Wian Sullwald is the next generation of triathletes coming out of Africa. The 21 year old has grown up watching and being inspired by the likes of Claude Eksteen and, more recently, Richard Murray. His form in 2014 has marked him as a rising star, if he was on the billboard music charts he would be marked as a possible future number one.
However, the first thing is to tell the world about this well spoken, humble and yet fiercely determined young man is how to pronounce his name. It is after all a name that commentators and reporters the world over might want to get used to given his recent form. Here it is then, when you see the W in Wian and Sullwald, think v and go with Vian Sull Vold.
While just 21 years of age, Sullwald has been around the sport for some years. Unlike past generations who perhaps fell into the sport in their late teens when other sports burned their desire or blunted their enthusiasm, triathlon has been there for him since before he was a teenager.
“I started when I was about 12 years old but I then drifted away for a while before coming back at the age of 15. When I was 16 I qualified for the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore and competed there at age 17 and ever since I have been totally committed to the sport.”
Sullwald was a leading young runner and still has a great passion for that sport. He says that watching triathlon’s stars on television and reading about them in the media has played a big part in his attraction to the sport.
“I am still racing against some of my idols! My favourites were Jan Frodeno and Javier Gomez, sadly I won’t get to race against Jan as he is now racing longer distance but it is a thrill to race alongside Javier. When I was younger my biggest role model in South Africa was Claude Eksteen, he competed on the circuit a few years ago and I really looked up to him. Richard Murray is the top South African now and we have been friends for years and we get along great and I am still being inspired by him, he still teaches me a lot of stuff. Like I said with the athletes being great role models for the youngsters it is a case of those successful athletes promoting themselves in social media and through the increasing broadcast opportunities that the sport is developing.
“I had to come from a different sport and merge into triathlon but the way it is developing around the world and in South Africa, it is tremendous the way it is growing every year. For us youngsters we now have the role models to look up to and it is being marketed much better and from a young age athletes know about the sport of triathlon and it looks very appealing to them and there are possibilities for them to start and continue from a young age.”
As mentioned, Sullwald has a love for running, indeed ask him what he follows or likes outside of triathlon and you can’t keep this young South African away from talking sport.
“I have a big love of running, especially trail or mountain running, that is something I would like to do after triathlon maybe. Also mountain biking, a lot of people don’t realize but that is my favourite training set is to get on the mountain bike and head out for a ride wherever the gravel takes me, that comes from my farming background I think.”
Sullwald points to his father as being instrumental in his love for sport, and a doctor who offered some sage advice many years ago.
“I grew up on a farm in Bella Bella (about an hour from Pretoria), my dad is a pig farmer. I am these days training in Pretoria but I like to go home as often as possible. From a sporting perspective my dad was a really good runner and cyclist. As a youngster I had him as an example and I got into running and cycling, swimming I got into because of my asthma. When I was about 9 years old the doctor said to try swimming to develop my lungs and before I knew it I was already doing all three disciplines and when I saw a triathlon on television it really appealed to me.”
Sullwald has made great strides in 2014, finishing 15th at his ‘hometown’ WTS event in Cape Town and following up with a win at the Chengdu ITU World Cup. That improvement has fuelled his desire to get to the top.
“I don’t want to muck around, I want to be the best I can in the sport, the improvement I have made this year is really great and I think it shows me I have what it takes to be one of the best in this sport. The big dream is to win an Olympic medal, maybe 2020 but the way things are going right now, who knows, maybe I can achieve something in 2016.”