INTERVIEWS

Training the world

Swiss coach Peter Naegeli, an age group Xterra champion, has gathered a multi-national set of athletes into his stable. Under the ‘www.kona-coaching.com’ umbrella, Naegeli guides his athletes through the stages of triathlon preparation, with several entered for 70.3 and Ironman races this year.

The advantages that I can offer are my sporting experience – I’ve won the French Xterra age group championships four times – and my background in teaching and management. I really know how to motivate and guide people – I don’t just write down plans and send them off,’ says the multi-lingual Naegeli, who lives in Neuchatel in Switzerland but has athletes from France, South Africa and elsewhere on his books.

‘I chose the BEST Centre as the location for my first residential camp because it has the best facilities I could find,’ he says as we sit by the pool and seven of his athletes complete punishing drills next to us.

‘Another 200 meters!’ he tells two swimmers, who look like they’re ready for a break (but secretly pleased to be pushed so hard).

At the age of 60, Naegeli is in great physical shape, something he attributes to a consistent programme – ‘I don’t train an awful lot, but I’m very focused and very regular.’ He integrates yoga and pilates into his weekly routine to improve core strength on all disciplines, and is a confirmed vegetarian. ‘I think it helps, not only because you don’t eat meat, but because you’re more conscious of your intake. You do less “sins”.’

Great to meet you Peter and come back to the BEST Centre again soon!

Brits on Fire

With their victories in the Mallorca Olympic Triathlon at Colonia Sant Jordi on 23 April, British triathletes Emma Pallant (first woman and second overall) and Caitlin Bradley (first relay women, with Hannah Lord) topped a triumphant month on the island.

Pallant, building on her World Duathlon win in Adelaide last year, dominated the course here with great swim and bike legs followed by a sizzling 29.42 run – the best of all competitors and the only athlete to run under 30 minutes. She ended the race a mere 71 seconds behind the male winner, Rickard Carlsson.

A fortnight earlier, Pallant had stormed to a win in the Porto Colom 55 triathlon women’s race, with Bradley close behind in third spot. Then the following weekend Bradley took an age group win at the Ses Salines half marathon – second woman overall.

The two women are close friends, part of the same UK coaching club – Team Dillon, run by Michelle Dillon and Stuart Hayes. Bradley has been a frequent visitor to the BEST Centre in previous years, then persuaded Pallant to join her this year.

‘The facilities are the best I’ve seen anywhere,’ says Pallant, who as a star of track and field (under 23 European Cross Country champion and World Junior 1500m medallist) has a wealth of training experience. ‘People think England is best for running, Australia is great for swimming, but here you have the sea, you have running trails, the BEST Centre pool, amazing biking…’

‘Mallorca isn’t so big,’ adds Bradley. ‘You can easily ride to the mountains if you want. But when you’re in race mode you want speed in your legs. And the roads here are great for that. A lot of triathlon rides these days are about pure power – you get on the bars and go for miles.’

When she arrived in Colonia Sant Jordi, Pallant went in search of some power training and signed up with a gym in town. On her first visit, she hit the treadmill and turned up the dial to maximum (16 kph). Still too slow! So she quickly had to cancel her membership and look elsewhere.

With the Mallorca Half Ironman in Alcudia around the corner, Pallant is relishing the prospect of competition with 2012 Olympic triathlon winner Nicola Spirig, while Bradley is planning to coax more of her fellow triathletes out to the BEST Centre to sample the extraordinary conditions here.

‘The atmosphere here is so different to the UK,’ says Bradley. ‘There, it’s all about image and trying to look the part. Here, James [Parrack] and Matt [O’Connor – the co-owners] let you get on with it and they’re really supportive.

Good luck for the rest of the season: it’s looking like a big one!

Lubomir Visnovsky – NHL Star Swaps the Ice for Multisport

For 15 years, Lubomir Visnovsky had 20,000 fans screaming his name every week as he tore through opposing teams in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Star defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings, the Edmonton Oilers, the Anaheim Ducks and finally the New York Islanders, Visnovsky retired in 2015 after a spectacular career in which he was the top scoring defenseman in 2010-2011, won the World Cup with Slovakia in 2002 and took the team to four Olympic Games. He scored the only ever hat-trick by a defenseman for the Anaheim Ducks, in 2011.

In April this year, Visnovsky could be found in Colonia Sant Jordi pursuing his new hobby of triathlon, looking to replace some of the kicks he’s missing from the ecstatic NHL crowds.

‘After two hours in the BEST Centre pool and three hours on the bike, I feel unbelievable,’ he says. ‘It’s my first time here and I’ve seen a lot of really talented guys in the pool. It really surprises me to see 200, 300 guys in the pool every day. It’s a great atmosphere, I can feel the power.’

Visnovsky was known throughout the hockey world for his powerful shot (left-handed, coming from the right side). He was also famous for his ‘high risk’ manoeuvres: ‘He was a master of doing things that most defensemen wouldn’t even be able to think of doing,’ said hockey fan Michael Leboff. ‘He was a high-risk guy, but he was so damn smooth about it that his high-wire act was pretty much encouraged.’

A strong cyclist, Visnovky enjoys the stiff Mallorcan breezes (‘good for the legs’) and has thrown himself into multisport training with his traditional gusto. ‘I want to do something every day to sacrifice my body,’ he says.

He certainly sacrificed a lot for his hockey career, breaking multiple bones, suffering nine concussions and foregoing other sports for years. He only took up swimming in February 2016 and still finds running tough, after injuring disks as a hockey player. His Slovakian conditioning coach is a 10-time national triathlon champion and encouraged him into the sport.

‘Hockey is a collective sport, you’re always thinking about the team, whereas in triathlon it just you and your body. You just try to beat your time, instead of an opponent,’ he says.

With his quick smile and livewire demeanour, you can see why Visnovsky needs to find an outlet for his energies. He’s already set up a hockey and sports centre in his home town of Bratislava (the Slovak capital) and spends time with his seven-year old hockey-playing son, four-year-old dancer daughter and show-jumping wife.

But he’s still missing the adrenalin rush of competition, while awestruck by the achievements of fellow Slovaks like cyclist Peter Sagan, who won the Tour of Flanders just a couple of days before this interview.

‘I’ve loved all seven days here in Mallorca,’ he says. ‘There’s no way I could stay home and watch TV – I’d feel too guilty. So triathlon is a nice hobby, it’s relaxing for me.’

Norway’s Rising Stars

‘Colonia Sant Jordi is just the right size,’ says Norwegian triathlete Lotte Miller. ‘It’s big enough that there are things to do, but not so large that you have to cycle through traffic. And it’s easy to get out into the countryside. I really appreciate that.’

A national champion freestyle swimmer, Miller switched to triathlon a few years ago after former BEST Centre coach Patrick Blake said ‘You look like a triathlete’. Ever since, she’s moved up the Norwegian rankings and loves it. Miller won the 2015 Norwegian National Triathlon Championships in a time of 2 hours 1 minute.

This year, Miller came out to the BEST Centre with around 20 national triathlon team mates including Kristian Blummenfelt, currently 31st in the ITU world rankings and a virtual certainty for a Rio de Janeiro Olympic place.

At 22, he’s also the youngest athlete in the ITU’s top 50, which makes him an excellent prospect for the future.

Blummenfelt has spent valuable time in the BEST Centre pool sharpening his sprint start, to get to the front of the swim pack. The team set up a super-sprint triathlon starting on Es Trenc beach, which Blummenfelt won (as expected).

Lotte Miller is inspired by Blummenfelt’s focus and single-mindedness. ‘Kristian doesn’t chat while he’s training. He’s just going all the time. So that’s something that I picked up.’

‘I like simulating an actual race when I’m training,’ says Blummenfelt. ‘I can see my rivals next to me – even when I’m alone.’

For Blummenfelt, rubbing shoulders with some of the best European triathletes, including Germans, Portuguese and Austrians training at the BEST Centre is highly motivating. His prime rivals, however, are people like the UK’s Brownlee brothers, Spain’s Javier Gomez and Mario Mola, or Vincent Luis of France.

Blummenfelt has kept pace with the world’s top triathletes in recent races, coming third in the 2015 European Championships in Geneva and second at the Alanyu ITU World Cup race.

As a team, the Norwegian triathletes have come to love the BEST Centre: ‘We’ve tried other places, but three years ago an agent recommended coming here,’ says the team coach Arild Tveiten. ‘The facilities are excellent and you get some very good teams training here.’

It’s great to have such a motivated and happy team in town – and good luck in Rio, Kristian!

Slovakian swimmer Richard Nagy certainly has stamina.

Not only has the 22-year-old visited the BEST Centre 13 times, he clocks up mammoth training sessions while he’s here, recently hitting 20,000m in one swim!

‘My coach is very happy, because the Centre lets me train longer. And they always cheer you on,’ says Nagy, who has qualified for the Rio Olympics in the 1,500m freestyle and 400 IM events (with more potentially to come).

Nagy holds Slovakian national records for 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle – all set in a single week last August – and the 400 IM.

His devotion to the BEST Centre is a fantastic vote of confidence in the facilities here. Nagy sometimes visits as often as four times a year, routinely training for a week before big events and ‘sometimes just to swim a lot of miles’. Meeting childhood heroes like Ian Thorpe at the pool has been an exciting bonus.

Relaxed, funny, with a sparkle in his eyes, Nagy clearly loves swimming lots of miles. ‘I always do sets like this – doing 100 times 200 meters in four hours. I swim much more here than back at home. James [Parrack, co-owner of the BEST Centre] usually laughs at me. “Why kill yourself?” he says. But I have to do it as fast as possible because I want to be done in time for dinner.’

A connoisseur of European swim training camps, Nagy has spent time in Tenerife, Crete and various Italian centres, but concluded that the BEST Centre is indeed best. ‘It’s not that expensive, it’s by the sea and the atmosphere’s good. Tenerife was twice as expensive and it was too hot.’

Swimming in an open pool is always a big plus, giving the opportunity to work up a tan, says Nagy. ‘It’s completely different training in these conditions.’ And the easy access to open water is another advantage. Nagy is interested in qualifying for the 10km race in Rio, which will be held in the sea off Copacabana beach, even though he’s never swum competitively in open water before.

‘I’m thinking of coming back here for the BEST Fest to train, which is the week before the qualifying races for Rio,’ he says.

Nagy will always be welcome at the BEST Centre. The only trouble is getting him out of the pool!

Christian Prochnow – Staying Calm in Mallorca

There are many reasons to come and train at the BEST Centre in Mallorca, according to former pro triathlete Christian Prochnow: the superb pool, the great climate, the expertise and background of the owners and the company of swim and triathlon champions.

‘I love the atmosphere here in the south of the island. It’s better for training than the north. It’s good for mental relaxation and a great place to be,’
says Christian.

An Olympic competitor with the German triathlon team, finishing just a couple of minutes behind his teammate Jan Frodeno at the finals in Beijing 2008, Christian won several World Cup races and was European junior triathlon champion in 2001. Today he trains both elite and age group triathletes and swimmers, some of them heading for the Rio Olympics and Paralympics.

Sitting by the pool at the BEST Centre, Christian explains how the facilities suit him and his athletes:
‘The pool is always a good temperature and the conditions around the Centre are ideal. Having James [Parrack] and Matthew [O’Connor – both former Olympic swimmers] here is important. They know what it means to practice at a high performance level. They always know what we want and they’re very focused to do things well.”

“At the moment I’m coaching Maike Naomi Schnittger, a partially-sighted swimmer who will compete in Rio in the 50 and 100 freestyle S12 class. ”

‘For cycling, the roads are in very good condition and there are options to climb. We sometimes take the swimmers cycling because it’s good for the metabolism and sets your legs on fire! The running is great too, if swimmers have shoulder problems. Matthew was really helpful and arranged a tandem for Maike, so she could train at full pace.

‘What would I say to anyone thinking of coming here? Stay Calm and Go to the BEST Centre!’

Pamela Geijo: top triathlete at the BEST Centre

Pamela GeijoComing out of the water at the 2003 Valparaiso ITU Pan American Cup Olympic triathlon race in Chile, 23-year old Pamela Geijo lay in 5th place among the elite field.

Born in Argentina, she was up against many of the best South American women in the sport, but knew that her bike performance would be strong. Coming into the run transition Geijo had risen to third spot. Then, thanks to a blistering 35.34 10km finish (more than 30 seconds faster than anyone else), she took the tape first and confirmed her status as a star of Latin American triathlon.

From 2005 to 2008 she won four consecutive Argentinian triathlon championships, competed in many Pan American and Iberoamerican races, and represented her country in both Olympic and Sprint triathlon before racing professionally in ITU events in Italy and across Europe with team DDS until 2011.

“I’ve been in sport my whole life, it’s what I love best,” says Geijo, who then moved on to training triathletes and swimmers in Italy with team DDS.

In 2016 Geijo joined the BEST Centre as a swim and triathlon coach, helping a new generation of athletes to discover and love the sports that she first enjoyed as a young woman in Buenos Aires.

“As a trainer, I’m a very practical person,” she says. “I like to talk with people and ask how they are, to find out about their families, both with the kids and the masters groups. Everyone I’ve trained with has been grateful and says how lovely it has been.”

Geijo takes pride in the athletes of all ages that she’s nurtured, seeing dramatic improvements in times and performances. “I have the ability to take positives from each experience,” she says. “That’s true in sport and personally.”

What drew her to Mallorca was the great quality of sport training at BEST Centre, together with the natural attractions of the island. “I was searching for triathlon training in a beautiful place by the sea, so this is perfect for me!”

Meeting some of the world’s top swimmers and triathletes is an added bonus: Geijo met Ironman World Champion Jan Frodeno (who trained at BEST Centre last year) in Australia recently: “I like him very very much. He’s very sympathetic. I like athletes who are also friendly and happy to speak with you, even if they’re very strong.”

Although she speaks excellent Spanish, Italian and English, Geijo’s German is still a work in progress. “I can speak three words,” she says. (‘Schwimmen, radfahren, laufen’ would be a good start).

For the coming season, Geijo can’t wait to explore more of what Mallorca and the BEST Centre can offer. “Once the sun is out, I’m planning to do some more racing. There are so many great run and bike routes around here, then there’s the BEST Fest swimming in the summer.”

Welcome to Mallorca Pamela!