By Michael Lovato
ISSUE #25, Winter 2004/2005 – Will Race for Food. These four simple words were part of one simple step Cam Widoff made toward becoming one of triathlon’s most recognized and most respected names and faces. Those four words, alongside the then signature dreadlocks, helped launch “Wildman” Widoff to the upper echelon of our sport.
Down the road “Will Race for Food” became “Will Race for PowerBar.” Later, as Widoff was emerging as America’s next legitimate threat to win the Hawaii Ironman, it became “Will Race for Oakley, for Trek, for Asics…” and for several other of the industry’s powerhouse sponsors. Cam Widoff was on his way.
When I strolled up to Spruce Confections to meet with Cameron, and to subject him to an exhaustive interview, I found him not to be clad in traditional sponsor-laden apparel, but rather in a simple black and white shirt with the phrase www.DopersSuck.com. Was Widoff again making a few simple words famous? And along the way will others become equally passionate about keeping the sport we love clean and fair?
Having just returned from an extended trip to Brazil (an annual South American trip is a standard winter pastime for Cam), a tanned and rested Widoff obliged us an informative interview covering all things triathlon-related.
Colorado Triathlete: Tell me about your trip to Brazil
Cameron Widoff: I went down there for the Giants of Rio, presented by Red Bull. It was a team event of four disciplines: swim 4K, mountain bike 30k, hang glide 7 miles, and a run of 22K. My relay teammates were all studs: Chad Carvin was the swimmer; Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski was my mountain biker, and Curt Warren was the hang glider (He’s the 2004 US National Champion!). I did the run, which was about sixty percent soft sand; it was brutal! In the end I was there for two months and one week. I have a lot of great friends down there.
CT: Was this mostly downtime for you, or were you training?
CW: I was basically running, surfing and occasionally riding my buddy’s mountain bike. I needed the time, and it really forced me to hold back. It was really nice for me to have that break.
CT: What are your plans for the race season?
CW: Last year I did some running events in the Andes, and I did Pucón. These races were very early, and maybe I wasn’t fully recovered from Hawaii. I went to Wildflower and had a dismal race; I didn’t finish, I was beat up. I tried to remember that this year: I don’t want to do well in January and then go lay an egg at Wildflower. For me it’s time to go down there and do well again. In addition to that I’d like to do some of the Ironman North American events, those are nice races.
CT: Would you be interested in doing another Ironman besides Hawaii?
CW: One option that intrigues me is to do Roth, but for me that’s just an idea right now. Kona is the race that I want to do really well at; that primarily is the focus, and then everything goes out in concentric circles from there.
CT: Now speaking of Kona, let’s flash back a bit. What was the very first race where you qualified for Hawaii?
CW: Springfield Ironhorse, summer of 1990. It’s not quite a half: 1.5-mile swim, 48-mile bike, and a 10-mile run. I went there and qualified at 19 years old. I was still just finding my running legs at that point; I was a swimmer and biker really.
CT: What got you into triathlon then?
CW: My brother, Ben. He was into cycling. I was a swimmer at Southern Illinois; I was swimmer boy. I’ve been swimming now for thirty years, which is crazy! Ben was into cycling, which was so much different than swimming. All that equipment intrigued me: the helmets, the bikes, all of it. Plus, I enjoyed reading about Greg Lemond and the Tour.
CT: So when was your first triathlon?
CW: Let me think about that… 1988 would have been my first one: Doc Spackman Memorial Triathlon at my school, Southern Illinois. It was a little event, maybe a 400-meter swim, a 10-K bike, and a 2-mile run. The trick was to break thirty minutes!
CT: What was your first pro race?
CW: It was not until the end of 1993 that I had a real pro resume and started to do well at the big races. I remember doing Muncie in ’91 or ’92 and winning overall. When the second place guy went up to accept his first place pro prize money, I started to think I should be a professional. So I came to Boulder and lived out of my car for a couple years.
CT: What made you pick Boulder?
CW: My high school swim coach had a friend out here that I stayed with. I must have been about 23 or 24. I spent a summer here in ’93 and then I went home. After trying to work a little back home, I said forget it, and I came out here to stay.
CT: Let’s come back to Ironman Hawaii, how many times have you done the race there? And how many of those times have you been top American? And what about top-ten?
CW: I’ve raced Hawaii each year since 1990. Of those times I’ve been the top American three times: 1997, 2003, and 2004; seven times top-ten.
CT: Ok, over the years you’ve obviously shown that you’re a contender, how do you feel about not getting any television coverage? Why is that do you suppose?
CW: I can’t explain it. I don’t understand what it is or how it happens that way. I don’t know.
CT: Is NBC taking you in for pre-race interviews in Kona?
CW: No, when I called ahead to see if I needed to set aside any time for that, they told me no. They said we’re not heading to Boulder, and we don’t need your time for that. What upsets me the most about it is that I don’t think NBC and WTC realize that this ultimately hurts the sport. I have good industry sponsors; powerful sponsors. They have supported me for a long time. It’s not about me; it’s bigger than me. It puts my sponsors in a difficult spot because my sponsors can’t use me as the vehicle to get the exposure that they deserve. I feel that the powers that be are missing a very great opportunity to help the sport develop and grow. I will say, however, that this is nothing new for me. It’s been this way for the last ten years at that race.
CT: And now more specifically about your racing in Hawaii, you’ve had a couple times where you’ve come off the bike ahead of the eventual winner, what will it take for you to hold onto that position?
CW: I just need to run better. I’ve got the swim and the bike wired. Last year was a breakthrough for me. I came off the bike ahead of Tim and Peter, and that was huge for me. For me to be able to feel strong enough and confident enough to ride away solo from Waikoloa was huge. I just have to do the same, but I’m going to have to run a 2:45 to 2:48 to win it.
CT: And is that your plan? Is that your intention?
CW: Yes. I’m going to try. There isn’t any reason for me not to do it. I have the credentials; I’ve run fast at Wildflower, and I’ve run 2:54 in Kona before. Anything is possible.
CT: This is a touchy one: have you heard anything about Rutger Beke? [Editor’s Note: Beke tested positive for EPO at an Olympic Distance race in Belgium three weeks prior to IM Hawaii where he finished fifth.]
CW: I received my money for seventh place, but otherwise I haven’t heard anything about it. Again, thinking bigger and thinking outside the sport, having a situation like this is hurting the sport. It’s not about me; it’s not about Sinballe (sixth place). It’s not about these guys; it’s about doing the right thing–when a guy is caught red-handed and everyone is pointing to someone else for the blame… That is what Nina Kraft did an unbelievably amazing job with: she’s the first one I can think of in sport history to come straight out and accept responsibility. The example that she set for the rest of the athletes in this sport can do a lot of good, because in the end, do we want to go the way of cycling?
CT: If Rutger is removed from the results, you will become sixth (tying your best finish there from 1997). Which of the two races was better for you?
CW: Last year I was racing at a completely different level than in ’97. In 1997 it was a completely different race. That race blew apart when Thomas Hellreigel showed up; it changed the dynamic of how guys went to that race. In 2004 I was stronger mentally, I was more prepared, and I had my diet dialed in. Everything was just tighter, not to mention that the conditions were much tougher in ’04.
CT: You’ve been racing Hawaii since 1990 and you’ve been in it longer than a lot of guys, do you still love the sport; are you still as driven?
CW: Yeah, yeah, I love it. It’s a great sport; it’s a great lifestyle. The enjoyment of the sport hasn’t changed for me, but these things (like with Nina Kraft), that are outside of my situation, have tarnished the luster a bit for me. But no, I love the sport more now.
CT: Therefore you don’t see yourself with a retirement date in the near future?
CW: No, I’d really like to stay with it hard core for the next few years. If I threw in the towel now, it would be difficult for me. I try to keep balance in my life, and with that I think I can do what I want to do in Hawaii.
CT: Any closing thoughts?
CW: I do want to thank a lot of people; all the Colorado people have just been awesome; very supportive of me. And I really appreciate that. When I did well at 5430 last year, it meant a lot to have the support of all the locals. I thank you all for that.
After a decade of racing, Cam Widoff has shown that he’s here for the long haul. Those that count him out come October have no business laying odds; those who race with him ought to respect him; and those who support him have earned the right of sublimation and screen printing (over a sharpie and a catchy phrase!).
For more information about Cameron Widoff, please see www.Widoff.com.