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Posted: October 3, 2003

Triathlon: From Moscow to Paris - Living Abroad and Competing for Canada

Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia and currently living in Paris, France, it is clear why the dynamic sport of triathlon appeals to the multi-faceted Geoff Barnard –a man on the move who has never lived in one place for more than 8 years but has competed in more then 50 triathlons. Geoff holds triathlon as an important constant in his changing cultural, professional and personal landscape.

Geoff first became involved in triathlon as an alternative to rowing. In the late 1980’s, a student at Cambridge, Geoff found the structured nature of rowing too time consuming and when some ex-rower friends urged him to try triathlon he decided to give it a go.

Back in Canada and now a PhD student at McGill, Geoff’s first triathlon experience - at Oka in 1990 was memorable for more than the usual reasons afforded by a first-time triathlon. A detour on the trip home from the race allowed Geoff to witness first hand the barricades erected by the natives on the Kanasatake reservation protesting the planned construction of a golf course on disputed land…a situation, of course, that later captured national and international attention when one of the main bridges over the St. Lawrence was closed for weeks that summer.

For this first triathlon Geoff was a typical first timer, looking with disdain at the aero bars, bike shoes and fancy wetsuits; proclaiming to his wife that he would never succumb to such temptations… Geoff is the first to admit that, that was a lie.

Following several age-group wins in the years that followed Geoff found his seriousness towards triathlon increasing and peaking in 1992, this was his last year at McGill, the year he first qualified for the Age Group World Championships in Muskoka, and won the Quebec Duathlon Championships.

However, his race that year at the World Championships was disappointed when his chain jammed and he lost six minutes by the side of the road - he recalls “exploring some of the darker reaches of the English language, and also some of the French language for good measure.”

Upon completion of his PhD, Geoff went to work in Washington DC as an economist for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The position called for extensive travel to countries facing economic crises, dubbed by the IMF as going “on mission”. Some of Geoff’s missions included Indonesia, Russia, Belarus, Sudan, Mauritania, Cameroon, Zambia, and Zaire - now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Continuing a training schedule while on a mission presented a vast array of challenges. Geoff did occasionally get to swim in the irregular-shaped hotel pools - which often meant, “dodging portly businessmen or ducking large African bats swooping down for a drink.” The running was easier on such trips. Notable exceptions including braving exposure in Minsk, heat stroke in Kinshasa, sandstorms on the edge of the Sahara and rainstorms on the banks of the Nile. Bike training was non-existent but he was generally able to put in enough training when the mission was over to carry him through. He ranks summer 1998 as one of his best years he primarily because he didn’t have any trips between May and October of that year.

By 1999 he had accepted a position in Russia as a Resident Representative of the IMF – he remained in Russia, until accepting his current position in Paris, France in February of 2003. While living in Moscow bad roads, worse drivers, and horrific traffic meant that he was only able to take his bike on the road six times in 3½ years. He claims “if not for a certain indoor trainer that you hook up to your PC, I wouldn’t have been able to pedal a decent 40k to save my life.” Again he found swimming easier – “near my office there was an outdoor 50m pool open year round. You had to tame the “babushki” (grannies) ruling the changing rooms, where they roam freely among the toweling-off males and scold you for forgetting your ID card, sandals, or for not wearing a hat as you head home in the snow. It was a great place to swim; training in -20 degrees with light snow falling on your back through clouds of steam.” However, Geoff did find cross-country skiing in the forests of the Moscow suburbs a suitable substitute for triathlon training during this time!

Geoff indicates he has been able to maintain his commitment to triathlon because he keeps triathlon within the bounds he originally set “something to do for no more than an hour a day on average, in order to keep fit without getting bored”. He continues to race selectively because racing allows him to return to Canada and because he doesn’t want to miss out on the “fitful pre-race night” He summarizes well the trials of the pre-race night - “troubled by dreams of oversleeping and missing the start. Fussing in the transition area about tire pressure, skipping chains, shoe lace tension, and water temperature. Thinking about the hollowed-out hanging-on feeling for too much of the run; the resort to every conceivable mental trick to keep the legs turning over; the mutual congratulations in the finish; and of course the obsessive picking over the entrails of the results, promising myself to do it better next time.” He is also looking forward to the fields thinning out as he moves towards the 80-84 category.

When asked to indicate some of his favorite triathlon moments Geoff indicates that the best moments have been the manifestations of sportsmanship – “people encouraging strangers in difficulty or Peter Reid waiting for David Lemaire and ultimately settling for 2nd place at the 1992 Montreal triathlon when the latter had been led astray on the run. Racers stopping to check on fallen bikers - long may it continue.” Some of his triathlon successes include winning his age group at two successive Canadian Championships (1997 and 1998) and placing 15th in his age group at the Lausanne ITU Triathlon World Championships. His favorite bittersweet memory is the Burlington triathlon in Vermont in 1991. Geoff quips, “ I didn’t realize there were two transition areas, and ran barefoot rather than do an extra 600m to fetch my running shoes. The blisters have almost healed now, and I still have the fruit bowl for winning my age group.”

Now in France - a country where cyclists can rule the streets he is hoping to regain his 1998 form and head to the 2004 World Championships in Madeira – a country not too far from ‘home’. He may, however, still manage to find a few distractions from his training – including his wife of 11 years, 21/2 year old daughter and serving on the Secretariat of the G10 group of advanced economies.

From TriathlonCanada.

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