Like father, like son: It's a family affair at this weekend's Ironman

Like father, like son: It's a family affair at this weekend's Ironman

September 9th, 2017 by Jim Tanner in Local Regional News

Rodolphe Von Berg Jr., left, and Rodolphe Von Berg Sr., right

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Rudy Von Berg has been chasing his father's legacy for much of his life, and this weekend, the Von Berg family will look to make its mark on the world triathlon stage.

Rodolphe Von Berg Sr., 60, and 23-year-old Rodolphe Von Berg Jr. — the two Rudys — will contend for top spots in their respective divisions Sunday morning at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga. Von Berg Jr. is a heralded professional triathlete with Maverick Multisport Team, and his father is the defending world champion in the 60-64 age group at Ironman 70.3 and Ironman.

Growing up as an active athlete in Belgium — he once passed up a chance to compete in the Winter Olympics to train as a paratrooper in the Belgian armed forces — Von Berg Sr. discovered triathlons while in college. After taking time off to start a career and family, the elder Von Berg returned to the sport at the age of 40 and quickly began competing in Ironman races and earning age-group championships.

He holds eight world triathlon titles at various distances, and he is one of only two age-group competitors to have won world titles in three different categories.

"Early on, we had trips to Kona (Hawaii) for the Ironman worlds when I was 5 years old, 9 and 13," Rudy Jr. said in a recent phone interview from his home in Colorado. "I think that kind of shaped my passion for the sport. And when I was pretty young, I started swimming, biking and running, and I've been doing it ever since."

After toying with becoming a professional cyclist, Von Berg Jr. committed to following in his father's footsteps in the world of triathlons. He became a full-time professional after graduating from the University of Colorado in May, and Sunday will be his first attempt at a world championship Ironman event. He is currently the top-ranked professional American.

When the Von Bergs race Sunday, it will be the first time a professional triathlete will compete for a world title at the same event as his father. However, it will not be the first time they have competed together in a big race. In June, Von Berg Sr. won the men's 60-64 agre group European 70.3 championship at Elsinore, Denmark, while Von Berg Jr. raced to fifth place overall in the same event.

Despite starting in different waves at the European championships, Von Berg Sr. was thrilled to be able to see his son once on the bike course and three times during the loops of the run course.

"During those three loops, I saw him three times," the proud father said in a phone interview from France before traveling to Chattanooga last weekend. "That was really fantastic. It was exhilarating and extremely motivating for me. Just seeing my son there, automatically I go faster, because he's a pro and I can see that he's doing extremely well.

"I know that in Chattanooga, the run course is a double out and back, so I know that we will be seeing each other (Sunday)."

Von Berg Sr. has his sights set on defending his world title in the men's 60-64 age group Sunday, and is hopeful for another strong finish for his son, who would like to turn in another top 10 finish at Ross's Landing.

"For my first 70.3 worlds with such a stacked field, I think a top 10 finish would be pretty good," Von Berg Jr. said. "Top 10 is something for worlds that is a good achievement, and the prize money stops after 10th place. That kind of motivates me, too."

However the race goes for these two athletes, they'll race Sunday knowing that they are adding another chapter to a rich family legacy in Ironman history.

"My whole life, I've wanted to do these big races he was doing during my childhood," said the younger Von Berg. "So now that we're in the same race, it feels pretty amazing. It was pretty cool at the European championships, because he saw me once on the bike and three times on the run, and he even saw me in the sprint as I was going for my top 5 finish.

"If that could happen again at worlds, that would be amazing."

Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JFTanner.