Given her success to date, it would be tempting to assume that the sport of triathlon fills every waking hour of Daniela Ryf’s life. To do so would underestimate the balance of somebody who many believe is the greatest long-distance female triathlete of all time.
Describing the sport as both a passion and a profession, the Solothurn-born Swiss has made winning the biggest events in the sport seem almost routine in recent years. That said, topping the podium is just one element of her perspective on what victory means.
"Success does not mean winning everything, but making the best of every situation," she explains.
Heading into the 2019 IRONMAN World Championship, conventional wisdom was that it was a race for second place with Daniela the odds-on favourite for a fifth consecutive Kona title, such was her stranglehold on the sport.
A stomach bug caught just days before left her uncharacteristically off the pace though, and she eventually finished more than half an hour behind the leader in 13th place. Her perspective on that setback however was illuminating.
“Giving up was never going to be an option. I guess every long-distance athlete has to experience one of these humbling races where the day feels very long.
“The pain was real, but the support on the course was even more real. I heard the fight and bravery of the whole podium was very inspiring.”
Even her choice of study reflects the person who many do not get to see.
“Studying sports would be too monotonous for me as a top athlete.” she says. Instead Daniela chose Food Science and Management, providing skills she is able to utilise through her various youth-talent development projects.
It will come as no surprise to hear the Roger Federer is one of the sports people who fascinates her.
“He has developed enormously during his career and yet has remained down-to-earth.”
Route to the top
The Ryf route into triathlon started young, with swimming aged nine and athletics at 10. Her enjoyment of those sports led her to join the Wildcats Triathlon Club at 14.
Her interest grew in the sport grew, her training increased and European Junior Championship success followed in 2004 and 2005. A path towards the Olympic Games had opened, and a year later she was racing on the ITU World Cup circuit.
Those early years were tough, but her first podium would come in Madrid in 2008, followed just two weeks later by an U23 World Championship title in Vancouver.
The timing was perfect, selection for Beijing 2008 was secured and she would go on to finish seventh at the Ming Tombs Reservoir event. Still only 21, the future was looking very bright for the fast-improving Ryf.
Consistency through the 2009 season, including third-place finishes in both Washington and Hamburg, saw her just one place short of a World Championship bronze in the season-ending rankings. But a second World Championship was earned in the Mixed Relay World Championships format. The Swiss team, including Daniela, would repeat that a year later.
Her sole ITU World Triathlon Series victory came in Seoul in 2010, the same year in which she earned a bronze medal in the Sprint Triathlon World Championships.
Finishing 40th at the London 2012 Olympic Games would signal the end of her short-course career, but also the start of a new era.
Daniela wasted no time in proving her ability over the longer distances, winning back-to-back IRONMAN 70.3 European Championship titles in 2013 and 2014.
Sixth on her 70.3 World Championship debut in 2013 at Henderson Lake, Las Vegas, her domination of that event would soon begin as she took the title in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Her 2015 season may well have been the most lucrative in the history of the sport, as Daniela became the first (and so far the only), athlete to win the $1million Triple Crown bonus for winning in Dubai, Bahrain and the 70.3Worlds in Zell am See, Austria.
Iron-distance racing was seemingly providing few barriers either. A close second to three-time champion Mirinda Carfrae on her Kona debut preceded four consecutive wins on the Big Island, before illness ruined her bid for a fifth in 2019.
All told, Daniela has now completed the 70.3 and Kona World Championship double in three separate years, an astonishing level of dominance.
Getting stronger, getting faster
A global athlete, Ryf is always happy to return home to Solthurn in Switzerland when training and racing allows. It is also one of her favourite training locations.
As well as familiarity, it also allows her to help young people as a patron of the Triathlon and Duathlon Training Centre in her hometown.
Looking back on the support she received as a young triathlete, passing on her knowledge to the next generation is an ongoing passion for Daniela.
Given her studies, Ryf has a refreshing take on the question of her favourite treat.
“I don't have a cheat meal. All meals are good for you and enjoyable!”
Still young and with 12 World Championships wins (and counting) across a range of formats already in her career, Daniela is full of motivation to see what more the future might bring.
“I would say I am driven to discover how fit I can become. I enjoy the process of getting stronger and seeing how far I can go.”