Who is Xena aka Caroline Steffen
August 12th 2010
On July 29th 2010 the ITU World Long Course Championship was witness to the biggest surprise triathlon result since Chrissie Wellington came from nowhere to win Ironman Hawaii in 2007.
It would seem the teamTBB production line has done it again. But what do we know of Xena, and how did she become a member of teamTBB? Lets get right to the very source with a few questions to teamTBB athlete director aka " the doc" aka Brett Sutton.
teamTBB Editor: How did you discover Xena?
Brett Sutton: Lots of times the discovery of these athletes is my linking circumstances together and Xena was a perfect example. One of our team athletes had sent me a note about a training group on the sunshine coast. In that group there was a girl from Switzerland who was making a big impression on the rides.
So he says, "Sutto this girl is an ex pro rider and while you will want to change some of her cycling ideas I said to Mel (his wife) Sutto would love to train her. But she needs you as she can’t run.”
So I say thanks and looked up the old Lifeforce cycling team and found Caroline Steffen. A couple of months later I was at IM Zurich and noticed this girl hammering away in front of my charges, sure enough it was Caroline Steffen.
ED: So one of your athletes put you on the trail? But from my research she wasn’t so special from the get go so how did this progress?
BS: That’s right, Cameron Watt is one of the guys who played a significant role in her story. What did I see? Well I don’t look for the normal traits other coaches do, I look for attitude,
and so Caroline was hammering on the bike until about 140km when my girls started to reel her in. Once they had collared her I thought it was kind of strange she didn’t fold. Instead she kept holding on to them. On the run I took three looks then told my girls to let her go, she was going way too fast for her technique, but Caroline was on a mission.
To be perfectly honest I had a little giggle and thought, well she is not going to die wondering if she gave it her all. Then she started to collapse and as an adversary to my athletes, I was happy, and told them she wouldn’t finish so stick to the plan and you are going to be on the podium.
Well when she hit the wall she stopped and she walked a little. I didn’t take much notice, but down to the last 3km after Lisbeth had finished I was standing on a corner looking straight into the runners faces and there coming towards me was Caroline Steffen. She looked straight at me and I looked at her, and what struck me was she had the very same determined look in her eyes that she had running out, she was shuffling and yet she was so determined. Caroline Steffen got me right there. She was still giving her all 10 hours plus after the gun. The race had left her but she hadn’t left the race. And that is just the kind of attitude that the Sutto School of training looks for.
ED: So you were impressed with her courage, but it takes a little more than courage to stand on the top step. What happened next?
BS: Circumstance again. As a member of a cycling team some people out there thought she would be better suited sticking with a single discipline sport and that maybe she is not a ‘team type’ girl. And then I get, “triathlon may suit her” she was a swimmer you know, but maybe this teamTBB thing is not right for Caroline.
Since I was there to get a bike fixed I started to talk to a bike mechanic called Pim, another man in her world championship win.
ED: Pim, the bike mechanic? Please elaborate.
BS: I asked him if he knew Caroline Steffen. Yes was the reply, “I had coffee with her sometimes when she was in the team."
So I pry a little further, what is she like? “Coach I liked Caroline, but I was the mechanic and Caroline was not shy about telling you what she thought. She wouldn’t say it behind backs and that’s what I like about her. She would tell the bosses what she thought and sometimes I guess this is not the best strategy when you are in a team.
And with those words, Pim sealed it for me. I was on the trail as soon as I went home from that trip.
ED: So you contacted her in 2009?
BS: Yes and we were talking and agreed to work together before she had gone and done a great job in Clearwater. After Clearwater we talked again and I offered her a contract with the condition that I would do my best to teach her to run and in return I would expect her to work very hard.
ED: It would seem from the pictures that Xena has worked very hard with you to develop her strengths?
BS: Well not entirely. This is where circumstance again raised its head. Her partner is Dave Dellow and let me tell you, the girl I watched in Zurich, was not the girl that turned up in the first camp in Thailand. With the help of Dave, Xena has transformed her body shape into the powerhouse you see today. I had nothing to do with it at all. I was pleasantly surprised, as I expected the first 6months to be spent whipping her in to shape.
ED: So the new shape had nothing to do with your program?
BS: Nothing. I never talked to her about dieting just that she would need to lose weight and she said she knew this and that Dave was helping her in this area and it was going well. Every time I asked about it she would say, “going well not a problem.”
ED: Her run splits were nothing like they are now. How can one improve so much?
BS: Well we changed her technique a bit and then we worked on getting her to relax and worked on her confidence. I never thought she couldn’t run it was just she had never been taught how to run properly.
ED: Run properly?
BS: Well they all read the books and don’t really learn what is best for them so we adjusted some things and worked real hard and followed the same plan I have given lots of athletes. Her natural talent has done the rest.
ED: It is clear from the bike video of the ITU LC that she is riding not so much as a cyclist anymore but perhaps a ‘Chrissie Clone’. Is this also a coincidence or has she trained to ride this way?
BS: It has been trained. Not many people have the conformity of body to ride like this. I was very happy once I explained to Xena why we had to change that and she understood straight away without question. Hawaii is special and bike riders who ride like cyclists have not been successful there. And I thought her best race on the calendar, just like Chrissie, would be Hawaii. So no, no coincidence there at all.
ED: So how does Xena compare with Chrissie? Her rapid improvement, attitude, there seems to be many parallels.
BS: It would not be fair to do a direct comparison as Chrissie could run from the day she stepped into my camp. Xena started to run two years ago and only started really running this season so of course its going to take some time to get her to her full run potential. I don’t know where she can take it to but I do know that she is improving every week and I see no reason that with time and patience Xena will run 3 hours for the marathon one day. It just boils down to if she can run it at Kona after a 50minute swim and a 4h50 bike. Only time will tell.
ED: So Xena is going to Hawaii. What’s your expectation this year?
BS: I have no expectations. Xena has done a terrific job this year and I do know she will go there and give it everything she has. Athletes like that don’t need any expectations, I know the day after no matter her what her result she will have given it 100% and that is all I ask for.
ED: So Xena is a product of circumstance and four men?
BS: That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
ED: The name Xena. How and why?
BS: If you get to spend 5minutes with Caroline you will understand and if you can’t then look at the pictures. Caroline is the real life Xena warrior princess and she has only just begun.
ED: Thank you Doc, as always an education :)
BS: No problem, people need to know, like Chrissie, Xena is authentic, the real thing. She won’t be going away anytime soon.