Best of 2011: Barbara Riveros Diaz creates triathlon history in Lausanne

Best of 2011: Barbara Riveros Diaz creates triathlon history in Lausanne

By Paula Kim on 17/12/11 at 5:08 am

Lausanne is a notable city in the career of Barbara Riveros Diaz, and not just because it’s the city she was crowned World Champion in August of this year.  She had raced here before, back in 2006 at the ITU Junior World Championships, just her third international race.

Back then an unknown 19-year old kid from Santiago, Chile finished the junior women’s race with an unimpressive 41st place showing.  But aside from the race, Riveros made an important connection that would change the course of her career.  She met Libby Burrell, Director of ITU’s Development programme, who was making decisions on where to invest attention into and decided Riveros had serious potential.

Age: 24
ITU Elite Sprint World Championships: 1 (2011)
Dextro Energy Triathlon Series wins: 2
Where she calls home: Santiago, Chile
You can find out more about Barbara on her website

“Barbara was very unpolished at that time but I decided she was definitely worth the effort,” said Burrell.  “She has a mental ability second to none.  I’ve been coaching a long time but her resilience is something I haven’t ever seen in my life before.”

Fast forward five years later, after a few years in the ITU Development programme and after qualifying for the Beijing Olympic Games, Riveros is back in Lausanne.  But this time as one of the world’s best and ready to show that very resilience in the second edition of the ITU Sprint World Championships.

Racing on the same course as a junior five years earlier, Riveros did not go unnoticed this time.  Despite fading to fourth place in the final kilometre, Riveros rocketed past leader Emma Jackson down the final stretch to claim gold in one of the most stirring races of the year.  It was the first ITU World Championship ever for Chile.

“Something happened that I can’t explain,” said Riveros.  “I get this new energy and I get through.  It was really magical.”

But 2011 wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Chilean star.  Not long after her splendid triumph in Lausanne, Riveros’ season came crashing down at the Grand Final in Beijing.

Despite entering the race as a contender for the overall World Championship title and a front runner for a spot on the podium, Riveros staggered to a disappointing 44th place finish while letting a World Championship medal slip from her grasp.  One would think she would want to bury the memory, but instead Riveros embraced the disappointment, not just because she used it as motivation, but also because she viewed it as an opportunity to become stronger.

“If I don’t have a good race, I’m still happy at the same time because I learn a lot,” said Riveros.  “In Beijing probably it was better just to retire and not finish the race in 44th place or whatever place I got because it didn’t help in the rankings, didn’t help in the points, didn’t help nothing.  But I don’t care because it’s great to go through this experience.  I’m not a person who believes all the time (should be) successful. I’m a person who likes to have disappointment and I welcome them.”

Her next event after Beijing was the Pan American Games.  And the race itself was a microcosm for the challenges Riveros faces but also her steely determination to overcome them. 

Widely predicted for gold, Riveros’ race got off to a rocky start and was down two minutes after the swim.  That deficit ballooned to almost four minutes by the end of the bike as the podium appeared out of reach.  It would have been so easy to pull out of the race on that scorching hot day in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  But Chile’s greatest triathlete doesn’t give in that easily.

Instead she put her head down and hammered out the day’s fastest run split—which was also faster than half of the men’s field—and staged a furious comeback to take silver.

“You have to have the spirit to keep fighting until the end,” she said after the race.  “What a lot of people might think is impossible, you have to put in your mind and say ‘come on, it could be possible’.”

With that merciless attitude coupled with her refreshing approach to success and failure, many things are possible, including the Olympic podium and another World Championship.