Winning the U23 World Championships in Edmonton

So, I’m just sitting at Edmonton Airport waiting for my plane back home – a little bit tired (I have to admit that I didn’t have the longest of nights…), a little sore (turns out Olympic distances show a little more effect the next day than Sprints), but with a constant smile on my face; I am the new U23 World Champion – apparently that race yesterday really happened, and apparently it was really the U23 World Champs!

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I had already arrived in Edmonton, Canada, 10 days before race day with the rest of the German U23/Junior Squad (and Steffen Justus who didn’t race in Stockholm). Hanna Philippin and I were sharing a room and we always knew those 10 days were going to be long, but man at times they didn’t seem to want to end! The first few days we were still kept pretty busy with all our training, getting used to the new timezone and actually finding our way around. On Monday we also spent the afternoon in West Edmonton Mall shopping – that place was crazy! And I don’t just mean the fact that there was End of Summer Sale in almost every single shop… at one point we walked out of a shop and suddenly stood in front of an ice rink! At first we couldn’t believe our eyes… but then we also found a mini golf park and a sea live aquarium in the middle of the Mall! It was a really fun afternoon out and it was nice to wander around enjoying ourselves.

Then the real waiting started… less training and more resting – so less running around shopping malls and more time sitting in our rooms watching TV (or alternatively doing some reading for my Master project next year). On Thursday it was time for the swim and bike course familiarisation – and it suddenly all felt so close! It felt like it was finally soon time to race! Well… after the Juniors, the U23 men, the Elite women and the Elite men – it didn’t want to end.

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Racing started off with some good news as Laura Lindemann sprinted to Gold for Germany and after Saturday’s races didn’t go too well for our team, Hanna and I were keen to end these World Champs on a High for Germany. And then it was finally here – RACE DAY! (but everyone who has done a race in the afternoon before probably knows that the morning of that day is very good at seeming endless as well – and it’s also good at making you think about the race and get nervous). I knew that with a solid swim and being in the front pack or not far off the front pack, there was the chance of me winning a medal – but thinking about that didn’t really help the nerves.

Somehow Hanna and I kept ourselves entertained all morning though and then it was finally to get ready and head off! Suddenly all the nerves had disappeared and I was in the zone ready and roaring to go! The “dive in”/”run in” or whatever you want to call it probably didn’t look too gracious but felt faster than in the numerous attempts in training on Thursday. Nonetheless I didn’t feel great on the swim… I felt like I was lacking that little bit of speed and couldn’t get myself to go faster – I was just stuck at one pace and I didn’t even mange to sprint up to some girls’ feet only a metre in front of me. The swim ended with me coming out of the water in 10th position – just behind the front pack. I jumped on the bike and went for it – they were 10s ahead of me before the hill and didn’t seem to come any closer up the steep bit of the hill. But I kept going for it and suddenly they were close – and then I was in the pack! At the end of the first loop I then had to shake my head – coming out of the water in 10th and ending up in a lead pack of seven. I knew with a decent run I can get on that podium – I had to smile. Then it was back to work: focus, cycle hard, fuel right and don’t crash!

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Seems like I managed to do all of the above and after a decent transition I started the run together with Gillian Backhouse from Australia and Leonie Periault from France. I decided not to risk anything and headed off at a not-too-bad pace and bit by bit I started to run away. 5k in I was on my own – at the front! I was starting to enjoy this! 1k left and I was 200m clear of Gillian Backhouse. I had this! I was going to win the World Championships! And I even had time to enjoy the moment and soak up the atmosphere – everyone else from the German team was out cheering for me, it was so amazing to have them all there! I LOVED every second of it and even managed to pick up the German flag in style and lift the banner despite the wind.

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Wow… what a moment, what a day! The presentation nearly brought me to tears, it was all so perfect! But it took until the next day when I was alone in my hotel room for the realisation to properly kick in… I might have had to cry a few tears of joy. Strangely, the thoughts that came with all the joy were those of the harder times in the past year: when I just missed qualification for Junior Europeans last year, the days when training and Uni seemed to be getting too much, the days of my injury last year when running just seemed like a faraway dream. It was all of that which brought me to tears – knowing that so far, every bit of disappointment, every drop of sweat and every early morning has been worth it. And now it’s time to make sure I remember that next time things get tough, it’ll all be worth it in the end…

I think this is also a good place to thank all the people who have helped me to get where I am today: My coach Roland Knoll, for his endless belief, support and understanding; My family and boyfriend for helping me see the positives in every situation and help me figure out ways of making the seemingly impossible possible; My friends for encouraging me when things are hard and sharing my joy when they are great; the SC Delphin Ingolstadt, Oxford University Sport, the Deutsche Sporthilfe and the German Triathlon Union for their continuing support; and last but by no means least all my sponsors and supporters RedVenom, Funkita, Sailfish, GU and FFWD for providing me with beautiful and useful kit and nutrition, believing in me and sharing the joy on my way in triathlon. Thank you all - I really couldn’t be doing this without every single one of you!

© Sophia Saller 2016. All rights reserved. Impressum