An admission from the outset: I have been trying to write this book review for three months. It has been that difficult. On one hand, with all the respect I have for Chris “Macca” McCormack as an athlete, in no way did I want to diss him. On the other hand, I found it so hard to get past the bravado and hyperbolic self-admiration that Macca bestows upon himself throughout the book that it made me seriously consternate on the review. Perhaps it would have been better to have someone else write the book – from a third party standpoint. But, no, we then wouldn’t truly get to know the real Macca … as “I’m Here to Win” certainly does.
A couple of key thoughts to begin with:
1.Chris McCormack undoubtably believes he is the greatest triathlete in history
2.Chris McCormack’s definition of “cocky” or “arrogant” is different than most
3.Chris McCormack is unique among professional triathletes, recognizing and employing great marketing skills
Very early in this 250-page look at the life and success of the Australian superstar, Macca sets the record straight: Entering the 2010 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, he says: “I was the most accomplished triathlete on the planet at any distance.” No bravado there, right? No. According to the world champion, he’s neither cocky nor arrogant. “I’ve never said anything that I didn’t believe to be true; but, nobody likes a truth teller.” And, “tell,” he does … throughout the book.
While a good portion of the book chronicles the champion’s second Kona win in 2010 and the strategy he employed to accomplish that – which is extremely interesting – we are nicely walked through Macca’s illustrious triathlon career, which has included over 200 victories. He has, indeed, won at virtually every distance since he began racing over 16 years ago. He won his first ITU World Championship in 1997, stating he was the first to win the ITU World Championship, the ITU World Cup Series and be ranked #1 in the same season. He goes further, stating “no one has matched that achievement since.” While I haven’t thoroughly researched this, I’m not sure Vanessa Fernandez would agree with this. Or, his assertion that he, Luc Von Lierde and Dave Scott are the only ones to have ever won the first Ironman race they entered. Simply not true. These may be just two examples of less than perfect fact checking in the book. But, hey, that’s Macca – only saying what he believes to be true.
But, believe me, none of this takes away from the enjoyment and pace of the book, as well as his incredible record. We start with Macca’s initial career as an accountant (can you picture Chris working at a desk in a cubicle, crunching numbers?), through the tragic loss of his closest friend right at the start of his triathlon success and the loss of his “Mum” to breast cancer. There is no doubt that this was the most emotional, impactful event in Macca’s life. This, too, helps further show the heart and soul of the 37-year-old Aussie.
One thing, also, is perfectly clear from reading this book: Macca is great – no, tremendous – at playing mind games with his peers and with the sport. The chapter, “The Ali Factor,” references his affection not only for one of the world’s greatest boxers, Muhammed Ali, but also his passion for that sport. Macca loves the smack talk, the bravado and the mind games and taunting that takes place in boxing. As a result there is no doubt: Chris McCormack is the Muhammed Ali of triathlon.
“I’m not cocky at all, I’m smart,” he says. He emphatically states he has had “the most successful career in the history of the sport.” Reading his thoughts on rivals such as five-time triathlon world champion, Simon Lessing, and several others, you get the feeling he just can’t help himself. The taunting, the staredown, the little jabs … they’re all there.
But, the most telling and most current rivalry is clearly with fellow Aussie and two-time Ironman world champion, Craig Alexander. There simply is not a lot of love lost between the two. Regarding this, Macca says: “In maybe a hundred races, he’s beaten me four times.” More: “In 2008, my bike failure had torn me apart because I hadn’t even had the chance to defend my title. I never said a word about it. I didn’t want to take anything away from Craig by making excuses.” Hmmmm. He goes through his analysis of Crowie as an Ironman, and proclaims: “Craig is an 8:19 guy.” Well, guess what? Shortly after this book came out, Crowie’s first Ironman in Coeur D’Alene? Yep, 8:19.
A fun read? You bet! But beyond writing his own glorious legacy, Chris McComack lays out a good amount of solid, helpful tips for all of us triathletes. He points out many lessons he has learned from people in other sports, including the success he learned from a bodybuilder with respect to issues of cramping and hydration. He really is a student of sport. I love his perspective on surrounding yourself with a great team: “You’re the CEO of your one-person company. It’s your responsibility to put in place everyone and everything you need to perform at your best.”
I am no psychologist, but it’s clear to me that Chris McCormack yearns to be loved and yearns to be admired. Near the end of the book, he recalls a race where he actually stopped to help a fallen athlete (Craig Walton) and says: “Moments like that one with Craig have earned me the respect of my peers and I crave that even more than I crave winning.” And, in his epic win and battle in 2010 with Andreas Raelert in Kona, while running side-by-side with the German superstar with less than two miles to go, he actually says to Raelert (as captured in the television broadcast): “It’s like the Iron War.” Indeed, as a historian of the sport, and enormous “fan” of Mark Allen in particular, nothing would mean more to Macca than be talked about in the same breath as Scott, Allen and Iron War.
Anyone who follows the sport of triathlon has an opinion on Chris McCormack; and those opinions run the gamut. The book, “I’m Here to Win,” is an extremely enjoyable read, allowing Macca to simply help you formulate his opinion.
“I’m Here to Win” – A World Champion’s Advice for Peak Performance by Chris McCormack, with Tim Vandehey. Published by Center Street, Hachette Book Group, 2011.
Barry Siff lives, works, and trains in Boulder, CO with his wife, Jodee, and dog, Jackpot. He remembers when Macca won his first Ironman World Championship, after spending his summer training in Boulder, and was known for eating a huge heaping of fried chicken in Nederland, following a long, long ride.