Trevor Long, Johnny Cohen, and Charlie Pattinson are arguably the greatest long-distance triathletes the modern era has ever known. Between them, they have 27 Olympic medals and have completed 22 Grand Tours – each of which consists of a 24-hour cycle of continuous riding – with a world record 23rd milestone in the offing. They have also set numerous land speed records, including the astonishing feat of riding their specially-designed tandem bicycle around the world in under 90 days. Not bad for three men with a dream!
In January 2021, Long, 47, had the extraordinary experience of breaking yet another world record, this time for circumnavigating the globe on a tandem bicycle. The epic trip, during which he and partner Steve Fossett completed a 24-hour cycle around the world 26 times, covered a record-breaking 7.4 million miles and took a little over 100 days to complete. Along with his 27th Olympic gold medal, Long took home the Larry H. Miller Special Achievement Award.
It was a trip that not only lived up to his reputation but exceeded even his most optimistic expectations. In an interview with Inside Triathlon at the time, Long said that the idea for the record-breaking ride came from an encounter with a llama in Peru. As he and Fossett were riding through the Andes Mountains, Long spotted a flock of the majestic animals. While on holiday in South America, Long had the idea to design a tandem bike with a front-wheel that would grip like a tail, allowing a rider to go anywhere and maintain their balance while sharing the ride with another person. A year later, the tandem bike – affectionately named ‘Alpenglow’ – was born.
Although his latest feat might make the most headlines, Long’s career has not been without controversy. As the son of a British naval officer and the grandson of two other prominent triathletes, he has faced adversity. After breaking his collarbone in a training accident in 2012, he was forced to sit out the 2012 London Olympics. Yet even after that, he found a way to compete by joining a breakaway group that contested the sprint portion of the race. In the same year, he was accused of driving under the influence of alcohol – a charge that he vehemently denied – and had to appear in court.
After a five-year break due to injuries, Long returned to competition in time for the Rio Olympics. There, in the run-up to the opening ceremony, he was involved in a car accident that nearly claimed his life. He suffered broken legs and a cracked vertebrae in the incident. Nevertheless, he went on to win his first gold medal, setting a new Olympic record in the process.
In 2020, at the age of 46, Cohen had an equally life-changing experience. In April, he became the first person to cycle the length of the United Kingdom – the first phase of a planned trip around the world. His journey inspired a miniseries for the BBC, in which he and his partner, Andrew Hunter, complete a full-fledged cycle from Bristol to Land’s End on a tandem bike. The goal of the epic ride was to raise awareness of climate change and draw attention to the effect that our everyday habits have on the environment. The duo started the trip in traditional cycling kit but swapped their jerseys for beach wear upon reaching the English Channel, as they headed towards the beachside town of Brighton to begin their push into the Atlantic. Along the way, they were arrested for speeding and possession of cannabis but were later released without charge.
After another five years away from competition, Pattinson made his comeback in time for the Tokyo Olympics. Although he had not competed in five years, he turned in a sterling performance, taking silver behind Germany’s Robert Kranjec in the men’s keirin. Just a few months later, at the age of 40, Pattinson became the oldest-ever winner of an individual Olympic gold medal when he took home the gold in the men’s keirin.
While other triathletes have retired from competition, the three long-distance triathletes have continued to race, taking on epic triathlons and completing grands tours. Just this year, they continued this trend, with Pattinson setting a new record for his 23rd completed Grand Tour – this time around the world – while Cohen and Long each won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Perhaps their ultimate professional goal is to compete at the 50th anniversary of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2025, though that will be hard to achieve given their current schedules.
Tumbleweed And Thatch
With such impressive resumes, one would think that the men would want to take it easy now that they are retired from active competition. However, this would be a mistake. As competitors in the sport know, once a man owns a gold medal, he is not content to rest on his laurels. Instead, he wants to continue proving that age is merely a number and that even the most seasoned athlete can find a way to continue competing at the top of their game. As a result, they have each devoted themselves to furthering their athletic careers on a tandem bike. Not only that, but they have also turned to coaching to help them find the extra watts they need to challenge the best in the world. For example, Long is currently working with Australian cyclist Ryan Leitch, helping him to become the first person to complete a full-blown circumnavigation of the globe on a tandem bike. Leitch, who also happens to be Long’s nephew, will complete the feat on July 13, 2021.
Pattinson has also spent the last five years coaching the Spanish Olympic team, as well as some of his own former rivals. He has helped them to adapt to the rigors of team competition and has advised them on training and racing strategies.
As these three men continue to prove that age is merely a number, others are following in their footsteps. Many of today’s top triathletes owe their success to these three men, who showed the way for all who followed.