Australia's Richard Thompson, a former Ironman age-group world champion, has competed in two Ultraman races. In the first he set a new world record, in the second he took the world championship.
December 20, 2018 | PERSONALITY|
He’s the fastest man ever over the Ultraman distance. He’s the 2018 Ultraman world champion. And he’s not planning on doing another one.
Meet Richard Thompson, the Australian endurance king who took the world Ultraman title in Kona last November, besting defending champion, American Rob Grey, and the Czech Republic’s tireless Petr Vabrousek, who has completed more full-distance races than any other pro triathlete on the planet.
So why would someone who is obviously so good at Ultra-distance triathlon racing call it a career after just two races?
“When I crossed that finish line, that represents who I am and why I got back into it,” he says. “There’s such a significant amount of sacrifice on a family level and on a work level. I was fortunate to experience Australia and that race. I’m happy to be done.”
That “sacrifice on a family level” component gets multiplied when you realize that Thompson and his wife Lisa have two young boys at home – four-year-old Theodore and six-month-old Franklin. The “got back into it,” well, that’s a little bit more complicated.
Thompson was one of the best Ironman triathletes in the world a decade ago – he took the 18 to 24 age group in Kona in 2008. He would eventually turn his sights to his career as a lawyer and was pretty much out of the sport for about four years. He did some ultra running (Michelle is an elite ultra runner herself and will be competing in a 120 km trail run in Chamonix, France next summer), but got the triathlon bug when he went to Kona to watch a friend compete at the world championship.
In 2016 he found himself back in Kona, leading the age-group race through 60 km of the bike. He pushed too hard, though, to stay in front, and would eventually blow up and finish ninth in his age group. He regrouped once he got home and decided he’d rather give Ultraman Australia a go than another Ironman.
“I had a great race in Australia,” he says, “but I was injured on the run. I had a great three days, but I had done very littler run training.”
That “great race” saw Thompson break the old Ultraman-distance record by 17 minutes with his 21:21:14 clocking. From there he set his sights on the Ultraman World Championship in Kona.
He arrived in excellent shape, but so too did both Gray and Vabrousek. During Day one’s 10 km swim he quickly opened up a gap on Gray, but then struggled with nausea at the halfway point and had to rest for a few minutes, which allowed Gray to move ahead at the end of the first leg. For the following 145 km bike, though, Thompson would power clear of Gray, finishing the day with a seven-minute cushion on the defending champion.
Day two saw the athletes take on a new bike course – this year the 276 km bike included over 14,000 feet of climbing. Gray and Vabrousek pulled ahead of Thompson on the first long climb, a 50 km effort that started about an hour into the ride, but he would eventually catch up and pull clear to hold a lead going into day three. (“It wasn’t until the last 60 or 70 km that I could pull away from Petr,” Thompson says.) To gauge just how difficult the ride was, Thompson actually had better power to weight numbers than he had put together in Australia, but rode 90 minutes slower than his world-record performance.
That third day included a double marathon, 84.4 km of running from the famed Ironman world championship turnaround in Hawi back to Kailua-Kona. Thompson would finish second on the day and take the overall win over Gray by just under an hour.
After all that, Thompson is happy to call it an ultraman career and focus on coaching - well, and maybe a run at the Race Across America sometime in the future. Thompson started coaching part-time in 2011, but would eventually quit his job as a lawyer to coach full time. He co-founded a company called TZero Coaching, which has grown dramatically over the last few years and now has 10 coaches that work with about 130 athletes. It was many of the TZero sponsors that came on board to make it possible for Thompson to compete at his two Ultraman events and that enabled him to bring along the impressive team that helped him to the two big performances.
“It was the same crew that I had in Australia,” he says of his world-championship support team that included Dan Gampon, who was his swim escort, and then a “land crew” that included Nick Quinn (the team captain), Scott Farrell, Nick Rinaudo, Steve Wehlow and Lisa Spink. “They make all the decisions for you – how much power you should put out on the bike, drinking, eating – they do all that for you.”
Many of those team members who helped win that world championship are also coaches with TZero, including Farrell, the other co-founder of TZero, which is a healthy tribute to the expertise of the group.
Thompson left his job as a lawyer because he “wasn’t enthused” about that line of work.
“My passion is to get athletes to achieve their goal,” he says. He’s done a pretty good job of achieving his, too.
While we won’t see Thompson suit up for an ultra-distance tri any time soon, don’t be surprised if he does get the “bug” again at some point.