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Normann Stadler: "I'm thankful that I'm still here."

normann stadler CommerzbankThe scar over his breastbone is 21 cm long. It was on 4th July 2011, a few weeks before the Regensburg Ironman where he had planned to compete, when the doctors at the university hospital reconstructed one of Normann Stadler's heart valves and replaced a section of his aorta. After the diagnosis, he had to wait for three days for the operation - always knowing that the balloon behind his heart that had once been part of his aorta could have burst at any time. "It was the first time I couldn't win a battle using my own strength," the two-times Hawaii champion remembers. "I could only wait and hope that the doctors would do everything properly. And prepare for the worst case scenario."

These preparations turned out to be unnecessary. The Ironman from Mannheim has a strong heart that wanted to keep on beating. "When I woke up I just thought: 'Please don't give me an artificial heart valve!' And they had actually saved the valve." The doctors said he could take part in sport again, even competitive sport. But Stadler declined this. "I'm 38 now and this situation means it's the right time to say goodbye to professional sport."

Stadler himself hadn't reckoned that his withdrawal would create such a stir. That's why he didn't think anything of bringing up his decision in passing in the course of an interview with the local radio station and, when he did this, he even surprised his own team management. "I was totally overwhelmed by the amount of reaction I got from the media and the fans. Anyway, my last big title was all of five years ago. In hindsight, I have to say that this interest makes me very proud. It seems that triathlon has lots more fans than I had ever dared to imagine."

This enthusiasm doesn't come about by chance and the 'Norminator' has a lot to do with it. The 38 year old looks back on an eventful career characterised by ups and downs. The German from Mannheim, known for his strength on the bike, began his triathlon career as a runner. He jogged a marathon just for fun at the age of eleven. His father recognised his son's talent and founded the first sports club in his home town of Dörlesberg. Stadler junior won eight individual titles at the German Duathlon and Triathlon Championships and was world duathlon champion as long ago as 1994. After training in business, this exceptional athlete finally decided to become a professional sportsman. He twice won Ironman Australia and once Ironman Germany. Back in 2000 he was third in Hawaii. This was followed by two fourth places before he succeeded in winning for the first time in 2004. Up to now 'Stormin' Normann' has held the bike record for Hawaii at 4:18:23, which he set when he won Hawaii in 2006.

When Stadler won Hawaii for the second time in 2006, it was the high point of his career. To date he is the only German who has succeeded in doing this. Then he relegated Chris McCormack to second place and left the whole world's elite, including Faris Al-Sultan, Rutger Beke, Eneko Llanos and Cameron Brown, behind him. Stadler said: "Even when I was a small boy I said, 'Dad, one day I'll win Hawaii'. We both took this statement very seriously. That wasn't the fantasy of some small boy from the country, but a goal that I pursued single-mindedly. However, I didn't think then that I would be able to pull off this feat twice."

In 2007, one year after his second Hawaii win, Stadler co-founded the Dresdner Kleinwort Triathlon Team. He exchanged his green strip for yellow in 2009 when he joined the Commerzbank team. It consisted of seven athletes, including the by now nine-times Ironman champion and world record holder Marino Vanhoenacker and two-times European Ironman champion Timo Bracht. What some journalists mocked at the outset as a 'team of convenience' proved itself to be a success story that has since found many imitators.

normann stadler hawaiiFor Normann Stadler, there followed years of personal lows and sporting setbacks. In 2007 he had to drop out of Hawaii with a gastro-intestinal infection. In 2008 a terrible stroke of fate again befell his family. However, Stadler succeeded in dominating the Ironman world championship race up to kilometer 20 on the run leg. In 2009 he rode a brilliant bike leg at Challenge Roth, where he only missed a new personal best on the bike by 10 seconds. In 2010 he reached the finish at Hawaii together with former Hawaii champion Tim de Boom. Both had been beaten by the world's elite but, had he only known it Stadler was crossing the finish line in Hawaii for the last time.

Team manager Jan Wendt from MMH said: "We are delighted that Normann has recovered so well from his operation. Once again he has shown that he's a real fighter by nature. In the story of international triathlon, Stadler's chapter is one of the most impressive. We still hope that it can find a sequel." Normann Stadler made a start to this next chapter in October 2011 when he flew to Kona with his team. This gives him a change of perspective, which he is pleased about: "I will stand on the route and cheer on the other team members and say thanks every day that I'm still here."

1st Place Challenge Kraichgau 2010
1st Place Waldviertler Eisenmann 2009
3rd Place RömerMan 2009
4th Place Challenge Roth 2009
1st Place Maxdorfer Triathlon 2009
12th Place Ironman World Championship Hawaii 2008
1st Place Moenchshof Triathlon, German Championships Middle Distance, Kulmbach 2008
1st Place Ironman World Championship, Hawaii 2006
1st Place Ironman Germany, Frankfurt 2005
1st Place Ironman World Championship, Hawaii 2004
2nd Place Ironman Switzerland 2004
4th Place Ironman World Championship, Hawaii 2003
4th Place Ironman World Championship, Hawaii 2004
1st Place Ironman Australia 2001
1st Place Ironman Australia 2000
3rd Place Ironman World Championship, Hawaii 2000
4th Place Ironman Switzerland 1999

Source: Commerzbank Team
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