78-year-old competes in US Ironman with few weeks of training

Pete Onorato, from Perugia, Italy, is about to become the oldest man to win an Ironman – the sport’s toughest test of fitness

Pete Onorato, a 78-year-old triathlete from Perugia, Italy, is about to become the oldest man to win an Ironman.

Organisers of the Chicago marathon, which takes place in Illinois on Sunday, confirmed Onorato would defend his crown at the age of 78 after he beat New Zealander Danny Peters by four seconds in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in July.

There are no records to show when the current Ironman record holder, 64-year-old Japanese tennis star Naoki Higashida, died but Onorato thinks he has a small chance of keeping his age-group title, after running the 3.8-mile ocean swim and 112-mile bike leg within 14 minutes.

Onorato has done multiple Ironman races, including a run, in which the extreme events were taken together and named the Ironman World Triathlon Championship in Perugia in 1989. He has no memory of his first race back in 1971, when he did not finish, though he later learned the rules were different then.

He got into triathlon in the 1970s at the age of 50, after giving up on cycling because of the pain of his back. “It was the first time that I learned something new,” he said. “It’s a difficult sport. You know that at all times there’s danger.”

“You don’t know if you will be able to finish, no matter how strong you are,” he said.

“There are many hours of training and a tough competitive environment. You are running on sand as well as very cold. I won with my endurance. Not because I am the oldest but because I never gave up.”

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