ou have to be a special type of person to win an Ironman World Championship, but to win twice and to set a new world record on the way, well you have to be Luc Van Lierde. We caught with this incredible athlete in Dubrovnik as he prepares to jump into another venture. Van Lierde (49) has long list of awards behind him, a host of gold medals and world records he won the world’s most prestigious Ironman race in Hawaii in 1996 and again in 1999, and is now a full-time triathlon coach. And as Dubrovnik is also on the verge of its inaugural triathlon event it was once again perfect timing from this Belgium Ironman. We discovered why one of the leading triathletes of all time is in Dubrovnik and why he thinks there should be a Hawaii Evening in the city.
Have you been to Dubrovnik before?
I have been coming to this area since I started coaching a triathlete from Russia who lives in Montenegro. I have been his coach for three or four years and that has brought me to Dubrovnik.
And you have been touring and training the region with a purpose?
We have made a tour, where we start in the mountains of Montenegro, then move down to Kotor, onto Dubrovnik and then towards the local islands around Dubrovnik. The reason for this tour, or should I say training camp, is that in the future we want to organise a training camp for athletes. This trip has been a try-out to see which things we need to change but I can see lots of potential. I also have a new app coming out soon, which is a coaching system, so this tour has also helped with publicity. I coach athletes all over the world, but of course I am limited with time, so I designed an app with artificial intelligence, it is called 3GO.
Potentially you will have triathletes from all over the world coming to this training camp?
Yes, we hope so. The camp will last for one week, and when we go online and invite all our members I see this as a very interesting venture.
Are the geographical conditions in Montenegro and Dubrovnik suitable for this kind of training? We aren’t really Belgium; this is a mountainous region.
They like to test new places and new locations. There are fixed locations where athletes go and train but they also like variation because the sport also has a lot of variation. An athlete from Spain might do an Ironman event in Spain but then he will want to travel to another country to participate in an another event. This is the mentality of a triathlete. At first the dream is to do a triathlon, a short one, and then to progress to an Ironman. And once they have done an Ironman the dream is to qualify for Hawaii, where the sport originated back in the late 1970’s. If they want to qualify for Hawaii, then they have to find the right race to prepare themselves. If they know that there is an “adventure camp” or triathlon camp that they haven’t tried before then of course they will be interested. There are many ways to fly into this area, so getting here isn’t a problem.
So this future camp will be an adventure for triathletes?
Absolutely. The first day we start in the mountains and then we have our first bike ride, then we sleep in huts up high in the mountains, before moving on to Kotor where we cycle around that stunning coastline. The next stop is Dubrovnik where they will get to relax in a five-star hotel and then onto the islands where they can swim in the sea. Bike rides, swim sessions in the sea and running in spectacular countryside, I think people will really like this. I will put my name behind this and we also have partners from Dubrovnik and Montenegro.
Dubrovnik is preparing itself for the first triathlon event, “Earth, Sea and Fire” which will be held on the 13th of October. Is there a chance that you will also attend this event?
I will actually be in Hawaii when the Dubrovnik triathlon event is held. Even though these two events clash on the calendar I also think that it could be good timing for Dubrovnik. When the race is held on the 13th the same day at 6.30 pm here the race starts in Hawaii. So when the prize ceremony is being held here the organisers could have large TV screens broadcasting the event from Hawaii live. Participants could then follow this through the night and make a “Hawaii Evening” in Dubrovnik.
It seems that Ironman is a little like golf, it is addictive.
Yes, the more you train golf the better you get and then you want to train more and more to keep getting better, it gets in your blood. And triathlon is very much the same. It is three different spots, the biggest endurance sport in the world, for the best athletes in the world it will take 8 hours to complete and for many other athletes it will take as long as 17 hours to finish. Believe it or not every year in Hawaii there are 80-year-olds who enter the race, and not only enter but finish inside the allowed time.
How does a country like Croatia, whose sporting scene is dominated by football and other team sports, increase the popularity of triathlon?
If you want triathlon to become really popular in your country, you need a local athlete to win Hawaii. When I won the race, and I won in twice, the popularity went through the roof. You need a face; you need a name. To get to the media, in the small sport that Ironman is, you need to be the best of the best. You need to win. I was even invited by the King of Belgium for a meeting when I won, because I was the first European to win in Hawaii.
Winning Hawaii Ironman
How much of this sport is mental and how much physical?
You need to have a good “engine” but you also need to have something between your ears. This is a sport that takes 8 hours at least, so you need to make the right choices at the right times. Three different sports all have their own challenges, challenges for your body and for your mind.