my running shoes when obviously it was the bike leg next. After realising, I took them off and got onto the bike, but by then I’d missed the main group, finished 42nd, and wasn’t selected for the Commies.”

Vicky Holland

2016 Olympic bronze medallist, 2018 world champion, 3 x Commonwealth medallist

(Credit: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images for Commonwealth Games England)

“I went to an event in 2018 where I had to wear a costume rather than my usual tri-suit. I got some really bad chafing, so the following year at the same event I ‘liberally’ used some Vaseline on the vital seams and my thighs, desperate to avoid chafing again.

“As I mounted my bike in T1, my over-lubricated bum slid right off the saddle and in falling I managed to skin my hip on my tire. Inevitably I ended up on the floor. Lessons learned – if you must wear a swimsuit, lubricate appropriately, not with wild abandon!”

Stuart Hayes

London 2012 Olympian

Credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

“My most serious mishap, which ended my professional triathlon career, was being hit by a deer while cycling in London’s Richmond Park back in 2019.

“This unfortunately shattered my pelvis and I spent eight weeks in a wheelchair. During this time, I had to inject myself with a blood-clotting medicine and work out how to exercise without the use of my legs, which I found very challenging. Sadly this was the end of my racing career, and I just had to accept it.”

Lucy Buckingham (née Hall)

London 2012 Olympian

Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

“Back in 2011, I did my last year racing as a junior and we were in China. And literally the whole week we were there getting ready for this race, we didn’t see any dogs. Not one. Plus, we’re in this area where they don’t really have stray dogs.

“In the race, I had my head down and I was in a breakaway, then this dog ran out and hit my front wheel and just took me out completely. That was the end of my race.

“I was 19 at the time, and just devastated. After at the hotel buffet, we had some mystery meat for dinner and the team told me it was probably that dog that took me off.”

Georgia Taylor-Brown

2020 Olympic silver medallist & mixed relay gold medallist

Credit: Super League Triathlon

“During the 2021 Jersey Super League Triathlon I mounted my bike, and because we didn’t have elastic bands to keep our shoes in place, I was looking down to get my feet on top of my bike shoes.

“The next thing I knew, I was tumbling off my bike and onto the floor. It was a bit of a shock to say the least, and very embarrassing. That taught me to always look where I was going when on my bike, don’t be looking down!”

Elliot Smales

Multiple Ironman 70.3 winner

Credit: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images for Ironman

“Quite early on when I’d just started racing Castle Series, I did an Olympic-distance race. The swim was good, and then I got on the bike and I was like, ‘these shoes feel a little bit weird’.

Turns out, I’d clipped my left shoe to my right pedal, and my right shoe to my left pedal. Obviously, any normal person at that point would’ve just got off, swapped the shoes back over, and got back on the bike.

“But in my head, I decided it would be quicker to not stop and do 40km with my feet in the wrong shoes. When I eventually got off the bike, I could barely run because one of my legs was at a really weird angle. I had pains everywhere. Looking back, swapping them would have been the more sensible thing to do.”

Emma Ballant-Browne

2 x world duathlon champion

Credit: Kenny Withrow

“While not really a fail this was definitely one of my most embarrassing moments in my career (and there’ve been a few). It was 2021’s 70.3 Oceanside race, and I’d put a gel up at the top of my costume. I then went to take a drink and poured some water down my top to cool me down.

“The gel fell right down my swimsuit. Like right down! I was in the zone, not aware of what happened and kept running. It was only when I crossed the line and went to get my bags that I pulled it out!”

Nikki Bartlett

2019 Ironman Lanzarote winner

Credit: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images for Ironman

“In 2014 I lined up at Ironman 70.3 Wimbleball, one of my last age-group races, in fact, before turning pro. It was back in the day when pros set off 100m in front of agegroupers, on the same gun. I had a great swim and came high up in the overall field.

“Onto the bike, five miles in and my whole shifter came off. So I spent the whole bike stuck in my big ring and had to hold my shifter in my hand the whole race! Anyone who knows that course, will know of my pain.

“Lesson learnt, get a service and look over your bike before a key race. Luckily, I managed to plag it and came second overall. Plus, it gave me the confidence to get my pro license the following year.”

Chrissie Wellington

4 x Ironman world champion

Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

“Colombia Triathlon in 2009 was not my finest racing hour. I was already two-time world [Ironman] champion, and approached the race with a blasé and somewhat arrogant attitude that would prove to be my downfall.

“I didn’t give the race or my competitors the respect they deserved. I was slapdash with my preparation, not taking care of all the small (or big) things – including sleep, diet and clothing.

“I didn’t get enough of the former, I didn’t make the best food choices for my performance, and I wore a swimsuit on the bike/run when the weather was more suited to polar bears.

“I struggled and I finished a disappointing sixth. Yet this race taught me so much, about being humble, meticulous preparation, and coping with failure.”

George Peasgood

2020 Paralympic PTS5 gold medallist

Credit: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

“Racing at the World Champs in 2019, I received a drafting penalty, but I believed I was wrongly sanctioned. I ended up having a full-on argument with the referee for not knowing the rules or doing his job properly.

“Needless to say, I was so wound up that the rest of the race also didn’t go to plan. Lesson? Try and keep your cool!”

Top image credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Leave a Comment