Avignon ‘89 World Champion Erin Baker guest stars on latest World Triathlon podcast

By Doug Gray | 26 Jun, 2020

For this week’s World Triathlon podcast, we take a trip back to the early days of the sport, from New Zealand and Australia across to Nice and Hawaii via the first ever ITU World Championships in Avignon 30 years ago. Going into that race as favourite was Erin Baker, a New Zealander who, as the outspoken, principled and fiercely focused embodiment of triathlon’s early years, had already become one of the stars of the sport.

But as well as the fanfare surrounding the Avignon event, there was the pressure.

“It was pretty huge in many ways,” says Baker, “not just because it was the first official world championships, but because it was in France. Le Coq Sportif had supported me for five years, so there was an awful lot of pressure.”

The TriathlonLIVE footage of Baker taking the tape in Aviator shades and a steely glare reflects both her huge relief at winning, as well as her different approach to sport in general.

“It’s always been business for me. So my feeling was I’d done my job. Won for my sponsor, won for New Zealand and, ‘goodness me, it’s over!’ There was a US athlete, Jan Ripple, and I remember thinking what the hell was she still doing with me on the bike? And then she ran with me for a few km on that run and I thought ‘You’re not meant to be here with me!’”

Baker admits she owes a lot to the sponsors that helped turn racing into a viable career and who, possibly remarkably by her own admission, never turned their back on the non-conformist champion who rarely toed the establishment line.

“They say sport and politics don’t mix but the exact opposite was ingrained in me by my mother. I didn’t compete sometimes and the sponsors must have thought ‘what the hell is she doing’? I didn’t go to Nice one year because they weren’t giving equal prizes for men and women, so I probably didn’t even realise how easily the sponsor could have dropped me.”

It is a sentiment that feeds into Baker’s feelings around social media, something that she has no interest in but is well aware of how it has become central to today’s athletes building their profile, developing a sponsor-friendly brand and interacting with their fans. However, there is one thing she is pretty certain of when it comes to the likes of Twitter and Facebook - had it been around 30 years ago, that glittering career might have looked rather different.

“Because of my personality type, I would have got in so much trouble with the social media side of things. Everyone knows everything now. To have been critiqued more than I was, I don’t know how I would have coped with that. It’s all part of being an athlete now and it’s another department you have to deal with, and that probably could have been my swift ending.”

Listen to the full interview in Episode 6 of the World Triathlon podcast on Spotify, Apple and Google.


Related Event: 1989 Avignon ITU Triathlon World Championships
06 Aug, 1989 • event pageall results
Results: Elite Women
1. Erin Baker NZL 02:10:00
2. Jan Ripple USA 02:10:33
3. Laurie Samuelson USA 02:12:49
4. Karen Smyers USA 02:13:12
5. Sylviane Puntous CAN 02:13:19
6. Patricia Puntous CAN 02:15:38
7. Carol Montgomery CAN 02:15:45
8. Simone Mortier GER 02:16:15
9. Kendall Morrison CAN 02:16:28
10. Louise Bonham AUS 02:16:47
Results: Elite Men
1. Mark Allen USA 01:58:45
2. Glenn Cook GBR 02:00:03
3. Rick Wells NZL 02:00:56
4. Miles Stewart AUS 02:01:37
5. Rob Barel NED 02:02:01
6. Brad Beven AUS 02:02:21
7. Mike Pigg USA 02:02:26
8. Karel Blondeel BEL 02:03:21
9. Spot Anderson AUS 02:03:29
10. Wolfgang Kattnig AUT 02:03:38
Results: Junior Women
1. Kristen Mccary USA 02:22:49
2. Amy Wheeler USA 02:24:14
3. Cedrine Soulet FRA 02:25:24
4. Leah Treadwenn USA 02:33:23
5. Sophie Deleu FRA 02:38:14
6. Isabelle Rogowski FRA 02:39:56
7. Frederique Chabert FRA 02:40:09
8. Amy Hollingsworth USA 02:40:19
9. Beatrice Boulhaut FRA 02:41:31
10. Melissa Muller USA 02:42:08
Results: Junior Men
1. Bjorn Gustafsson FDR 02:05:51
2. Enrique Quevedo Huerta MEX 02:07:46
3. Dave Pier USA 02:09:04
4. Andrew Macmartin CAN 02:09:30
5. Cameron Widoff USA 02:11:25
6. Renaud Frevin FRA 02:11:43
7. Patrick Charles FRA 02:11:44
8. Sebastien Fabre FRA 02:11:46
9. Jeff Keller USA 02:12:37
10. Kevin Csabi CAN 02:13:06
Results: 20-24 Female AG
1. Missy Morlock CAN 02:14:43
2. Cindy Gallenz USA 02:21:37
3. Carol Ares USA 02:25:46
4. Beatrice Mouthon FRA 02:26:06
5. Janet Boniecki USA 02:26:20
6. Loredana Tirocchi ITA 02:26:44
7. Rebecca Irrer USA 02:27:51
8. Anne Williard USA 02:28:53
9. Leela Lint EST 02:30:05
10. Sandrine Lepallac FRA 02:31:00
Results: 20-24 Male AG
1. Luis Gonzalez USA 02:04:35
2. John Wiberg USA 02:05:17
3. Sylvain Dafflon FRA 02:07:41
4. Gérard Charles FRA 02:09:16
5. Jean-Jacques Monot FRA 02:09:46
6. Urmas Lemsalu EST 02:10:39
7. Robert Wood USA 02:10:44
8. John Westhall CAN 02:11:11
9. Eric Pinna FRA 02:11:22
10. Peter Hanson USA 02:12:17
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