It’s September 15, 2015, and the ITU’s World Triathlon Series was at its final stop in Chicago, IL. British Triathlon had set the bar “incredibly high” to qualify for pre-selection to the 2016 Olympic games, but two of their athletes had already cleared the first hurdle – Non Stanford and Vicky Holland had podiumed in August’s Rio test event. Under a metric s**t-tonne of pressure to perform, and with the best triathletes on the planet peaking for the Chicago Grand Final, Stanford and Holland delivered again, in spectacular fashion. For those of us watching live, it looked for a while as though Stanford might break one of the most incredible winning streaks in recent sports history that day. And while that didn’t happen, her performance was still more than impressive – a 33:14 run split propelled her into 2nd place and a spot on the GB Olympic team for 2016. That’s right, this smiley Welsh lass had just run off the bike fast enough to win your local 10k overall and crush the egos of all your local age-group heroes.
With the ITU WTS starting in March, and Olympic preparations in full swing for most athletes, we thought it would be a great time to catch up with Non and talk about her racing, her Welshness, and of course, her recent Blue Peter badge.
Interview with Non Stanford, medal favorite at the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
First off, congratulations on your Blue Peter badge! You must be over the moon, and I bet your family has never been prouder. Also, I heard you had a very nifty race in Chicago last summer, which must be almost as exciting. Were you inundated with sponsor requests after your TV appearance?
Ha ha yes Chicago was almost as exciting as the Blue Peter badge. After all the badge is the ambition of most 8year old kids brought up in the UK so I guess I’d have to rank it close to Qualifying for the Olympics?! I’m laughing a lot at the comparison because Blue Peter is a kids TV show that has been running since the 50’s. I believe it might even be the longest running children’s TV show in the world. It’s definitely a British institution. Children can earn a Blue Peter badge for various achievements in areas ranging from arts and crafts to nature and sport, and every child wants one growing up. It just took me until I was 27! But I’m very proud of it none the less.
Let’s get right into this – with a sub-33:00 10k PB (as near as I could Google-stalk), you’ve got as good a chance as any of breaking you-know-who’s winning streak. Halfway through the run in Chicago, did you think you had a shot at winning the thing? Do you truly believe you can pull it off in Rio? (Spoiler alert! I think you can.)
Yes I ran 32.39 in March 2013 and I guess it set the tone for the rest of the season. At the same race a year later I was looking at running as close to 32.00 as possible. I was on track heading towards 5km but unfortunately tore my plantar fascia about 100m from the 5km mark. I haven’t attempted a flat 10km since but I think that’s the kind of shape I’ll need to be in come August if I want to win the big one. Gwen is sensational and it’s going to take something special to beat her. It’s important to remember that there are two other disciplines in triathlon; it’s easy to get carried away with run form but it definitely doesn’t mean everything. You have to get yourself to the run in contention; you’re not running from behind to win the thing these days. The standard is just too high across all 3. And that’s the thing, Gwen isn’t a runner; she’s all 3, which is why she’s been so formidable.
But back to your question; Did I think I’d win in Chicago? Probably not. But do I think I can win in Rio? Why do you think I get out of bed every day and go training?!
You happen to be the 2nd Welsh triathlete I’ve interviewed [the first was Corinne Abraham]. Since I’ve already poked fun at the accent, let’s tackle your country’s fierce national price and strong sense of cultural identity. By which, of course, I mean the following: do you think Wales should have its own separate team at the Olympic?
I am fiercely Welsh and proud of it too! I was brought up in Wales, all my family are all still there and I speak the language, so yes I have strong sense of national identity. I was sorely disappointed to miss out on racing in green and red at the Commonwealth’s in 2014 due to injury and I’m already looking forward to rectifying that in 2018. However, I’m just as proud to be a Brit and enjoy being part of a British team. It’s been a life long ambition to race for Wales at a Commonwealth Games, but I want to be in British colours at an Olympic Games.
Speaking of Olympics – of course, you have already defied seemingly-ridiculous odds to qualify. Do you think Triathlon GB put the ultra-difficult requirements put in place hoping to push the decision to next year? Or do you think they actually expected you ladies to pull it off? How daunted were you by the standards? When you finished Chicago, would you say you felt more elation, or mostly just relief?
I think there was always an outside chance that one British female would meet the criteria; but I think we defied quite a few odds when the two of us pulled it off! To qualify alongside your training partner, house mate and friend is something I can’t quite explain. Me and Vicky are obviously very close and know everything about each other. We know exactly what the other has gone through to get to that position. So that finish line in Chicago was a very special moment for us both. A mixture of elation and relief! It wouldn’t have been the same if just one of us had done it. In fact if would have been tainted as we would have been disappointed for one another.
And in terms of the policy I don’t think it was a case of wanting to leave the selection until this year. British Triathlon sets very high standards for itself and for its athletes. The policy was set to ensure the best possible team heads to Rio later this year. We’re in the business of winning medals after all, and its paramount that business continues as normal.
Yes, I tend to ask many questions all at once. As a Canadian, I’m obliged to apologize at least once per interview, so – sorry about that.
How will your preparation for the 2016 season be different from previous years, if at all? Are you feeling pressure to win a medal in Rio?
I’ve heard Canadians are the most polite people in the world! Unneeded apology but you’re forgiven!
My preparations won’t differ very much. We’ve been very relaxed so far though. We’re keen to not be too fit, too soon. The whole year is geared towards that one day in August, so everything else is secondary. I’m looking forward to really getting stuck in now though. I thrive off the big training weeks and hard sessions.
And of course there’s pressure and expectation to win a medal. I’m not naive. But it’s how you interpret that pressure. For me I feel very fortunate to be in a position where a medal is a realistic ambition. How many people get the opportunity to go to an Olympic Games let alone have an opportunity to try and win a medal! I’m very lucky.
Finally, I read somewhere that you considered racing the 10k at Commonwealth Games. In 2000, we had Carol Montgomery qualify for Olympics in both triathlon and 10k. Do you think this is still possible, in this era? Is it something you’d be interested in trying, either in Rio or in 2020?
I like to think it’s possible to race both at a Commonwealth Games, but it will undoubtedly be a tough task. I’d love to have a crack at racing the double on the Gold Coast in 2018 but it will be hugely dependent on program scheduling. It’s not something I would even consider at an Olympic Games though. That’s a whole different level of racing and pressure.
I guess I sort of have unfinished business in athletics. I’m very realistic about what I’m capable of, but me and my coach have discussed the option of racing some track in 2017. It’s still very pie in the sky, but I’ve always dreamed of racing at Stanford. I need some Stanford merchandise after all!
I’m sure you have training partners to crush, so I’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for this, Non! Feel free to mention any sponsors if you wish.
Thank you very much. It’s always a pleasure working with New Balance, Specialized, Orca, Oakley and SRAM.