TriathlonLife columnist Kevin Mackinnon catches up with Olympic silver medalist Stephan Vuckovic.
July 1, 2016 | PERSONALITY|
If you want to see the happiest finish ever, and I mean ever, you have to find the video of Stephan Vuckovic’s silver medal finish at the Olympic Games triathlon in Sydney, Australia in 2000. He’d given up any hope of being able to sprint to the line against Simon Whitfield, so he celebrated down the chute like it was, well, as Prince might have said, a year after 1999.
Here’s how much the sport has grown over the last 16 years. When Vuckovic came back to Germany with that silver medal in 2000 he was doing about four appearances a week.
“I had to explain to people that we don’t ride a horse and we don’t shoot,” he says. “People laugh today, but I had to explain how we swim and how much and that we bike in a group, not by ourselves.”
The explosion in popularity of some of the sport’s stars here in Germany is amazing to Vuckovic.
“Last year Jan Frodeno won the athlete of the year in Germany, beating all the other athletes from major sports,” he says. “He’s the man – it’s a great development in the sport over the last 15 years. I’m really happy I was part of pushing the sport to the level we’re at now.”
Vuckovic is here in Frankfurt to do television commentary. He retired from the sport last year after 24 years – he did his first triathlon in 1991. That silver medal wasn’t his only top finish over the years. He was second in his very first world cup race, losing a close battle to Chris McCormack in Edmonton. He also took the silver medal at the European Championships. After a few year’s hiatus after the Olympics he turned his sights to long distance racing, winning Ironman Florida and racking up a bunch of podium finishes in Canada and Lanzarote.
After saying for years that he wouldn’t get into coaching, Vuckovic now finds himself making a living … as a coach. Basically he got sick of telling friends that he couldn’t help them. Ultimately, though, Vuckovic didn’t stand a chance of staying clear of the sport once he stopped competing.
“Triathlon is such a great sport,” he says. “I love it. I understand the people who try out the sport and get addicted and then ask me to help them out with coaching.”
It hasn’t been a hard transition. Last year he went back to school and finished the degree he’d started two decades before. Vuckovic says he was never addicted to training, and never had any problems taking a few weeks off.
“My body and my head said that’s enough,” he says. “I did it 24 years – that’s a long time in our sport. I didn’t race that much, which is why I was able to have such a long career.”
Whether he wants to admit it or not, Vuckovic embodies all the great lifestyle components of our sport, in a good way. He loved it, but wasn’t addicted to it. He competed at a time when athletes couldn’t take exposure or a paycheck for granted, so he really appreciates all the sport managed to give him. It’s ironic that he’ll spend Sunday doing live coverage.
“We were happy 15 years ago if we saw a camera at a race. Now there’s live coverage at all the races,” he laughs.
Most people don’t realize how much our sport owes to the Stephan Vuckovic’s of the world. The journeymen athletes who made it all possible for our sport to grow the way it has.
Hopefully some of the medalists for this year’s Olympics will go check out that finish. It would be fun to see that kind of joy and enthusiasm again.