From 1997 through 2012, Dan Alterman and his twin brother Ran were Israeli triathlon pioneers who chased the dream of Olympic berths around the globe. In 93 ITU races, Dan made the podium 7 times and won a single event – the 2008 Mombasa ITU African Cup. Back home, they traded Israel’s triathlon national championship titles. Dan won six times and Ran won five between 2001 and 2011. However close they raced, there was never an ounce of enmity or jealousy. Always, overshadowing their individual success, was their love, loyalty and support for one another.
While in 2008 and 2012 Dan was deep in the chase around the globe for Olympic qualification points, his pursuit led to overuse injuries and fading performance as the qualifying deadline grew near. After 2012, Dan gave up the ITU circuit and found more satisfaction at home as he raced the Israman half Ironman and full Ironman distance events every year since 2014. While Ron Darmon earned the first Israeli Olympic Triathlon slot, finishing 26th in 2016, and young Israeli Shachar Sagiv just finished 4th at the 2018 Cape Town World Cup and is a regular on the prestigious WTS circuit, Dan Alterman found satisfaction going long - winning the challenging full distance Israman 226 in 2017.
Even more fitting, at age 37 Dan and Ran Alterman have opened a thriving coaching business helping 400 triathletes pursue their athletic dreams.
Slowtwitch: Where were you and your brother Ran born and where did you grow up?
Dan Alterman: We were born in Israel in 1980 and grew up in a town near Netanya about 30k north of Tel Aviv.
ST: Tell us about your family?
Dan: My parents were born and raised in Ukraine. My grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War 2. My father Yakov is a doctor and my mother is Anna and they came to Israel in late 1970s because Israel is the only country for the Jews. My parents made a lot of sacrifices to live in Israel. My mother left her family to come to Israel.
ST: You are married with children?
Dan: My wife is Yahel. Our oldest boy Ori is 10 years old. Our youngest girl Libby is 8.
ST: How did you meet Yahel?
Dan: I was in a training camp with my brother in the kibbutz Misgav Am near Kiryat Shmona. I just saw her. Love from first sight. That is where we live today.
ST: How did your parents introduce you to sports?
Dan: My parents wanted their children to do some kind of sport as a hobby. Not as professional, they wanted us to do sport to be healthy.
ST: They did not push you?
Dan: Never. They just want us to do what we wanted to do. And enjoy it. And once we chose something, they encouraged us to work hard for our goals and do whatever we need to do to achieve it. This is the main thing we got from our parents – to be strong and enjoy it.
ST:What were your first sports?
Dan: We swam a little bit. We played ping pong. We did a little bit soccer. And then we started to do triathlon in 1993, when we were 13.
ST: Were you and Ran competitive with one another?
Dan: We were never rivals of each other. We wanted to take competition in a good way – to help each other. When Ran did something well, it was a motivation for me to know I could do it as well. If Ran can do a good run or if I can do a good race, then each of us can do it as well. A few minutes before the start, if I have a good idea how to do the race better, immediately I will go to Ran and tell him. And if Ran had an idea how to do it better, he will do the same for me.
ST: Did you have intense moments racing one another?
Dan: At home in Israel whether it was small race or a big race, we were racing together. Maybe 2 kilometers to the end, we both knew it was going to be a race to the finish. But as soon as we crossed the finish line, we hug each other and were happy for each other to have a good race. There were some times we just make a bet. OK if I am winning, next week you are going to take my clothes to the laundry. So of course if we are in the same race, it was race to become better. If I am winning, Ran shares in my win.
Two good examples were the Eilat ITU European Cups. In 2005, Rasmus Henning won the race in 2:01:08, Dan was second in 2:01:28 and Ran was third in 2:03:03. In 2006, Ran won in 2:00:17 and Dan was second in 2:00:22. The difference was the 10k run – Ran’s split was 33:00 and Dan’s was 33:07.
ST: Do you and Ran have different strengths?
Dan: I was a little bit better swimmer. Every time in the swimming pool I was leading, Ran was chasing. So it helped both of us to swim faster. Sometimes Ran was a better runner and I was following him and it made me faster. But on the average of swimming, biking and running. I was a little bit better. Always, we helped each other to go faster.
ST: Did you go to University?
Dan: Both of us studied business and accounting at the College of Management - Academic Studies in Rison Lesion.
ST: Did you compete in sports there?
Dan: Actually we got a scholarship but it was not a sports scholarship. It was for good students. We did race for the university, but it was not so competitive in sports.
ST: You served in the Israeli Army?
Dan: Everybody in Israel does three years compulsory service in the Army. We did it as professional athletes. We did basic training but we did mostly office work. We could train and race our sports but it was not so easy to train like a professional athlete. We had to do other duties. But we were glad to do it. .
ST: Ever serve in conflict?
Dan: No. We never were in the fighting.
ST: Why have you remained in Israel throughout your triathlon career?
Dan: For me Israel is the only place I want to live. As a professional athlete I could get a scholarship and train abroad. It was possible but hard for me to leave Israel and live in a different place. But when I win a race and they display the Israeli flag it makes me proud. It gives me more motivation to succeed and to be better.
ST: Did you have heroes in sport or in the wider world?
Dan: My father Yakov and my mother Anna are my heroes.
ST: Have you overcome any setbacks, illnesses or injuries?
Dan: As a professional athlete you always have injuries and you need to take care of your body and overcome your limits every day. Last year two and half months before Israman I crashed on the bike and I injured my face pretty bad. A dentist did the surgery and fixed my face. Two weeks after that I was back in training and I won the race.
ST: Tell me about your Olympic quests in 2008 and 2012?
Dan: I think both of them I was pretty good. But I was injured, mainly overuse. I trained too much and when I injured myself – a hip injury - I was stressed and I was afraid to stop training because I may lose my fitness.
ST: Who was your coach?
Dan: In 2004 to 2008 Ran and I were coached by Craig Watson of New Zealand.(who won bronze at the 2001 ITU Olympic distance World Championship).. After we did not succeed in 2008, we decided to coach ourselves. We also had a swimming and a running adviser. But mainly we did our own training.
ST: How close did you come to the Olympic qualification in 2012?
Dan: The 2012 Olympic qualification was contested for the two years before the Games. Before February 2012 I was still on the points list. Then I was injured and I lost training and fitness. I remained on the list until maybe April. But the last few races I lost my place.
Dan Alterman was 93rd – 50 men made the cut - in the final 2012 Olympic Triathlon qualification list with 1028 points. He scored twice as many points in 2011, but fell off sharply in 2012. In 2016, Ron Darmon, 24, became the first Israeli to qualify for the Olympic Triathlon and finished 26th in 1:48:41.
ST: Did Ran try to qualify for Olympics?
Dan: In 2008 he tried. In 2012, Ran decided he was going to quit and that's it.
ST: You lost a training partner?
Dan: No. He didn’t want to race any more. But he was still there for me and kept training with me. He was not exactly my coach. He understood in order to qualify what I needed. He was my manager and supported me for training and racing.
ST: What support did you get from Israel Triathlon or Israel Olympic Committee?
Dan: We got support from them for training and racing and some travel. With their help Ran and I managed to keep going. We didn't do it for the money and to be rich. We just did it to get to the Olympics.
ST: When did you decide to switch to long distance triathlon?
Dan: Now I am not fast enough and I do not really want to pursue Olympic distance because you need to train at high intensity. It is not like a long distance racing where you can train long hours but not so hard sessions.
ST: How did you win Israman in 2017?
Dan: As usual, I had a good swim. When I was doing Olympic distance I was also a good cyclist biker. I don’t know why that is not true at Israman. At Israman 113 (half Ironman distance) in 2014 and Israman 226 (full Ironman distance) in 2016, my biking was not as good as my training. I did this course in training much, much faster. So I lost a lot of time. But then when I start running, I am fast. At Israman 226 in 2017 I ran a 2:56 marathon. When I finished the race, I was happy for winning and a good result. I understand now that was one of the fastest Israeli times for this course.
In 2016, Dan Alterman finished Israman 226 in 5th place with a race-best 48:25 swim and a race-best 3:00:49 marathon but with a poor 6:14:53 bike split which was 34 minutes slower than winner Bart Candel of Netherlands. In 2017, he won Israman 226 with a race-best swim and race-best 2:56:55 marathon. His bike split was an improved 6:06:46 – just nine minutes slower than race-runner-up Dan Kony Ovchinikov - which gave him a 10:09:00 finish time.
ST: Was winning Israman in 2017 satisfaction enough?
Dan: Something was missing for me. I knew I could do better because the result on the bike was not as good as I knew I could do. So then I wanted to give Israman another try in 2018. I did the best swim and the best run ever. Even better than the year before. But unfortunately my biking was still very bad. I was disappointed because I know I can do better.
Against a much better field, posting a much better time than his 2016 5th-place finish and just 2:38 slower than his 2017 winning time, Dan Alterman finished 5th in 2018, quite disappointed with his 10:11:38 overall time.
ST: It was very cold, very windy throughout the bike leg this year.
Dan: I don’t think it was too windy. I was just not as fast as I was supposed to be (his 180km bike split was 6:18:48 - 45 minutes slower than winner Till Schramm and 12 minutes slower than his 2017 bike split). I don’t really know what happened, and why I cannot do better on the bike. Something is wrong. I try to do proper nutrition and watch my watts and everything. I just don’t know.
ST: Are you proud Israman is one of the toughest courses in world for the Iron distance? Does it make you want to solve the mystery of your slow bike times?
Dan: I don’t think I want to go and do an Ironman overseas. In my Olympic distance career, I did many races overseas. Now it is not something I really want to do. But I want to come back to Israman and have the support of the Israeli crowd and my kids are seeing me on the course and racing. That's what gives me the motivation to do this race. I think it is very challenging course and if you do the Israman you are tough enough. You know, I want to overcome myself. I want to reach my abilities and break my limits.
ST: So it is worth the disappointment to keep trying?
Dan: This year of course I am disappointed I didn’t do such a good bike and only finished top five. But I am very proud of knowing I was so far behind yet I still put on my running shoes and ran well. I could very easily just quit as I was more than half an hour behind. But I decided I am doing the best I can for myself, my kids, my wife and my fans. Although I didn’t win the race, I am just as proud of myself for doing the best run result ever (2:56:22). Not quitting and fighting to the last meter. It is a good lesson for myself and for my children and for the athletes I coach and for my friends.
ST: Tell us about your coaching business.
Dan: My brother Ran and I have a multisport store - Altermans Center in Kiryat Shmona in the Galilee - and we have a coaching business with more than 400 athletes. Most are kids but we also have adult age groupers. Most people have a job and families and they train because they love it. They are part our team and we love it.
ST: What is the most beautiful thing about Israel?
Dan: The people. The people are the answer. It is not the best place to live in. Everything is very tough and we work so hard and we pay a lot of taxes. And we are surrounded by people who hate us in Lebanon and Syria. But people in Israel are very kind and very helpful to each other. If you need help, the people of Israel will always be there for each other and expect nothing in return.