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AN INTERVIEW WITH FARIS AL-SULTAN

"TRIATHLON USED TO BE A WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY"

The tiny speedos have been Faris Al-Sultan's trademark. Now it is time to say goodbye. With PowerBar the Ironman world champion of 2005 hangs up his swimming trunks once and for all. In this interview he talks about the beginnings of the sport of triathlon and explains what his speedos have to do with Judoka outfits.

Question: Faris, you just hung up your swimming trunks. The speedos were your trademark. How does this make you feel?

Faris: I still can't believe I'm actually doing this. But I am convinced that I made the right decision. It will  definitely feel like something is missing next year, but getting old is not for cowards (Faris laughing).

Question: Your competitors were wearing aerodynamic racing suits which have been tested in a wind tunnel. Why didn't you?

Faris: When I took up triathlon all the triathletes were wearing such trunks. I simply haven't changed. They felt comfortable and I liked them. It wasn't that I purposely tried to create a trademark, the way some might do it these days. It was just the way it was. Nobody questioned it. Just like the Judokas, they also wear a white judogi. And nobody asks why.

Question: Has it never crossed your mind that you might suffer a disadvantage wearing these trunks?

Faris: That just came up in the last three years when a lot of people started to experiment with clothing. It was found that specific materials are simply more aerodynamic than skin.

Question: Much has changed in the sport of triathlon in the last 20 years. You were there from the very beginning. At the beginning of your career, what was the sport like?

Faris: It used to be a whole different story. For example, you followed a different diet. I still remember the first Ironman. Back then the guys took care of themselves, which means we had a backpack with us or we stopped at a gas station. At times we also experimented with dried fruit. Anyone can imagine what happens when you eat six dried figs during a contest. You need a special sort of stomach for that.

Question: You have been a PowerBar Athlete for more than eight years. How did this partnership come about?

Faris: I was particularly interested in PowerBar as they offered a great variety of products with exceptionally high quality. This is extremely important for a professional athlete and makes life a lot easier. After all you have to face extreme challenges in your everyday training and you don't always want to eat the same bar.

Question: Do you occasionally give feedback on the products?

Faris: Sure. I often gave feedback to the PowerBar employees and let them know what I thought about the products and where there is room for improvement. This constant exchange is important. This was also a contributing factor to the changes that took place in the last years. Not only thanks to me but to many people who constantly provide feedback. It makes of course a big difference whether a product is designed in a hidden laboratory by a scientist or in collaboration with the athlete. It is the only way to ensure that the athletes will actually have use for the product.

Question: In this respect to what extent do you benefit from your vast experience?

Faris: Of course, a professional can give a different feedback than an athlete who only takes one product a day. As a professional you can draw from quite different experiences. But unfortunately I have no influence on the flavors (laughing).

Question: Wow! But now you will get the opportunity to request your own favorite flavor.

Faris: Everything with chocolate is always great. It just tastes good. But I am always open for surprises.

Question: This summer you left your professional career. When an athlete takes such a step, he or she mostly gets caught in a dilemma. The mind would like to continue but the body cannot keep up. Are your mind and body already at peace again?

Faris: (laughing) I experienced it rather the other way round. Of course the body plays a role, but, in my case, it was mostly the mind who said: "That's it. Enough." Indeed, I have had a little ache since April, but that was nothing serious.

Question: In May 2015, you pulled out of a race in Texas and afterwards surprisingly announced the end of your career. What were you thinking at that moment?

Faris: It was simply the moment when I realized that I don't want to do this anymore. I was no longer willing to accept whatever sacrifice was necessary to continue playing in the big league. And then you really have to stop. It's not just about the finish line. I don't need another finisher shirt. I've already got quite a few of them.

Question: Adrenalin or pain -- what do you miss most?

Faris: It's maybe a bit early for that. I hardly miss anything at the moment because I haven't really had any time for a post-career depression or my life as a pensioner. Due to my farewell tour and many obligations, my mind and body have constantly been busy. But in some moments it does become clear to me that I will never be as good at something as I was at triathlon. Everything, however, comes at a price. And I just don't want to train as much anymore and spend more time with my family.

Question: What will you miss once the daily routine kicks in?

Faris: The lifestyle. The many hours of cycling, only focusing on yourself. Probably every athlete misses that. It is great to simply grab the bike, ride somewhere and forget about everything else. This is not so easy anymore. But I still enjoy athletics and have athletic goals. Since I don't have a 9 to 5 desk job, sports will always remain an essential part of my life.

Question: Andi Raelert is one and a half years older than you and ranked second at the triathlon world championships on Hawaii this year. Did you not think: Oh man, could I still have gone a little further?

Faris: I probably wouldn't have managed to secure second place, but making it into the top ten would have been possible. What Andi achieved here was very, very impressive. At my last contest in Texas he also retired. We talked for a long time and he still tried to convince me, just like a lot of other people, to keep going.
Everyone wanted to blame my retirement plans on that bad race. But I knew that I meant it. Originally I planned to retire when I turn 39, in two years from now. But I have been thinking about the end of my career for some time since it's quite a life-changing experience. You've got to reinvent yourself after this. It's not like I'm 60, retiring and not doing anything anymore. I can't sit at home on my patio all the time, watching the grass grow.

Question: Since then what does a normal day look like for you?

Faris: Of course our son plays an important role. I drop him at his nanny's in the morning and try to spend a lot of time with him in the afternoon. Apart from that I exercise a lot and take care of things at home. In the evening I then also enjoy sitting down in front of a television, not having to train until late at night anymore.

Question: What are your plans for the future?

Faris: I am currently already working for a triathlete as a coach. As of now, I don't want to coach 20 athletes, but I'd love to take on one or two more.

Question: And when are you planning to go on your next beach vacation in Hawaii – without your triathlon trunks?

Faris: (laughing) This was my first year not visiting Hawaii and I was quite happy about it. Most of the time we just took part in the contest and flew straight back home. But the whole archipelago is actually so beautiful that you could easily spent more time there. I could actually see myself vacationing on Hawaii.