INTERVIEWS

Amelia Rose Watkinson comes to Europe

One of the rising stars of world triathlon, Amelia Rose Watkinson has swapped the rainforests of Thailand for the European beaches this summer.

Born in New Zealand, trained in Asia, Watkinson makes her European competitive debut at Mallorca 70.3 triathlon, followed by Barcelona 70.3 the following weekend and then the European 70.3 championship in Denmark, after a breathtaking 2016 in which she won seven half Ironman races and ended up on the podium 21 times!

“I love to travel and indulge in different cultures,” she says, while training at the BEST Centre in Mallorca. Most recently Watkinson based herself at the Thanyapura Centre in Phuket, Thailand, where she built up a fearsome ability to race in high temperatures – something which may stand her in good stead over here.

Her packed Asian schedule left Watkinson feeling a little flat by the end of 2016, so she’s determined to regain her “sprightliness” and make an impression on the European tour, just as she’s done in Asia. “The pool at the BEST Centre is so beautiful, or you can go for an ocean swim, ride on the quiet roads. And I love the architecture in Mallorca,” says the University of Auckland architecture graduate.

Helping her adjust to the European circuit, teammate at BMC-Etixx triathlon team Emma Pallant (and roommate during their camp in Colonia Sant Jordi) will be one of her closest rivals in some of the races. “Energies are contagious” is one of her favourite mottos, and there are few more energetic people than Emma.

“I hope we can share out the podium spots between us,” says Watkinson generously.

It promises to be a dramatic season, as the two friends battle for superiority in the sun.

BEST Centre Olympic triathlon competitor Emma Pallant has IM in her sights

One of triathlon’s brightest young stars, Emma Pallant, plans to step up to Ironman distance racing in 2018.
A fearsome athlete who can run most of her competitors off the course, Pallant is a multiple duathlon world champion and has competed in 70.3 races for the past two years, most recently winning Gloria Challenge Gran Canaria in April 2017, opposite male winner Alastair Brownlee in his middle distance debut.

A frequent visitor to Mallorca, Pallant loves the calm, scenic conditions in the southern part of the island around Colonia Sant Jordi, where she trains at the BEST swim centre and runs circuits around the town and down by the sparkling Mediterranean next to her hotel.

This weekend Pallant is competing in the BEST Centre Olympic triathlon in the town, hoping to repeat her win of 2016.
Preparing for the race last year, Pallant visited a local gym in search of a treadmill. She ran for a few minutes but then left. On full speed, it was still too slow for her! Locals and fellow runners can occasionally spot her (blink and you miss her) on the streets around town.

Being part of the BMC Etixx team has already worked well for Pallant. “In the past, I’ve fainted in three races because I got my nutrition all wrong,” she says. Help from the team nutritionist has sorted this out, and the relationship with her existing coaches – Michelle and Stuart Hayes – is working out fine. “It’s complementary,” says Pallant.

In fact, Pallant now has her own stable of 10 age group triathletes, so she takes a keen interest in issues that could affect them. Where some age groupers crucify themselves in order to race their first Ironman, she says the focus should be on enjoyment.

“It’s about getting the most satisfaction. What you’re good at, and having a good time doing it should determine your schedule. You can plod through mundane days and get bragging rights on Strava, but having easy days and hard days is important. I’ve got an athlete who did double what I said and I’m not happy!”

Heeding her own advice, Pallant is working up to Ironman in a sensible, measured way. But many of her rivals will be quaking in their lycra.

BEST Centre Olympic triathlon competitor Patrik Nilsson: calm in a storm

Winner of four Ironman races by the age of 25, father of a month-old son, about to compete in the Barcelona and European 70.3 races and a hot ticket for this year’s Kona Ironman World Championships, Patrik Nilsson is at the centre of a perfect triathlon storm.

Yet the young blond Swede is a picture of calm. Sitting deckside at the BEST Centre in Mallorca, he ruminates on his coming races and what they might bring.

“I’m planning to do Ironman Frankfurt. I’d like to see how Keinle is [2014 Kona world champion Sebastian Kienle] and see if it’s possible to follow him,” says Nilsson, as casually as you might wonder how someone’s garden is getting on.

Despite winning IM Copenhagen and IM Barcelona in 2016, after IM Kalmar (the Swedish Ironman race) in 2015 and IM Malaysia the previous year, Nilsson gives the impression that he’s still at the beginning of a long journey of exploration, with much to learn.
So joining the BMC Etixx team alongside some of the greatest names in contemporary triathlon was a massive kick for him.
“You see guys like Bart Aernouts and Andreas Raelert that you really look up to, it’s a fantastic advantage, it’s just what you want.”
This week Nilsson has been in Mallorca training alongside Aernouts, Will Clarke, Romain Guillaume, Maurice Clavel, Ronnie Schildknecht, Emma Pallant and Amelia Rose Watkinson, all of them heading for major European and international events in the coming months.

Having this concentration of talent, together with medical, physiotherapy, bike mechanic and financial assistance has been amazing for him. “It’s really fun to have other athletes to learn from – what they’re eating, when they go to bed,” he says.
For the moment, Nilsson’s next focus is the Mallorca Olympic triathlon hosted by the BEST Centre in Colonia Sant Jordi, where he will plunge, alongside 500 age groupers, into the crystal clear waters of the harbour.

I bet he’s the calmest man in the washing machine.

Lothar and Nicole Leder – Legends of Triathlon

Lotar and Nicole LederIn 2018, Ironman racing will celebrate its 40th birthday: the first ever race took place on 18 February 1978.

In Darmstadt, Germany, two six-year-old children called Lothar and Nicole were just learning to swim and ride their bikes in 1978. Years later, they would marry, have a daughter, and both become multiple Ironman winners in races across three continents. Both have been German national triathlon champions.

For students of Ironman history, Lothar holds a special place in the sport’s folklore: he was the first athlete to break the eight-hour mark, at Roth in 1996. ‘It was the race of my lifetime,’ he says. ‘You just have one day like this in your career.’

This April the BEST Centre in Mallorca welcomed Lothar and Nicole once again as they trained a new generation of triathletes. They kindly made time to speak poolside.

“We’ve been coming to Mallorca for 30 years, but in those days there were virtually no pools,” says Lothar. Now they come to the BEST Centre four or five times a year, bringing mixed age and ability groups and loving the atmosphere of the place, with its quiet, traffic-free roads ideal for cycling.

“The spirit here is great, it’s really good for training young kids, age group people, families: there’s a motivating spirit here, it’s really special,” says Nicole. “You just want to jump in the water!” After winning 11 long distance races between them, including several Roth events, Ironman Brazil, Malaysia and Korea, both Lothar and Nicole have retired from racing and now coach together.

From absolute beginners learning to swim breaststroke for the first time, to talented athletes competing at Challenge Roth, they remain enthused and energised by the sport.

For most people who take up triathlon, swimming is the hardest element to grasp. “It’s difficult to learn technique when you start at an older age,” says Lothar. He advises such age groupers to use pull buoys, paddles and fins to improve their technique and build strength. “Paddles and pull buoys for 70 per cent of your swim training,” he recommends. “It’s power that you need. Start with small paddles and just do short reps.”

Nicole particularly enjoys nurturing young people into triathlon: “We have been training a 20-year-old blind woman who can recognise the end of the pool by the sound of underwater echoes,” says Nicole. “Then she rides tandem and runs with her mother. It gives you a whole new perspective on sport.”

Thanks for choosing the BEST Centre for your camps, Lothar and Nicole. It’s great to have you here.

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!