Norfolk’s ‘Iron Lady’ Wellington never achieved Olympic fame, but she’s still a sporting superstar

Norfolk athlete Chrissie Wellington announced her retirement yesterday after years of success in Ironman, one of the world's toughest sports. GAVIN CANEY looks at the career of a truly remarkable woman.

She may have never achieved Olympic fame like Jessica Ennis – but Chrissie Wellington is every inch the female sporting superstar.

The Norfolk powerhouse is unknown to many but deserves household recognition for her remarkable successes on the world stage. In a sport called Ironman, she was simply the Iron woman.

The 35-year-old four-time world champion, who announced her retirement on her website yesterday, called time on her career having won all of the 13 races she competed in.

Wellington also holds the female world record for the punishing discipline after completing a 2.4-mile swin, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in eight hours, 18 minutes and 13 seconds in Germany last year.

Having taken a year out to 'explore other opportunities' the news has hardly come as a huge shock to those who knew the inspirational athlete. It's time now for her to be triumphant at something else.

The former Downham Market High School student has overcome almost every battle put in front of her –including eating disorders' anorexia and bulimia.

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The triathlon icon, who now spends most of her time in Colorado, USA, graduated from the University of Birmingham with a first-class degree in Geography before completing an MA in Manchester.

But her glory quickly extended beyond the classroom. Her first foray into long-distance competition saw Wellington complete the London Marathon in April 2002 in little more than three hours. It was a taste of the fine achievements that were soon to follow.

After landing a job in the Government as an advisor on international development policy for the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), a period of travelling ensued which slowed her sporting progress.

Yet, when Wellington settled again in 2006, she made up for lost time on the sporting scene by winning her age group – as well as being the fastest female overall – in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships.

Now aged 30, Wellington had a choice. Give up her job and try and become a professional triathlete. Or continue, as she called it, 'pushing paper'. She jumped at the chance to swap her desk for the great outdoors – a place the Suffolk-born winner was most at home after her travels around the globe.

For a while, one of the county's, if not the country's, most decorated female sports stars ever, flirted with the Olympic event.

However, when she was introduced to Ironman competition – having trained with Britain's triathlon team – it was a challenge she couldn't turn down.

Unsurprisingly, success, of huge proportions, followed. Ironman Korea was tackled and subsequently won.

The prize was a World Championship place. In the MBE-awarded athlete's first event she was hoping for a top-10 finish. But the same result followed. And a second Ironman victory was secured.

That debut glory on the sport's biggest stage was matched in 2008, 2009 and 2011– a race Wellington won despite entering it with a host of injuries following a bike accident in training – such was her dominance.

A 12-month sabbatical this year allowed the sport's brightest light to take on new challenges, namely charity work, public speaking and publishing and promoting her autobiography 'A Life Without Limits'.

They may have been less punishing physically than swimming, getting on a bike, or running, but untold effort was put into them by a woman who only knows one thing – and that is to win.

And while her glories may not see her on the front pages, or shortlisted for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, she deserves to have her name up in lights – just like Ennis and company.