Macca is back

Macca is back

By Brian Mahony on 16/06/11 at 3:20 pm

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Macca sits down for a chat with us in his first ITU race since 2004

Reigning Ironman Champion and former ITU World Champion Chris “Macca” McCormack will make his much talked about return to ITU racing this weekend in Kitzbühel, Austria at round 3 of the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series. The triathlon world has been buzzing with excitement on talk of his return since he announced his intention to try and qualify for the Australian Olympic team earlier this year. With only days to go until the elite men take to the start line in front of the Schwarzsee Lake, opinion is split on how the 38-year-old Australian will fare.

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McCormack won both the World Cup series and World Championship title in 1997 and last raced an ITU event in 2004, a Pan American Cup.  In McCormack’s opinion, he was unfairly left off the Australian Olympic team in 2000. Feeling embittered with the selection policies he decided not to pursue a spot in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. McCormack told Triathlete Magazine back in April that he felt in hindsight that this may have been a mistake.

“I felt like earlier in my career, I was really angry and felt hurt, so I made a decision [not to go to the 2004 Athens Olympics]. I ultimately should have gone to Athens. Speaking to the guys from Athens, I walked away from an amazing opportunity to medal or even win,” McCormack said.

He then switched to long distance and went on to capture the Ironman title in Kona twice. However, he has now set his sights on trying to make the Australian Olympic Team for London 2012 – a challenge of epic proportions in itself.  Macca is open about the challenge that lies ahead but is nonetheless excited at the prospect of pitting himself against the best of ITU racing.

“I enjoy the process, and I’m going to enjoy diving in and racing Alistair Brownlee. I raced Mark Allen at the beginning of my career and now I’ve gone all the way up to Alistair Brownlee. I’m looking forward to that, but I am a little nervous. [Former Olympian and current long-course athlete] Olivier Marceau said the other day, “I think you’re crazy.” “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said [laughing]. But I’m going to go back and have a go. I’m nervous and excited.”

Now it’s clear, despite comments from some of his most ardent fans, that McCormack will not be challenging for a podium spot this weekend, or anything like it. The pace and intensity of ITU racing is at a different level than that of long course racing. It will be a slow process for McCormack to adapt back to this speed of racing. Indeed the standard has increased dramatically since his last ITU race in 2004, with Javier Gomez and the Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, pushing the envelope further every season. McCormack is clear that his aim is to make the Australian Olympic team as a domestique, and not as a legitimate medal contender.

“After the Sydney race, I went out with Javier [Gomez] and said, “Hey guys, I’m not disrespecting the ITU in any shape or form. I know how good you guys are and what you are doing.” If I can get on the team, I can. If I can’t, I can’t. I don’t need to be top guy. I just need to meet the Australian selection criteria,” McCormack told Inside Triathlon magazine in April.

Javier Gomez, like McCormack was open in offering his perspective on the 1997 World Champion’s quest.

“Many people are asking me if Macca could win a WCS race. He is the first one who is realistic and knows that his fight is to get a spot for the Olympics, which is not easy at all, but not trying to win races. He is really brave doing this and I wish him all the best, “Gomez said in a statement on his website.

“He is the first one who is realistic and knows that his fight is to get a spot for the Olympics, which is not easy at all, but not trying to win races.”
Javier Gomez on Chris McCormack

McCormack will quickly have to prove to the Australian selectors that he can offer something to the Australian team. While Courtney Atkinson and Brad Kahlefeldt have had less than stellar starts to their seasons, they are still the established leaders on the Australian team. Brendan Sexton, while not racing in Kitzbühel, has had a great start to 2011 and is quickly proving that he wants to be seen as a medal contender in his own right.

McCormack has been clear that he wants to make the team on merit and only if it increases Australia’s chances of winning a medal in London.

“I’ve been quite open that I don’t want to rob some other kid of their dream if I can’t be a player. I don’t want to be that guy,” he told back in April. “I think I can do it, but don’t do me any favours because I want the best guys to go. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Much has been made of the bike leg in some of the flatter cities on the ITU circuit. Now on the hilly Kitzbühel course, where the bike counts, there will be an opportunity to see the standard of cycling. It will be interesting to see how McCormack fares back in the dynamic of group riding again.  What will happen on Saturday next is unknown, but what we can be sure of is that there’ll be great excitement to see how McCormack will do. We say best of luck to him, and to all the ITU athletes in what will be an exciting and tough race.

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The elite men’s race starts at 14:30 (local time) on Saturday 18 June.
Click here to view the men’s start list
The elite women take over Kitzbühel on Sunday, starting at 12:30 local time.
Click here to view the women’s start list

Find more details about this event - 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Series Kitzbuehel