Chris McCormack: The triathlon machine

From Olympic heartbreak to chasing Lance, the legendary Macca talks us through his journey.

September 14, 2016

A two-time winner of the Ironman World Championship, Chris 'Macca' McCormack holds legendary status within the ultra-fitness community. EDGAR got to know him with some one-on-one time, and boy does he have some stories. 

When I first saw the sport of triathlon back in the 1980s, I thought ‘why would anyone want to do that?’. You’d be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But over the next 30 years the sport boomed. Today, nearly seven million people do a triathlon every year. My wife says it is down to men having mid-life crises.

Returning hero
My parents were always very education focused. If I ever spoke about becoming a professional athlete, I was shut down. When I was 21, I ended up quitting my job as an accountant in Sydney and ran away to Europe to travel around and compete in triathlons. It was over two years before I returned home, and by then I was world number one and a World Champion. It was only then did my family finally understand what I was doing and that it could actually lead somewhere. 

Olympic heartbreak
Despite being ranked as the best in the world, I was not picked for the Olympics in my home town of Sydney. My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away on the week of the Olympic trials, and I was denied special dispensation despite the race being held two days after her funeral.

I had promised her on her deathbed that I would win the Olympic gold, but I ended up emotionally breaking down during the race and could not finish. I was not picked for the team. After that I blew up, swearing to never represent my country ever again. 

Winning streak
Following the Olympic snub I had a huge chip on my shoulder. I was so angry with the federation that the anger fuelled me to setting the longest winning streak in triathlon history. I went three years without losing a single race. I wanted to prove to that I should’ve been Olympic champion, and that I was robbed of my opportunity.

Take the test
F1 driver Jenson Button is a huge triathlon fan. In fact he once told me that he never gets nervous before a F1 race, but he is terrified before a triathlon! He explained that when you are in an F1 car, you are at the mercy of the machine, but with triathlon you are in total control of everything. Every race is a test of yourself.

The big one
My biggest accomplishment was winning in Hawaii. In my sport Hawaii is the race you’re judged on. It’s our Tour De France. Sports scientists claimed that I was too big to win the race, that I didn’t have the right physical attributes. For years I would enter and fail, and the entire sport would laugh at me. But finally, in 2007, I got the puzzle right and won it. That was my moment to prove that I could finally win the big one. 

Piece by piece
The secret to my success was to set incremental targets. Goals to win a few races turned into wanting to win a world championship, which became wanting to be world number one, which eventually lead to conquering the ultimate challenge, Iron Man Hawaii. I achieved all of those things, one small step at a time.

Chasing Lance
Lance Armstrong and I have known each other for a long time. We’d always been friendly, but we are polar opposites. In the US, he claimed to be the king of endurance, so on several occasions I challenged him to race, but he would always duck me. 

A few years ago, before he was banned, we tried to set up a sponsored one-on-one race, which would have raised nearly $6 million for charity. Again, he pulled out and this time I publically called him on it. 

From that point he made my life hell. I knew he was a big celebrity, but I had no idea how much power he wielded. The press turned on me, I started to lose sponsors and I was painted as a villain – and then the truth about him came out, and I became the hero of the story. It’s amazing how things flipped.