There must be something in the water from the land down under.Â Australia keeps producing more and more of the world's top triathletes. Growing up and training in Australia, Luke McKenzie is not any different than his fellow countrymen/women who have recently won an Ironman World Championship Title.Â Watch out folks he is coming.Â Ladies and gentlemen: Luke McKenzie
KK: Luke, please tell our readers where you're from? What your sports background was growing up?
LM: I grew up playing a mixture of team sports like soccer, rugby league, basketball and cricket but from the age of 6 I was a swimmer. I swam at state level when I was 9 and national level at 10 till 14. I also did a lot of running at school and was State Champion in Cross Country and 2000 steeplechase and finished 5th at the Australian Cross Country Championships.
KK: What is your academic background?
LM: Academically I finished high school in 1999 and got a Sporting Scholarship to University but I never took it up as I went away with the Australian Institute of Sport Triathlon team for three years in a row to Europe and then from 2003 onward I was traveling to the USA to compete on the North American circuit so unfortunately I am still yet to finish my University.
KK: What was you very first triathlon?
LM: My first triathlon was in a small Australian town called South West Rocks in 1995. Back then I was still swimming competitively so I won the swim by a mile, rode really badly and a few guys passed me then I came back on the run and won.
KK: Did you have all new fancy gear when you started?
LM: I didn't have all the gear for my first few races. I competed on a $800 bike without race wheels.
KK: Australia has already been through its triathlon boom is the sport still going through a growth spurt or has it slowed down?
LM: It's still growing. It's definitely getting more popular and a lot more recognition with the Australian public thanks to Emma Snowsill winning the Olympics and Michellie Jones, Chris McCormack and Craig Alexander all winning Hawaii recently. I feel like Ironman racing has a bigger following in Oz these days than the Olympic distance whereas when I was growing up short course racing was more popular.
KK: Luke, what is the Australian Institute of Sport Triathlon?
LM: The Australian Institute of Sport is a government funded program that develops athletes for the Olympics. Basically all the sports competing in the Olympics have support to coach athletes; they have a national HQ in Canberra where there are amazing facilities and experts in Sports Science, Nutrition and psychology.
What is it about the 70.3 and Ironman Distance races that attract so much attention?
LM: I think people are attracted to the challenge. There is no greater challenge available to the general population than an Ironman. The Ironman and 70.3 series offers people a wide range of locations all around the world and have they all have a great atmosphere. Having Clearwater and Hawaii gives people a major goal to aim for and that why I think the Ironman brand is so popular.
KK: Describe your 2006 rookie debut at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
LM: Unfortunately my 2006 Hawaii Ironman was hampered by a bike crash I had in training only a few weeks prior to the race. I fell badly on my knee and didn't realize how much damage I had actually done. I kept training and was really fit but just before I got on the plane to Hawaii my knee started to ache. Once I landed in Kona my knee had blown up twice the size and I could hardly walk. I spent the week getting physio and massage on it and it seemed to help a little. I didn't run the whole week before the race.
LM: Race day I just tried to put the injury behind me and once I got going on the bike I think the adrenaline kicked in and I got through that fine but once I was on the marathon I was in trouble. I hobbled my way through the first 18-20km but from then on it was walk run walk run. I was determined to finish my first Hawaii. I got the finish line in 9hr 21, not a bad time considering my injury.
LM: I went home to Australia and had a scan on my knee and it revealed a stress fracture. I didn't race again for 6 months I had done so much damage!
KK: What are some of your fondest triathlon memories so far?
LM: Making my first Australian team was really exciting. I won the Australian Junior Championships and was selected to go to the World Championships
LM: Finishing my first Ironman in 2004 - I finished 3rd at Ironman Western Australia.
LM: Competing in Hawaii for the first time was amazing. Floating in the water before the gun was a feeling I have felt. The hair stands on the back of my neck just thinking about it.
KK: What is your ultimate goal?
LM: To win Hawaii!
KK: How does racing short course differ from racing long course races?
LM: Obviously the preparation is different. Short course requires a lot more anaerobic threshold training. Ironman training involves a lot more aerobic work and a lot more strength.
LM: Short course racing is a little more tactical in the draft legal format.
KK: What is your favorite race? Why?
LM: Wildflower is right up there. The atmosphere is awesome and the weekend is great fun camping.
LM: Escape from Alcatraz is an epic event.
LM: St. Croix is a fun weekend in a beautiful location. The course is tough but I love it.
LM: Hawaii Ironman - Everything about this race is awesome. Probably my favorite!
KK: How do you balance family, friends, training, career, traveling, racing, etc?
LM: I am very lucky. My girlfriend is also a pro (Amanda Balding) and we travel everywhere together. Sometimes we race the same races sometimes its just one of us, but either way we always have each other there for support. My parents love triathlon and since they are semi retired they try and get to a lot of my races in Australia, Asia and make an annual trip to Hawaii to watch me race there. A lot of my friends are involved in the sport or I have made by traveling around the world doing this sport.
LM: It seems I have found the right balance of all these things over the past 18 months. Getting my training done is number 1 priority and keeping focused on up coming races is key. I can easily work this into my social life.
KK: What do you enjoy doing during the off season?
LM: I love to go surfing. I try and get out as much as I can when I am at home in Australia.
KK: Here at Finishline-Multisport.com, our goal is to help our sport keep growing. If you would, what are some tips that you would give to someone starting off in triathlon?
LM: 1.Getting a coach or join a group you can train with would be my first piece of advice.
LM: 2.Get your equipment expertly fitted. ie. Bikes, shoes, wetsuit.
LM: 3.Don't let your new found love for triathlon take over your life. Take some time out and keep the family time.
KK: As a pro you get to race all over the globe; where is your favorite places to race and why?
LM: I like the races in Asia. The people are helpful and friendly and the events are always hot and humid just how I like it. Most of the races in are in nice tropical destinations which make it a great place to relax afterwards.
KK: What are the funniest things you have done or you have heard during a race?
LM: When I started out I was in the Formula One series in Australia. It was a televised series and was a series of really short, fast races in a crit style. I was having a great race one day right up among the leaders when I got to T2 and put my shoes on I put them on the wrong feet. Not wanting to waste time swapping them, I ran the 2km with my shoes the wrong way. Man that was weird and hard!
KK: When people think of Luke McKenzie, what do you want them to know most about you?
LM: He is a dedicated athlete that is passionate about triathlon and everything he does. Loves meeting people and is friendly and approachable.
KK: What are some of your goals for 2009 and beyond?
LM: I have already accomplished one of my goals for the year - to win another Ironman title so that was exciting. I really want to defend my Ironman title in Japan then focus on a top 10 result at Kona in 2009.
LM: Beyond 09, it's about trying to win a lot more Ironman titles and move into the top 5, top 3 and ultimately win Hawaii.
Photography by Sarah Hall