Michellie Jones, a fomer world-champion triathlete won the seventh-annual Columbia Iron Girl last Sunday in her first try, after Nicole Kelleher was penalized two minutes for using an illegal draft move on the bike portion of the race. Jones, 42, won the silver medal in the triathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in her native Australia.
Since you live and train in California, what attracted you to come to Maryland to compete in what is billed as the country's largest Iron Girl event?
I've done races before that Vigo [race director Robert Vigorito] has put on. He does such a nice job, and he's tried to get me to come to the Columbia Iron Girl to race and I've had other commitments. He asked this year and I said I would love to come. He kept telling me so much about it and how awesome it was and he was right. I was definitely inspired by a lot of the women who were out there racing.
What about the Columbia Iron Girl is different from other triathlons you've competed in, and what makes it stand out?
It's a women's race. That in itself means a lot. To be out racing on the course, the other racers will be cheering you. At other races [where there are men and women], you don't always see that. It's like a big family atmosphere. I think women tend to embrace each other.
One of the things that I noticed in your bio was that your time in winning the silver medal in Sydney was not that far off the winning time for this year's gold-medal winner in London. Is it such a high level that it's difficult to bring the times down, or has the sport plateaued?
With triathlons, you really can't compare times. You have different swim conditions, there are different courses, whether they are hilly or flat. The sport has definitely evolved. I've been racing since 1988 and the sport has gotten faster and become more competitive and it's still growing. Even though it looks like the times are similar, if you look at the splits [for swimming, bicycling and running], it's definitely getting faster.
When you look back on winning the silver medal in Australia, is that hard to top as a career achievement? Do you have to set new goals?
When I went to Olympics in 2000, I had already achieved a lot. I looked at it as icing on the cake. When I didn't make the team in 2004, I was like, 'Ugh.' This is what I wanted to do, I wanted to go to another Olympics. I didn't get chosen.' It was a hard decision. I was going to retire, but one of my teammates persuaded me to do an Ironman. I think that because I didn't make an Olympic team, I became a world champion in the Ironman.
When you think about how long you can compete, is it a sport where you see women a lot older than yourself doing it, so that you can compete and enjoy for a long time?
You have to look at the sport in two different categories. You have professionals and you have amateurs. On the amateur side, we had a guy who was 86 who did the Ironman and we had a woman who was 76 in Columbia. If you're an amateur, I think it's a good way to stay in shape and stay young. The secret for anything, I think, is to keep moving. Some of us are blessed and we have longevity to do things. That starts from developing good health habits early and looking after yourself. It's a good lifestyle, just when you get sick of swimming, you bike. And when you get sick of biking, you get to run. It's a nice change from not doing the same thing over and over again. You look at the professionals, you're asking the wrong person. I've been in the sport for 24 years as a professional, so not many people get that opportunity. I've been very, very lucky. But I know I don't have that much time left to race as a pro and they keep telling me I've got to keep racing pro, but at some point I will go into the amateur ranks. It's interesting to see how people react to that. They say, 'You were a professional.' I'm just like everyone else. I love this sport; I'm passionate about it. For me, I just go out there to swim, bike and run, and I just try to get across the finish line as quick as I can.