Could This Be Love?

Triathlon, the arcane sport of masochists, is poised to hit it big, with a high-profile Olympic debut and two camera-ready hardbodies in a duel for glory. Will America fall for the seduction?

Jun 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
Morning creeps toward noon as Radkewich works the hill, running with light-limbed grace, just on the edge of oxygen deficiency. His seeming ease belies the hectic, edgy pulse of his closely calibrated days. In its early years, triathlon served as a stately form of aerobic meditation, a paean to the merits of going slow and long. The signature race, the Hawaii Ironman, was dominated by powerful but offhand former lifeguards such as Dave Scott and Mark Allen, who churned through the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run like Zen masters, enclosed in bubbles of unremitting effort. All that's changed. The Ironman, the emblematic endurance event of the 1980s, has lost popularity to shorter, high-pressure races that are won not by laid-back Californians, but by Australians and Europeans. The odds-on favorite for the Sydney gold is four-time world champion Simon Lessing, who was born in South Africa but races for Great Britain.

For more than a decade, American men have languished far down in the triathlon pecking order. Not one of them has won the Olympic-distance world championship since Mark Allen did in 1989. But Radkewich, Kemper, and a few others, including Tony De Boom (a media darling whose brother, Tim, is also a pro triathlete), harbor a spark of hope. In elite, Olympic-distance races, mere seconds often separate the first- and 20th-place finishers. A race often goes to whoever's hot—or lucky—on a given day. Radkewich, who led the American men in World Cup points last year, and Kemper, runner-up in the 1999 Pan Am Games, should be in the lead pack coming out of the water in Sydney Harbor, should hang near the front through the bike phase, and should make the transition into the 10k with plausible, if dark-horse, shots at a medal.

That is, if they don't crash and burn in the trials. If they hit every workout bang on the nail, performing each swim, bike ride, and run—and every weight-training, stretching, and sports-psychology session—at the exact prescribed pitch of intensity.

Radkewich cranks his uphill repeat, turns, and pads downslope for his final two-minute gasper. Dapice passes, toiling uphill, following his own training sequence.

"It's not the work I mind," Radkewich says of his ascetic profession. "It's the constant grind of scrambling for dough. Not that I'm in such bad shape myself. I've got it a lot easier than Josh, for instance.

"And hey," he says with a grin, pointing to the passing rock spires. "I get to live in the Springs!" A few more strides and the grin fades. "The real reason I live here is that it's cheap," he admits. "Up in Boulder, I'd pay 650 bucks a month for my apartment. Here, I only pay $450." With a glint of self-derision, he adds, "I can afford to go to the movies once in a while, instead of just renting videos."

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