A few words with Sam Betten

Sam Betten is an upcoming young Aussie Pro who is racing 70.3 and 5i50 events. This 25-year old won the ITU Junior Aussie Champs twice but is now committed to non drafting racing and has Las Vegas and Hy-Vee on his mind.

Slowtwitch: Good chatting with you Sam.

Sam Betten: Thanks Herbert. I’ve always been a big follower of Slowtwitch so it’s an honor to get an interview with you.

ST: Word has it that you are taking a bit of a break after an intense 8 weeks of racing and world travel.

Sam: Yes, I’ve just had 2 weeks off totally post Cairns 70.3. My last 8 week racing block included a local sprint distance non-drafting triathlon in Australia, St Anthony’s 5150, St George US Pro Champs 70.3, Florida 70.3, Coral Coast 5150 and finally Cairns 70.3 really a pretty massive racing block for my first year of 70.3 and 5150 racing.

ST: Did your body tell you to take a break or was that planned all along?

Sam: The break was planned from the start. For me this year was about getting 5150 Hy-Vee and 70.3 World Champs qualifying points in the bank early on in the season, break for 2 weeks which would then give me a solid block of training needed to race well at Hy-Vee and Las Vegas. Coming from ITU and heading into 5150 and 70.3 racing with zero points meant that this year I needed to race a lot in order to build up qualifying points for these big championships races.

ST: How much time did you spend in the USA during those 8 weeks?

Sam: 4 weeks in total split between Florida, LA and St George racing St Anthony’s 5150, St George 70.3 and Florida 70.3.

ST: Racing wise what was your highlight in the US?

Sam: Without question hearing Craig Alexander yelling words of encouragement at me during St George 70.3. He’s a guy who I really look up to not just because of his athletic achievements but also for taking the time to listen and offer words his of advice to a young 70.3 racer such as myself. He actually came up to be after the race as well and we had a great chat. I was the 4th youngest in the field of 50+ professional men in St George 70.3 so any information a multiple world champion like Crowie gives me I soak up like a sponge.

ST: Are there any other Pros you admire?

Sam: Without question Chris McCormack. I got to watch and cheer him on during his race the Ironman in Cairns a few weeks ago after I had finished my 70.3. He tweeted to me that night after the race saying thanks and that owes me a beer for my efforts. Strangely the last time I had an alcoholic beverage was at Noosa 5150 late last year where he bought me a rum and coke.

ST: So you don't drink alcohol, or at least not much? Is that for taste, training or moral reasons?

Sam: Really its just because I just don't like to drinking alcohol when I'm in heavy training or racing. No big reason for it however I will have a beer or two at the end of the season when I'm on a long break from training. Usually it is after Noosa 5150 Triathlon and that's when I was hanging out with Macca and he gave me the rum and coke.

ST: While in the USA did you have time to relax or was it all business, racing and training?

Sam: With all the travel and racing going on it was hard to find time just to chill out and relax. My home stay in St George however was amazing and they took me out after the race to see some of the sights in St George. I am headed back to stay with them in September and am also planning to stay a few nights in Las Vegas post 70.3 World Champs so I will try and explore a little more then.

ST: I think you also got to hang out at the Oakley headquarters with Greg Welch.

Sam: I have been with Oakley for around 7 years now so it was great to finally have a chance to check out their HQ at Foothill Ranch. The setup they have there is really amazing and as an athlete it really makes you appreciate all the work they do to produce the most advanced sunglasses around.

ST: At 6'4" you must have towered over Welchy.

Sam: With out a doubt! He really is a short guy… or maybe I am just really tall at 6ft4!

ST: Your background is short course racing and in 2006 and 2007 you won the Australian Junior Elite Championships. Does that feel like way back in the past?

Sam: It feels like a long time ago however it’s something that I will never forget. There have only ever been 3 men to successfully defend the title with the other 2 being Courtney Atkinson and Craig Walton.

ST: Those are some big shoes to fill.

Sam: Craig is arguably one of the greatest non-drafting triathletes to come out of Australia with his lethal swim bike combination. I remember watching both Craig and Courtney race at Mooloolaba and Noosa, which are two of the biggest races in Australia.

ST: How did you actually get started to begin with?

Sam: My dad was a professional cyclist in Europe when he was in his 20’s so I took a lot of inspiration from him and seeing photos of him racing. Being Australian and having our great history and culture based around swimming I naturally did this as well along some cross-country running at school. A local tri club started up at the pool I was swimming at and so I decided to it a go.

ST: Did cycling not seem more glamorous?

Sam: Well maybe. Although with my height I think the NBA might have been a great choice as well. I did do a few cycling races when I was in my teenage years however just loved the challenge of putting 3 different sports together.

ST: Currently you are racing some International non-drafting distance events now plus 70.3 races. When did you make the switch from draft legal and what inspired or caused the move?

Sam: I’d always expressed interest in racing Ironman and 70.3 to my coach and I think he knew one day I would eventually make the move across. To be brutally honest I made the decision after I really got burnt with the Triathlon Australia selection policy, which left me questioning if I wanted to stay in that kind of system and in ITU racing in general. Long story short I really hated the whole concept of having a selection committee deciding your fate and felt I was very hard done by when I went for ITU U23 World Champions selection on multiple occasions. I think some of Macca’s interviews when he was vying for selection on the Australian Olympic team really highlighted some big flaws in the system, which helped draw some attention to it. I’m not being negative towards Triathlon Australia, as they have also given me a lot of opportunities however I think certain things need to changed in order for the whole system move forward in a positive way.

I love the fact that selection for 5150 Hy Vee, 70.3 World Championships & Ironman World Championships is all on you. No selection committees to decide your fate and selection is based purely on the 5150, 70.3 and Ironman points rankings.

ST: But that means no financial support from Triathlon Australia. How tough is that to manage?

Sam: Very tough! To put things into perspective I go as far as selling my finishers shirts on eBay to help pay for my travel. I’ve picked up some prize money and sponsors bonuses this season but unfortunately at this stage I don’t have the mileage in the legs to be on the top step of the podium at major races. I’m only 25 years old so hopefully in years to come I can start to be more financially secure. I am currently 8th on the 5150 points ranking which money wise is a world apart from being ranked 8th in the world at golf or tennis.

ST: Are you sold on non-drafting now even if the politics at home were to change?

Sam: I don’t think that I would go back to drafting racing any time soon. Although in saying that I did have a crack at the ITU World Cup in Mooloolaba earlier this year but got sick the night before the race. I really love 70.3 racing and have always dreamt about the racing and winning the Ironman World Championships, so this is where my passion is.

ST: Do you race off-road too or is that just for training?

Sam: I do a few hours a week mountain biking as training but have no plans of doing any XTERRA type races at this stage. I’m still finding this 5150 and 70.3 racing hard enough to get right and compete against guys who are often 10-15 years older than me.

ST: Who are some of the folks you are training with back home?

Sam: I train under Australian Triathlon Olympic coach Stephen Moss and we have a big ITU squad, which includes Olympian Emma Jackson, Dan Wilson and Ryan Fisher amongst others. I find that training with the ITU athlete’s helps my speed especially for the swim, which speed wise is really no different between ITU and 70.3. My coach often adds some extra volume and drops a few speed workouts from what the others in my squad do but that’s really about it.

ST: What is next on your calendar?

Sam: I’ve got all my eggs in the Hy-Vee 5150 and Las Vegas 70.3 basket so I am in pretty intense training for that at the moment. The beauty of racing early in the season and racking up points is that I should now qualify for both races and don’t need to race any more between now and then which could lead to burning myself out by the time these big races roll around.

ST: All well with sponsors?

Sam: I have a fantastic team around me and all my sponsors have been amazing. Specialized, Saucony, Oakley, Huub, 110% Play Harder, Dextro Energy and Scody, who have made me all my custom race and training apparel, are all sponsors which I really hope I can spend the rest of my career working with. I have a possible new wheel sponsor in the works however nothing confirmed as yet.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Sam: I also have a bachelor of business university degree with a sports management major and marketing minor.

You can follow Sam Betten on twitter at @SamBetten