To continue with our “old school” SA triathlon interviews, we were very fortunate to chat to Harald Zumpt about his triathlon days and what he is up to now.
Ever consistent and always “up there” in both provincial and national competition, Harald certainly caused a few upsets with his “off the front” tactics – most notably on a rainy day in Gordon’s Bay 1991, by winning the Prestige triathlon after leading for almost the entire race; and beating the whole Springbok team in the process.
CRANK: Harald, you were an elite level triathlete for well over a decade, starting from your junior days. Could you tell us about your sporting background and how you got into the sport of triathlon?
HZ: Like most triathletes at the time I came from a swimming background. I swam at national level with no real results to write home about. Towards the end of my swimming career, I competed in biathlon events (Swim/Run) and it was at one of these events that a mate and I came across a newspaper article for the Canman Triathlon to be held the next day at Emmarentia Dam in Johannesburg. That night we begged and borrowed the equipment, mainly on the bike side, to do an event that looked fairly “straightforward” on paper. We both finished in the top ten, cycling in our running shoes on the day and not being able to walk for a few days after that.
The next event that followed was the Sun City Triathlon in November of that year in which I finished second to Nigel Reynolds, still biking in running shoes and on another borrowed bike. I remember receiving around R1000 prize money in casino chips. I was 16 at the time and could not cash them. With results and prize money my focus very quickly shifted from swimming to triathlon.
In 1988, completing in my second Olympic distance race in Springs, I became the first athlete in Africa to dip under 2 hours for the distance. For me this was the real start in triathlon, when I then got to rub shoulders with the likes of Keith Anderson, Gary Wilson, Deon Steyn, Manfred Fuhs, Wade Trotter, Kevin Richards, Andreas Lombardozzi and many more in the following years.
CRANK: You were part of a group of SA triathletes that travelled around Europe in the early nineties. Could you tell us about this trip?
HZ: I was fortunate to be able to spend two spells in Europe once in 1990 and then again in 1996. In 1990, I was part of a group that included Mandy & Andrew Dean, Kevin Richards, Tim Stewart, Andreas Lombardozzi and Chad Gordon. Most of us started for a German club in Munich but very quickly realized that we would be more suited to the racing and lifestyle in France and relocated to Salon de Provence.
Mandy, Andrew and Kevin had been in France the previous year together with Simon Lessing, who was also based in Salon de Provence. Tim and Chad joined us from the UK. I was still racing as a junior at the time and managed some decent results winning quite a few races as a junior and placing in the top ten in most of them. We spent close to six months in Europe normally racing 2-3 weekends back to back with one weekend off. Racing and living in France was a great learning experience from start to finish.
In 1996, a new group of athletes was made up of Fiona Carter (now Petersen), Dion Guy and Andreas Liebenberg with the likes of Raynard and Natalie Tissink as well as Simon Lessing who was still based in Salon de Provence. We were privileged to be able to train with the likes of Brad Bevan, Mike Pigg, Karen Smyers and of course Simon from time to time.
I have greatest respect for guys like Raynard, Conrad (Stoltz) and Simon who were racing in France at the time, have gone on to achieve some exceptional results over the years and amazingly are still in the game after all these years. That takes some doing.
It’s been a while but the funniest had to be riding down Alp d’ Huez in 1996 after the race to fetch our car at the swim start. On the way down, it starting snowing and we were in no more than our Speedos and a warm-top, which we bummed from a spectator – not funny at the time but very cold. The next day they shortened the Tour de France stage over the Col du Galibier due to the snow.
CRANK: Would you say that your European racing made you a better athlete?
HZ: Definitely, weekly racing and strong competition took care of that. Racing for prize money to pay the rent and buy food were very strong drivers. If you did not make it, you went home and nobody wanted that. The camaraderie between the South Africans in France was something else. Although most of us were competing against each other, we were continually pushing each other to do better. Things did not always go as planned. On one or two occasions “mechanicals” put one of us out of the prize money – the prize money was then promptly shared by the others.
Another lesson learnt racing in Europe and France was that our South African race routes were too flat and not challenging enough. Races in southern France always included a few solid climbs with most races starting in the afternoon or midday to attract the local spectators. Racing at 35-40 degrees centigrade was not abnormal.
CRANK: Whatever happened to Andreas Lombardozzi?
HZ: I went to school with Andreas and we did our first triathlon together in 1986. In the early days we did most of our training together as we stayed on the same suburb. We were team-mates with the same sponsors. During our first spell in France in 1990, Andreas also started racing on the Italian circuit and became very successful. His German/Italian heritage brought precision with a lot of flair to his training and racing. I learnt a lot from him; mostly how to work hard to get what you want.
Andreas is now based in Sydney, Australia, running a very successful company focusing on improving the economic, environmental and social outcomes for communities in the South Pacific through fair trade.
CRANK: Did you have much in the way of sponsors while competing?
HZ: I was lucky enough to have quite a few. In the “early” days besides my parents it would have to be the team at Linden Cycles. The support and advice was something else and to this day, Joneene runs a very successful business on the same principles of twenty years ago.
After I returned from Europe in 1990, Aquaciti become my major sponsor. In these years I don’t think I could have asked for anything more. My team-mate at the time was Wade Trotter, who was not only an exceptional triathlete in his own right but also a mentor. Wade was someone who probably drilled the most important concept of training and racing into me, consistency.
Oakley eyewear was part of most of my career and I am fortunate to still receive support.
There were many others over the years for whose support I was extremely grateful. I believe it is however extremely difficult to measure true return on investment for most sponsors in sport and that most of them get involved as they are simply good people.
I have to mention Nic van den Bergh. Although Longmile was never one of my personal sponsors, what Nic did for the sport was immense. He continually supported the national teams and made sure we got a taste of international competition.
CRANK: You certainly caused a few upsets, most notably in the Prestige triathlon in 1992 placing second to Simon Lessing – tell us about that race and how it unfolded.
HZ: It seemed that every year the selection of the national team created some controversy. In 1991, I was not selected and went on to win the Prestige race ahead of the Springbok team. Racing against Simon in 1992, I think most of us knew we were racing for second place on the day. I did however want to make sure I could justify my position in the national team that year and decided to put the hammer down from the gun on the day and see what happened. To my surprise I managed to stay ahead of Simon on the bike but he had just come out of winter training and still showed his true class on the day. I remember him having a chat with me after catching me on the run and then saying he had to go. No response from my side – race over!
CRANK: You were part of the first ever South African triathlon team to attend the 1992 World Championships in Canada. What was your perspective on that trip and the ensuing results?
HZ: Even though we had raced in France in 1990, we were still out of our depth. I believe that our lack of international racing contributed to this. I went to Germany leading up to the World Championships to compete in World University Championships and a Deutschland Cup race to try and prepare.
Although I was the third South African to finish on the day, the overall result was 68th. It could have been better but may have partly been due to the fact that Kevin Richards and I started celebrating Simon Lessing’s win already during the race on the out and back route. For us he was still one of us although he was racing for the UK. The lesson learnt then was that if we wanted to truly perform we had to race on the international circuit consistently. I think the likes of Hendrik de Villiers and Claude Eksteen and Co have shown this recently.
CRANK: Favourite triathlon venue?
HZ: Once again there are quite a few. In France, I would have to say Alp d’Huez. There is nothing like swimming in a lake at 10 degrees, then riding a climb with so much history and then running up a ski slope which feels like you are breathing through a straw.
In South Africa, it would have to be Gordon’s Bay followed by Club Mykonos (the after-parties were legendary). Although Gordon’s Bay did not have the most inspiring bike and run routes, the races were always hard, fast and you got to race the best.
CRANK: You now work for Polar – how did this come about and what does your job entail?
HZ: I was lucky to be sponsored by Polar in the last few years of racing. I had been using a heart rate monitor since 1989 but was introduced to the Polar brand by Cuan Petersen, who currently heads global Sports Marketing at Oakley.
As a sponsored athlete I was involved with some of the consumer expo’s such as Argus and Comrades. Towards the end of 1995, I started working for Polar on a full time basis.
As Intelligent Health & Fitness Products we are responsible for the distribution and support of the Polar brand in Southern Africa. We are a small company consisting of some very passionate and motivated individuals – all athletes in their own right. Although I am involved in most aspects of the business, my main responsibilities revolve around customer care, which incorporates the service centre, dealer and customer education and all technical support issues.
Photos courtesy Shawn Benjamin – www.arkimages.com