Completing the longest triathlon race, Ironman, is an impressive feat of individual discipline and strength: a full Ironman race consists of a 3.9km swim, a 180km cycle, and a full marathon (42.2km). And that's a lot.
A Running Start
Although he is nearly 40-years-old in a field where many athletes hit a hard expiration date, Viktor says he still strives for victory every time he hits the track. And with 17 years of competitions to his credit, this veteran says he feels well-equipped to win the Ironman World Championship for the first time this year.
Viktor’s career began 22 years ago, when he was finishing up his military career and first learned what a triathlon was. He was new to the sport, but he’d already had a running start. At the age of 16, Viktor began running the 1,500 and 3,000m dashes on the local runners’ circuit, which explains why Zyemtsev regularly excels in the final running portion of his triathlons. He pragmatically points out, however, that it is “sometimes very hard to realise your potential in the last round due to weariness.”
A Man Tempered by Iron
When I ask him what his training strategy is, Zyemtsev’s answer is simple, “Motivation helps a lot. But I have no idea where it comes from. Other than that, I try to not to train in my strongest discipline, and focus instead on the areas I feel weak in. This prepares me for all three rounds of the race.”
Usually training in the US, as this is the country where many of the Ironman races are held, he believes that an athlete should train where he competes and where the conditions are best. “Crimea is also a beautiful place for training, but there is a lack of good swimming pools and it’s pretty expensive. Plus, it’s cheaper for me to work in the US. However, I’m Ukrainian and I always come home,” he adds with a smile.
Of his myriad victories, Zyemtsev is proudest of three races in particular. They are his Ironman victory in Klagenfurt, Austria in 2002; his win at the International Triathlon UNI0N (ITU) race in Denmark in 2005; and the Ironman 70.3 Augusta in 2011. He believes that these are the races that shaped him as an athlete and imbued him with the confidence to pursue his latest goal: the gold medal at the World Championship at Ironman Hawaii on 13 October 2012.
He recently earned his spot at the final Hawaii race by completing the Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho on 24 June of this year, finishing the whole race in 8 hours and 32 minutes, a full 10 minutes faster than his 32-year-old runner-up!
Victory and Strength
He laughs off reports that call him the strongest man in the country. “It is wrong to say that I am the strongest man in Ukraine. Every sport has its own special requirements, as do triathlons of various distances. I doubt I would do well in a shorter distance triathlon, let alone other sports. Plus, there are so many strong athletes in the history of Ukraine. Serhiy Bubka, for example.”
But it is not all fun and games. Viktor admits that he pays a price for all this glory. Training, recovering, and competing take up the bulk of Viktor’s time, though he tries to make time for his family. “Sport is sport. I’m fighting for victory 24-hours a day!” Along with promises to bring home a shiny gold medal, these are his parting words as he prepares to board his flight to Hawaii.