Greg and Laura Bennett are one of triathlon’s most successful couples, with impressive careers that have spanned decades. Although the duo has countless individual achievements, 2007 was the year where the Bennetts rose to the top—together.
The couple started coaching each other in 2004. Greg said 2005 was a “bit rough,” but in 2006, things started to click—conveniently around the same time that some of the sport’s biggest prize purses debuted. The Bennetts followed the Lydiard Method during a hard 16-week block of training in Noosa, Australia, and both had decent pre-seasons in 2007.
The Life Time Triathlon was originally just one marquee event in Minneapolis, but by 2007 it had turned into a five-race grand slam series (focused on big-city tris in Minneapolis, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas) with a monster prize purse for any athlete who could win all five. In some ways, this was a seemingly impossible task, given the deep talent pool in short-course racing in the decade that followed triathlon’s introduction to the Olympics.
And yet, the races in that series became Greg’s target. Also that summer, the Hy-Vee ITU World Cup Triathlon —a draft-legal Olympic-distance race in Des Moines, Iowa—debuted, offering an astonishing $1 million prize purse. “For Laura, that became the world champs—it would be crazy not to make that the focus.”
Hy-Vee took place in June. The women went off first and Laura won, taking home a whopping $200,000 and a new Hummer H3 valued over $30,000. Although Greg’s race started soon after, he couldn’t miss greeting his wife at the finish line.
“That was a really emotional high—yes because of the money and the car, but it was also because we had been working so hard for so long to have that breakthrough moment for her,” he said. “For both of us—we had been together for seven years at that point—it was an outpouring of emotional relief. It was just pure joy. Sometimes you can contain your emotions, and other times they just explode. That was an explosion.”
Greg jumped on his bike and sprinted to the start line, where his male competitors high-fived and congratulated him. He took fifth against a very competitive field, which gave him the confidence boost he needed.
The July Minneapolis Life Time race served as both the final of the 2006 series and the start of the 2007 series, which would finish in Dallas. Winning all five was not an immediate goal of Greg’s given the dynamics and the competitive depth of the men’s field at the time. Unlike some of the dominant male winners today, on any given weekend, Greg, Simon Whitfield, Bevan Docherty, Craig Alexander, Hamish Carter, Chris McCormack, or Hunter Kemper could top the podium.
In Minneapolis, Greg laid down the exact race he visualized and won.
Next up was New York City, a course that suited him well: a down-current swim, a half-mile run to the bike to gap the best swimmers, a hilly bike, hot and humid conditions, and a run in Central Park with plenty of long downhills. He won the race four years in a row—including that one.
Two for five.
Chicago came next, which featured a course that was the complete opposite of New York, with a tough lake swim and very flat bike and run courses. Olympian Craig Walton, one of the most prominent swim-bikers at the time, was Greg’s biggest competition. He knew if he could get off the bike within two minutes of Walton that he could outrun him.
“I got off the bike and I was 2:30 down,” he said, “so I just started sprinting. I remember running as fast as I could, like at the playground, and I was a maniac. I caught him by 5K and then I was absolutely spent. I finally got him in the last mile, but only by about 12 seconds.”
After that race, the pressure started to get to Greg as rumblings formed about five for five. “I thought—oh wow, I’ve got the three… but then again, it’s one race at a time.”
Three down. Two to go.
Race four was in Los Angeles, with another tough bike and challenging run with long downhills. Walton got off the bike 3:30 ahead.
“My first reaction was, ‘Oh good, the pressure’s off,'” Greg said. “But I immediately snapped out of it and thought, ‘NO—why don’t you go find out?’ I started sprinting again. The course goes up to the [Walt Disney Concert Hall] and straight back down, and I remember just freefalling, opening the legs and letting the arms flail. The race director said, ‘I’ve never seen anyone drop down a hill like that.’ I thought I would either fall on my face or win the race.”
He caught Walton with 300 meters to go, and a sprint battle ensued. “I did get him, but he made me earn every step.”
That night, Greg flew to Beijing to watch Laura compete at the 2007 ITU World Cup, which served as the Olympics test event. She came in third behind Emma Snowsill and Vanessa Fernandes, instantly solidifying her spot on Team USA for 2008. “We partied so hard—it was so much joy to make that team and do it in such strong fashion,” Greg said.
Although Laura’s race was worthy of an elaborate celebration, that partying and flying across the globe may not have been the best for Greg’s recovery: He wound up with an Achilles injury that halted his running. “I had Dallas coming up, and I had to win it—it wasn’t a maybe, it was you have to win it,” he said, of the all-or-none nature of the series payout. “It’s the most alive feeling you can ever have when you have to do something—it’s not a choice.”
The morning of the Texas race, Greg had a chiropractor and bodywork specialist working on him from 2–5 am just to be able to get through the run. Life Time flew in all the best athletes in the world, and a win wasn’t going to come easy. “I decided to own it and own it early,” he said. “I hopped on the bus and realized, ‘I’m on the way to play a game with the best in the world, and every now and then they’re going to throw punches and it’s going to hurt.'”
He took some hits along the way but won the Dallas race by 21 seconds, which was “as much of a celebration as it was a relief.” His five-for-five victories earned him more than $500,000 worth of prize purse winnings and bonuses that year. (Fun fact: Every one of his runs throughout the series fell between 30:50–30:57.)
“Laura and I ticked so many boxes, and it was a wonderful year for us to get to have,” Greg said. “We got to have that—one time. You have these moments that are special, and this was a year of that moment, between Laura making the Olympic team and winning Hy-Vee and me winning the five for five. It was a year where it all came together and that was what was really special.”