I remember the first time I saw Ain-Alar Juhanson race, at Ironman Lanzarote. The Estonian, six-foot-three or something, was just grinding his teeth down, riding up to Bjorn Andersson and away from else. Sitting on the back of a moto, I quickly snapped a couple pics and bailed out, for fear he'd bite my head off. Once on the run, I was shocked to see this big, focused guy moving pretty good down the road on the run.
He won the race, like he typically has at Lanzarote, which, with its heat and wind, is largely regarded as the toughest Ironman on the circuit.
But for his gap-toothed grimace on the bike, I expected someone with the charm of a NFL linebacker, a typical cold Eastern European. I found interviewing him he was quite the opposite; he was friendly, comical, an all-around good guy. I had heard he had been on a ferryboat that went down, taking some of his triathlon colleagues with him, and he spoke openly about it—it was clear his motivation was to honor them.
The above shot is from Kona this October; I had been faced down the Queen K awaiting the lead women when I heard "Jay!" from behind—Ain had clicked off the fastest bike of the day (an amazing 4:26:14), and was running out of the Energy Lab and back into town to a great 14th-place finish. If you can go well in Lanzarote, Kona can—can—be an easier prospect.
He recently pinged me on Skype and proved that while our Triathlete mag publisher John Duke is espousing how our sport is so vibrant, that we are not the ones being laid off, we are doing the laying off, it sure ain't recession-proof for the pros. He lost his previous title sponsor, and the hunt was on.
But instead of doing like most pros, sending resumes out, Ain went tech. Posting a YouTube video, he wondered what I thought. If I could figure out how to put a YouTube video up, I'd do so.
But it's just as easy to click HERE to check it out. I thought it was a pretty clever way to seek out a brand that might want to align with a big, smiling monster.
While some thing the life of a pro is a luxurious one, I can attest, it is as close to the poverty line for many of these guys, even Ironman champs like Ain. Hopefully it's just a blip in his program. Because while there's lots of good guys in this sport, there are few like Ain, who can win with a massive, gap-toothed smile.