Up close with coach Lubos Bilek

That name may not sound familiar to many, but should. Lubos Bilek is the coach of Sebastian Kienle and this Czech born German resident also coaches Svenja Bazlen and Andi Böcherer. Meet the humble man who had a great 2013 with his athletes.

Slowtwitch: Thank you very much for your time.

Lubos Bilek: Hi there Herbert, I enjoy taking part in this chat. Thank you.

ST: You spent quite a bit of time with Sebastian Kienle late this summer. Was that the first time to be together so close and for such a long time?

Lubos: Sebastian and I spent almost 7 weeks together in September and October of 2013. First 10 days in Las Vegas and then 5 weeks in Hawaii, and we did the same in 2012. We had a very nice time together with fun and a lot of pain for him. Otherwise during the winter we usually get together for 2-3 weeks on Fuerteventura, or during the summer as we get ready for Frankfurt or Roth we spend 4-5 days together a couple of times. Otherwise most stuff gets handled via phone or email.

ST: How long have you been working with Sebi?

Lubos: I have known Sebastian since February 2006. He was then in the selection squad of the state of Baden Württemberg and I just had started as the state coach. Initially our work together was mostly a few tips of mine and a bit of support during training camps. When he aged out of the squad in 2008 we started together for real.

ST: Does Sebastian usually do what the coach says?

Lubos: Sebastian is an experienced and brave athlete who knows his body well. Our cooperation is not based on ‘what the coach says the athlete does.’ We talk quite a bunch about the training and always find the correct path. I admire that for example during a training camp on Fuerteventura we had discussed the training for the next 5 days but he came back after 3 days and said he was wasted and needed 2 rest days. Not many athletes would have the courage to do that and not every athlete is able to do so. But sometimes I have to insist on my opinion - if he only has a bad day then I have to be in charge. It is always a bigger challenge for a coach to have an athlete that is well informed and knows a lot about the sport himself, than somebody who does whatever you tell him.

ST: He now has earned two 70.3 World Championship titles and a podium in Kona. I would imagine that you are pleased.

Lubos: With the performances and results I am more than content. Both years we traveled to Kona and Vegas with different situations and each time we managed to get the best out of it. Last year it was the body that mattered and this year he won the race with his mind. These things together will make him a top athlete for the next few years.

ST: The race in Kona for Sebastian was good indeed, but more seemed to be possible. Is that a fair statement?

Lubos: This year more than the 3rd place was not possible. Sebastian was suffering on the run from the start and really had to fight. The prep during the winter until March went very well, but he then tore the ligaments in one of his feet. Then he caught a bacterial infection and had to deal with antibiotics. We pretty much missed 2 months of training. That certainly had an impact on his race in Kona, but Frederik and Luke had a great race.

ST: What words of wisdom did you have for him before the start?

Lubos: Since Sebastian lived with me for 7 weeks I am sure that I told him a bunch. We went through a variety of possible race scenarios, and I then explain a situation and he has to come up with a good answer, because in the race he has to decide quickly what to do. And the last and most important sentence that athletes hear before the start I will keep to myself.

ST: I figure that you guys were aware that Andrew Starykowicz was planning a big bike attack. Was that of interest for you or did it not matter?

Lubos: We indeed counted on Andrew starting a big bike attack, but that really did not influence us because we figured to have 3-4 minute loss during the swim. Had Sebastian quickly tried to make up that time he would likely have not reached the finish. We however hoped that other athletes would try to ride with him and that would have been nice, because that would have meant they would not be able to run.

ST: Luke McKenzie ended up with a great run time despite the fast bike split.

Lubos: Luke had a super race. He swam very well - biked great as always, and then ran superbly. I thought all along that he would eventually bonk during the run, but that did not happen. On this day he was unbeatable for us.

ST: It turned out that Sebastian caught the group on the bike reasonably fast.

Lubos: Sebastian really has improved his swim and Hawaii seems to be a good course for him. His best two swim efforts of his career have taken place in Hawaii. With only 2:30 to the last guy of the group it was only a question of about 50km to catch that group. I have to give credit to Jan Wolfgarten, he takes care about Sebastian in the swim since this year.

ST: With folks falling out of that group, did that help Sebastian to have some targets along the way?

Lubos: The first 60-70km until the climb to Hawi, almost no one gets dropped by the group. Only when it goes up folks start to have problems. Otherwise it is indeed an advantage to see folks. You are pulled with great force to that person.

ST: When Sebastian did not stay with Luke on the way back from Kona, did that surprise you?

Lubos: To be honest, I did not have Luke on my radar. I actually thought Andrew would be first off the bike and Sebastian second. The race situation about 20k past Hawi was perfect, Andrew, Luke and Sebastian together. I thought this may be a super day and Sebastian might be fighting for the win. Unfortunately by 140k Sebastian noticed that the pace of Andrew and Luke was too fast. Sebi then made the best decision to let these two guys go. He continued with his pace. In that moment he won 3rd place.

ST: What did you say to him post race?

Lubos: I don’t remember anymore. I was very pleased about 3rd place. Likely I only said ‘Awesome, you are the best.’

ST: Talk about yourself. You were not born in Germany.

Lubos: I was born and raised in the Czech Republic. After my studies in the Czech Republic (teaching sports and biology and a thesis in triathlon) I moved to Cologne, Germany in 2004 to continue my education at the Deutsche Sporthochschule. I also earned money on the side teaching triathlon, swimming and running to various club teams. In 2005 I saw an ad in Stuttgart for the state coaching position and I applied and got the job in 2006. The work with upcoming talent was very enjoyable but in 2011 I decided to do my own thing to have more time for top athletes. It was the right decision when you look at the results of Sebastian, Andi and Svenja. I also train a few age groupers and that is also something that like.

ST: Do you still have space for athletes under your wings or are you loaded to the max?

Lubos: I decided to be on the path of quality over quantity, but I think there is still one place open for a Pro female.

ST: You just mentioned Andi Böcherer and Svenja Bazlen, when did they start with you and who else did you work with?

Lubos: My first top-level athlete was Ricarda Lisk. I worked with her from 2006 to 2009, and again from 2011 to 2012. Ricarda grabbed the win at the ITU World Cup in Hamburg in 2008, was 5th at the ITU World Championships in Hamburg in 2007, and 15th at the Olympics in Beijing. As a coach I learned quite a bit from Ricarda and I am glad that we are still in touch. I started to work with Svenja Bazlen in 2008 and with Andi Böcherer in 2010.

ST: Svenja Bazlen made a successful switch to the longer non-drafting scene. Did you make that suggestion or was that her idea?

Lubos: Svenja likes to laugh about this topic as the switch from short course racing was suggested by myself and her boyfriend Hildi. But Svenja also liked that idea, and feels at home on the longer distances, and had no moment this year where she had regrets about the decision. And when you look at the performances and the results, you se it is exactly what suits her well.

ST: Will she focus on the 70.3 distance or are there longer plans on the mind?

Lubos: Svenja has taken part in triathlon at the peak level only for 6 years and is thus not ready for an Ironman. Currently we have only 70.3 events on the schedule. I am currently certain that it is much better for her to stay on the middle distance path. But this all can change in the next few years and at age 29 she has plenty of time.

ST: The season did not go so well for Andi Böcherer. What message did you give him on the path for 2014?

Lubos: Andi is a big talent but he had a lot of bad luck. When you look back at his best year in 2011 with a 1st place at 70.3 Rapperswill, 1st place at 70.3 European Champs in Wiesbaden, 1st place at 70.3 Mexico and 8th place at Ironman Hawaii, a season when he was healthy and able to train well you will see that he has talent. This year his wife brought a second daughter into this world and I think this will be great motivation for Andi. He needs to stay healthy and then at every race anything is possible.

ST: Any other thoughts?

Lubos: The year 2014 belongs to my athletes.