Sport for tough guys, girls

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 1997, 12:00am

So you think you're tough because you have completed a full marathon? Try this sport - which really separates the men from the boys because it is the toughest of them all.

Triathlon incorporates swimming, cycling and running in that order, and is the ultimate fitness test for those who dare to push their bodies to the limit.

Triathletes - sometimes referred to as 'ironmen', 'iron maidens' and even 'iron kids' - are among the fittest athletes on Earth. The sport was never meant for the weak or the faint-hearted and for those who complete the race, it marks a personal accomplishment.

But who would want to swim 3.8 kilometres, then follow that up by cycling 180 km and top it off by running the full marathon distance of 42 km with no break in between? Who would want to punish themselves in the most gruelling sport ever known? You'd be surprised. There are many Hong Kong youngsters who have taken to this sport with pride and enthusiasm - although not all of them compete over the 'ironman' distance mentioned above.

'Yes, it is really challenging,' said Hong Kong Triathlon Association sports executive Manda Tam Chi-ming.

'It is unlike any other sport because it is really tough and special physical training is needed to go into it, especially if you compete over the ironman distance, which is the longest in the triathlon.

'First of all, those wishing to have a go at it must already know how to swim and cycle and of course run.

'Usually, these athletes want to achieve something more than completing a full marathon. They want to push themselves harder because they find it challenging.

'Triathlon has three disciplines. It's not just one sport so youngsters will never get bored. . . It attracts youngsters because it is challenging.' Youngsters who might be frightened away by the toughness of such a gruelling sport need not worry. Not everybody can compete the ironman distance.

There are much shorter distances for youngsters who want to get started out in the sport.

'When people think of triathlon, they think how tough it is. But those starting out will not be expected to compete over the ironman distance,' said Manda.

'For instance, we have competitions for kids, who compete over a 50-metre swim, 1.5-km bike race and 400 metres running. This is just for fun. Anybody fit can achieve this.' Manda said triathlon was not the only sport the Hong Kong Triathlon Association (HKTA) promoted.

'We have several competitions, not just triathlon. There's aquathon, which is a combination of swimming and running and duathlon, which is run-bike-run (in that order) and there are World Championship competitions for both sports.

'Unfortunately, there is not a World Championship for aquathon just yet.' 'People are finding aquathon more acceptable than triathlon because more people know how to swim in Hong Kong than know how to cycle. Besides, there are fewer places to cycle in Hong Kong.' You'd be amazed by the number of youngsters, who are able to compete in the ironman distances.

Triathletes like Tang King-man, Daniel Lee Chi-wo, Tam Chi-kin and Mark Bailey are all teenagers. But all of them are fit enough to compete over the ironman distance.

Hong Kong's most well-known triathlete is Ian Rayson, a Briton, who has lived and worked in the territory for a number of years. Rayson recently came back after illness to compete in his first ironman triathlon and fared quite well.

Veteran triathletes, Kim Isherwood and Ruth Hunt, still compete in ironman triathlons.

The pair were among Asia's top female triathletes several years ago.

Last weekend, Hong Kong Triathlon Association hosted the Nike Eudurothon Team Challenge. More than 100 teams took part in the fun relay event and nobody had to work too hard.

Even though teams had to compete over the ironman distance, each member of the team took turns swimming, cycling or running.

When anybody got too tired, he or she was immediately replaced. And because the event was held at Hong Kong Sports Institute, using the institute's swimming pool, stationary bicycles and outdoor running track, it was competed for in a safe environment where injuries and accidents were very avoidable.