Content can be downloaded for non-commercial purposes, such as for personal use or in educational resources.
For commercial purposes please contact the copyright holder directly.
Read more about the The Creative Archive Licence.

This content isn't available for download, please contact us.


Mark Jenkins
a triathlete’s tale

My name is Mark Jenkins. I live in Bridgend, South Wales. I was born on the 21 July 1976. I started school in Pen-y-Fai which is the local village where I live, did all my schooling in Pen-y-Fai and then I went to Bryntirion Comprehensive School. I had a pretty normal Welsh childhood, I think, bit of ball sports to start off with. I just went to school but didn’t want to be there. School was just one of those things you had to do. I didn’t love it, didn’t really hate it but sport was the good thing to have when you’re in school so I enjoyed playing football and rugby which you have to do when you’re in Wales; got into sport when I was in school. My uncle was a cyclist, my father used to play rugby and I ended up loving running and I loved swimming, and when I was in Primary school, I forced my parents to get up and take me swimming first thing in the morning, six o’clock swims. They’d say, “If you want to go, then you’ve got to wake us up”. They wouldn’t wake me up. I’d always have to run in and get them up and get them to take me swimming at seven, eight years old.

It was competitive swimming. It was whatever kids do when they’re seven / eight / nine years old, whatever competitions there were, but I think I just loved the training aspect more than anything else. I loved swimming. I think I just loved to be doing something. I hated being stagnant and just sitting around not doing anything. I loved to be outside on my skateboard, on my bike, anything not to be sat inside, really.

this kid could do something
When I was a kid, you used to have 3K fun-runs and 5K fun-runs, and I was ten / eleven years old, no probably younger than that, probably nine or ten. I was doing the local 3Ks and stuff and I ending up running the first K or so with the runners. I wouldn’t stay there obviously, but I think a few people said to my parents, “This kid could do something”, but that went away and I had a period out of sport when I was probably twelve. I didn’t do anything for a year. I then got back into it. I obviously had some kind of talent, whether it was to hurt myself in training or just to compete, but I wanted to do sport always. We had a project in school, I think when I was about nine or ten, in Primary school. The teacher at the time was Phil Davies. It was something to do with sport and what do you want to be, and everything I wanted to be was an athlete, and his statement on that day was, “Somebody from this school went to the Commonwealth Games” I think it was and I thought, “I’d love to be the person that they said, ‘This guy came from this school and went to the Commonwealth Games’”. At least I got to the Olympics, so now they can say, “Somebody from this school went to the Olympics”. It’s a tiny school, Pen Y Fai is a tiny area.

hurting myself for longer
Triathlon’s not the easiest of sports and I got into triathlon probably through friends and family. My uncle was a keen cyclist and I had two friends who were already doing triathlon so I was swimming and I was running a bit and I was doing a sport called life-saving, so with my uncles influence I started bike-riding and the progression was just to start doing triathlon. At 16, I was an average swimmer, an average runner, probably better than average runner but not doing anything too flash and triathlon was just a progression. I was best suited to endurance sport because I could hurt myself, probably for longer than most people.

It’s just punishment. My mentality is if I hurt myself more than everyone else then I’ll be better, but it’s not really strictly true. I think I’ve just got a good work ethic. That’s my natural talent. I’m not naturally gifted in any way really, but my talent is that I will stick at it and that I will work. Maybe, I haven’t got enough brain cells to understand when to stop.

Everybody that does sport has the urge to win. You simply wouldn’t do it otherwise. You’ve got to believe that you can achieve that first place or podium. I think a podium position in any race is really what anybody should be striving for.

my biggest high was my biggest low
The high point of my career is probably being selected for the Olympic Games. The Olympics is the pinnacle of any athletes career who is in an Olympic sport, so being selected for that was fantastic. And then, yes, probably the low point was ultimately crashing in the Olympics Games, the worst moment of my career. So, I look back on that Olympics and on one hand it’s fantastic, I’m an Olympian and I’m very proud of that fact. There’s not that many in Wales - there’s certainly even less coming from where I’ve come from - but then I hate to talk about it in public because it’s the worst moment in my career. I came last in a sporting event - whether I crashed or whatever else happened - I came last, so I hate to think about it.

I was selected in about June, I think, so quite a late selection. I was in pretty good shape leading into it and I had a good World Championships, finishing 14th, but it was a very competitive 14th. First was only a minute in front of me, so that put me in a good position going into the race. I felt good and during the race, the swimming had gone well. I was in contention on the swim and it wasn’t particularly hard so that was fine as well. I think on about the fourth or fifth lap of the bike ride, one of the German competitors who I was racing with – a friend of mine, Mike Petsolt - he came off the descent which we were on and I think he was a bit tired as we hit the next rise and he was on his tri bars, lost control of his bike and rolled into my back wheel and ripped all of the spokes out of the rim. So hence, the reason for me carrying it. If it had been a flat tyre, I could have ridden it to the station but it wasn’t a flat tyre and my back wheel wouldn’t move, so the choice was don’t finish the Olympic Games or finish last and there was really no choice in that. You don’t want to go to the biggest event and possibly the only time being at the Olympic Games and you finish last. So carry my bike I did and finish last I did.

I guess at that point I didn’t even think. Looking back on it even now and instantly after the race, I don’t know what I thought but it was, “I don’t want to not finish. I don’t have a choice. I have to finish”. There were other athletes that did certain things in that race, threw their bikes away and whatever else, and some people will choose not to finish, but I didn’t. Now people can ask me, “Where did you finish in the Olympic Games?”, and I finished. I don’t have to elaborate upon it, but rather than that say, “I didn’t finish”. I think that’s quite a feeble excuse, “I didn’t finish”.

always fourteenth ?
I’ve had a few good World Championships finishing top fifteen, fourteenth actually numerous times, which in our sport is quite a good result. I don’t know why it was always 14th. For me, the best race in my career was winning the National Champs in Swansea. That was fantastic. It was a massive crowd down there for that race and all the best Brits were there. Some of them were World Champions and some of them were World Cup winners, and I just felt great and I won it quite easily, I think, by over a minute or so. That’s the best result.

competing for wales
Do I feel I’m a Welshman? Yes, I’m completely Welsh. I’m proud to be Welsh. I’ve lived here all my life. I hate leaving Bridgend. I hate crossing the bridge. I hate going anywhere. I love home. The weather is the worst thing that we have - and maybe the motorists - but mainly the weather, but the only reason we go away is to get a better training environment in the winter months and in February when it’s cold and windy and wet and you can’t consistently get three or four hours in. That’s why we go away training but I love Wales and when I’m competing if somebody asks, “Where are you from?”, then I always say I’m British and if they say, “Oh, English”, then it’ll instantly be, “I’m Welsh”. When I’m competing, I’m always thinking I’m Welsh, I’m Welsh, I’m Welsh, but you don’t get too many opportunities doing our sport to compete for Wales.

Commonwealth, triathlon has been in the last two, so I raced at both of those. One of them, I had my DVT during pretty much of it, so that wasn’t great, but fortunately we’re not in there for India, so I’m not going to India which is a good thing I think rather than a bad thing. The sport isn’t in the Commonwealth Games for India. We will be in for Edinburgh in 2016, though, so at forty years old, I’ll be at my third Commonwealth Games.
Commonwealth Games isn’t a massive sporting event in my opinion so it’s not a bad event to miss. It’s not a great prestige there, whereas the Olympics is just a lot higher accolade, so that’s the only reason I say it’s better for us not to be in the Commonwealths. The Olympics works on four-year cycles, so you’re training for four years to be the best you can and when Commonwealths is thrown in there, it always breaks up cycle and puts something in the middle which isn’t really a big goal. It breaks up the whole World Cup schedule and, if you’re aiming for World Championships, then it puts something else in there to aim for. It just doesn’t stand well in our competitive programme really. There’s so many other races around that to throw them in the middle of the four-year cycle just doesn’t work, so it’s better that you focus on four years Olympics, Olympics, Olympics.

the future
I’ve had a lot of illness lately, DVT’s, and then that caused my tendons to break down, so I’ve had three operations on my Achilles tendons and this is my first year back competing. I’ve trained for four or five months, I think, this year, did my first two races, so I was very happy with that. So, until I know how my legs and whole body will hold out, I’m not planning too much yet until next year. I’ll see how I go, how fast I can run, then I’ll decide the end of next year what I’m going to do, but the Olympics is such a big event nobody will ever say, “I don’t want to go for the Olympics”, so it’s something everybody will in the back of their minds want to be striving for. But there’s other things in triathlon that I can do if I don’t think I’m up to the task in hand.
I’m going to be coy with it. I don’t know yet. I really don’t know. My legs are just coming back to me so I haven’t really done any sessions to let me know how fast I can run.

don’t talk about it
Well, myself and Helen, we’ve had good and bad patches together. I mean, she’s injured, I’m training; I’m injured, she’s training and so on and so forth, and that’s ultimately why I want to get back racing because we have never had the opportunity to travel together and race together. So, we want to do that for a couple of years. We want to be able to travel and to race as husband and wife and we haven’t had a chance to do that yet. We’ve got a great thing here in Bridgend. Our Federation supports us to live and train here, and we’re isolated from all the other politics and sport and the goings-on. Our Federation is based in Loughborough so we just have quite a normal life here in Pen-y-Fai. You can see it’s pretty normal and we train like professional athletes but away from everybody’s distractions. We’ve just got one goal and that’s to train, so it’s a really good balance actually and our dog Barney keeps us sane, makes us spend time with the other and go for walks and do whatever we don’t feel like doing when we’re too tired from our training.

We try to talk about nothing to do with triathlon, so we try to absolutely avoid the subject as much as we can. It obviously gets brought in to things. It’s what our job is. It’s what we do on a daily basis. We train three to four / five / six hours a day, so a lot of the day is taken up training, but once we’re done training then it’s probably, “Who’s going to cook?”, “Who’s going to clean?” … “Not me”. “Who’s going to take the dog out?” So, we just live a normal life around triathlon. It’s just our career. Because we’re not based around a Federation and other athletes that means that we don’t have to talk about it too much, so it doesn’t spiral into our personal lives too much. Our friends don’t have too much to do with triathlon, so that’s great. They’re a distraction as well and when we’re with them we don’t talk about sport. I don’t know what we talk about actually but it’s not sport and it’s not triathlon. We just live normal lives, don’t really discuss triathlon too much apart from when we’re doing it and what our sessions are going to be for the forthcoming week and how we are going to achieve things once we’ve done all that. But that’s part of the training process, isn’t it, so once that training and planning is done, we don’t really discuss it. We try not to anyway.

aggressive to achieve
Helen? She’s dedicated, she’s caring and honest. Me: dishonest, uncaring (laughs). No, I’m dedicated. I’m very aggressive, probably too aggressive and too often too aggressive, and passionate, as well.

I think it’s narrow mindedness, isn’t it, or vision or whatever but at certain points when I’m competing or when I’m doing anything, I can’t be spoken to. Nobody can explain anything to me. It’s probably a bit of pig-headedness in there as well, but, yeah, I think maybe you do need to be aggressive to achieve in any sports, and people kind of show it in different ways.

The local area where I live in Bridgend is brilliant for training. We’ve got a new twenty-five metre pool just literally a kilometre away from us which Helen and myself opened a year or so ago in Ynysawdre. We’ve got a great swimming club there with a swimming coach who pushed us really hard. And, on top of that, the cycling around Bridgend is fantastic - if the motorists stay off it. And the running’s beautiful as well: we’ve got the sand dunes and we’ve got a lot of farm tracks around from Newbridge fields. Really, the only thing we leave home for is the weather. If Britain had an annual average temperature of fifteen or twenty degrees, we’d never leave, literally, but for consistence in training we are forced to go away sometimes, just for consistency in training.

We love the place we go in Australia. We’ve got good friends there and a training group. It’s become a home from home for us. It’s just north of Brisbane called the Sunshine Coast. We love it down there. It’s a three-month getaway for us most years.

Helen has a very good relationship with the Federation now. Initially, two or three years ago it wasn’t so great. They didn’t see any potential in her which made her work harder to achieve what she did then and now obviously she’s World Champion. So they support us in whatever we want to do; we’ve got a fantastic relationship with them, now. They support me to coach Helen and support Helen pretty much, so that’s how I’m supported, not so much as an athlete but as a coach and partner for Helen.

a working partnership
For me and Helen, the coaching relationship wasn’t ever something we wanted to do or discussed doing. It was forced upon us pretty much. She didn’t have a choice back in 2007. We didn’t really trust anybody else to do it. I didn’t trust anyone else to do it anyway at that point, so we just did it ourselves. We just decided to work together and we thought we were each educated enough to know what we were doing. I mean, we knew enough about the sport, so we did it on our own and she achieved great results. In that first year, she became World Champion and she went to the Olympic Games in the first eight months of us doing things like that, and I started back training, so that was a good twelve months for us.

If things go bad, I think you have to say difficult things. I think when they’re going well, then it’s not so difficult. It’s been difficult because Helen is always struggling with injury and only trains a certain amount of a week because otherwise she gets injured, so we’re always on a tight rope with balancing the injury, training, injury, training aspect of her programme. When that injury thing has gone away then, I think her results will be even better, so it will be even easier, hopefully.

Her winning, I think it’s fantastic. If she wasn’t winning, I wouldn’t be working now, so it’s given me the opportunity to carry on. She’s done fantasticly to achieve what she’s done. I’d love to win the World Championships and who knows, maybe one day, but I’d never take anything away from anybody winning. Everybody who wins any kind of sporting event works hard for that achievement. The only people who shouldn’t are people who test positive for drugs or who have drugs violations. I don’t think they should ever be in sport.

a strong history of cheating
Every sport has cheats. I think the majority of cheats don’t get caught and I think that possibly the cheats that do get caught get scapegoated. I think sport is a very hypocritical thing at the moment and I don’t have faith in testing and I don’t have faith in the governing bodies to do the right thing. I don’t think they do. All we can do is train clean. Helen’s been World Champion and she’s never taken anything apart from vitamin C and maybe the odd cortisone injection.

funding sport
I think funding in sport has changed the face of it all over the last eight to ten years. You had Colin Jackson and athletes like that who achieved massive things with no support whatsoever from Federations. I think they probably even worked against the Federations to achieve what they did. In our days, now, it’s impossible to do it without Federations. They hold so many strings and have so much control over what everybody does that to work against them is almost impossible. You have to work with them and they pay you a certain amount so they are in control, partly over what you do as well. So, sport has changed. It’s changing so much at the moment.

It can be looked at in both ways. It can be a good thing and a bad thing. It kind of makes people a little complacent sometimes, and maybe they don’t do everything they can to win. When athletes were racing in the past, they had to do it to win otherwise they didn’t make their money. So that for me is how sport should be and at the moment there’s a lot of money put in to people who are never going to do anything and for me, that’s quite hard to see. There’s athletes who are supported for thousands and thousands of pounds and you know they are never going to achieve anything.

One thing that funding has done for all sports is the development now from grass-roots up. It’s a lot more professional, a lot more progressive. They know what they want to see at different levels for an athlete to achieve, so I think that aspect of funding and sport is a great thing so that there’s more talent identification and then they try and keep those talented athletes in the sport rather than them falling by the wayside and going to college and doing whatever else. That’s definitely the plus point of having the funding. I think maybe in ten years time Britain should see a lot better performances at the Olympics and Commonwealths and whatever else, if the people train hard enough.

interview conducted by Phil Cope on 6 November 2009

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment