Erin Baker did whatever it took to win. And boy did she win.
Triathlete Erin Baker did whatever it took to win events. When her hands were too frozen to remove a punctured tyre in the European Ironman Championship race, she gnawed it off with her teeth. She subdued over-enthusiastic spectators with her swinging bike pump, flashed TV cameras to remove a constrictive bra mid-race, and trained, and trained, and trained like no one else.
At the age of 22, having fled Christchurch to Australia with a criminal conviction, Baker entered and won her first ever triathlon. Soon after, with just a few more middle-distance triathlons to her name (all won), Baker decided it would be her “job”. “I want to be world champion in this sport,” she declared, backing both herself and the fledgling sport, not yet established enough to have formal world championships. On both counts she was right.
The sight of the red-headed Kaiapoi woman at the starting line was enough to ruin a top triathlete’s day. By 1990, Baker had won virtually every triathlon event on the world circuit. When she retired in 1994, her ridiculous stats sheet was 104 wins from 121 races.
Being the best is a great way to be heard. Add a willingness to kick up a fuss, and you can’t be ignored. Baker used both of these superpowers in perhaps her most enduring contribution to triathlon: strengthening weak spots in the sport’s foundations before they had a chance to deteriorate. Despite racing being her “job” and knowing she could win easily, Baker boycotted events that didn’t offer truly equal prize money for men and women. She banged her fist on desks when there was disparity and showed up to World Triathlon Congress demanding fair pay for female competitors. She led the charge for equality and got it, with equal pay soon written into the official rules of world triathlon. She did whatever it took.
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