Quiet achiever. Self-described Aussie larrikin. Triathlon’s youngest 3-time Ironman-distance champion. Tough, hard-working, fiercely competitive. Whatever the label you choose, there is no doubt that Tim Van Berkel is one of Australia’s top Ironman triathletes and globally, one of the sport’s rising stars.
Tim Van Berkel was born in 1984, in the Australian rural city of Albury, New South Wales. He grew up playing Australian Rules football (AFL), a sport known for hard tackles, no protective padding and plenty of running. He took up triathlon with his footy teammates at the age of 18 as a way of staying fit in the off-season. As a younger teenager, he remembers watching Hawaiian Ironmen on television and thinking, “That’s cool… I want to do that!” Tim’s early racing form showed a great deal of promise and he quickly grew to love this new sport.
From 2004 – 2006 Tim, or Berks as he is known, notched up a string of impressive results in triathlons at Olympic and half-Ironman distances across Australia and internationally. He turned professional at the age of 21. In 2007, Berks debuted at Ironman distance in the Australian Triathlon Championships at Port Macquarie. He finished 7th, qualifying him for the World Championship. Unlike most ambitious young athletes, Tim decided not to immediately book his ticket for Kona. As he said in a later interview: “There’s no way I was ready to go to Kona and mix it with the world’s best. I thought, ‘Let’s not rush it… let’s develop it… and that’s what I’ve been doing.’”
2008 saw Berks competing successfully in 70.3 races in the USA and Singapore and winning his first race at Ironman distance (3.8km Swim, 180km Bike, 42km Run) at Ironman Western Australia in Busselton. At the time he was just eight days shy of being the world’s youngest Ironman Champion.
After winning again at Ironman distance at Challenge Copenhagen in 2010, Tim’s third Ironman win came the following year when he returned to Denmark to defend his title against Europe’s best triathletes. Despite a 4-minute drafting penalty, Berks pulled away from local favourite, Jimmy Johnsen, on the run and produced a powerful finish, which thrilled the 100,000-strong crowd. At 27, this win made Berks the youngest 3-time Ironman distance champion in the sport’s history – a title that he still holds.
He has continued to race across the world at both 70.3 and Ironman distances. He was the Ironman Australia 70.3 champion in 2012 and came second in the championship race the following year.
In 2014 Berks finally headed to Kona, Hawaii, for the World Triathlon Championships. After running into 4th place he was hit by severe cramps coming out of the Energy Lab. He finished his debut race in 7th place. His teenage dream had been fulfilled – Berks was now a Hawaiian Ironman.
Tim has performed well in 2015 in the lead-up to his second appearance at Kona. He came 2nd in the Asia-Pacific Ironman Championships in Melbourne, 4th in the IM 70.3 Cairns, 2nd in a tight finish in IM 70.3 Philippines and finished decisively in 1st place in the IM 70.3 Sunshine Coast in Mooloolaba, Australia.
Tim is now coached by Dr Daniel Plews, after enjoying a long and productive coaching relationship (7 years) with Grant Giles. Tim divides his time between his farm in Ballina, New South Wales, racing nationally and internationally, and altitude training in Boulder, Colorado.