Dan Hugo was just a teenager when he did his first XTERRA. It was 2004 at the inaugural XTERRA South Africa Championship race where he finished on the podium right alongside SA great Conrad Stoltz who was already a two-time XTERRA World Champ and an Olympic veteran.
Fast forward 10 years and you’ll find XTERRA is bigger in South Africa than anywhere else in the world, Stoltz now has seven World Titles, and the "teenager" turned into one of the most recognizable and beloved athletes on the XTERRA Planet.
Now 28-years-old, Hugo is a seasoned veteran and just captured the first title of 2014 at the XTERRA Buffelspoort off-road triathlon. In a sport dominated mostly by pros in their mid-to-late 30’s, it’s fair to say Hugo has yet to reach his full potential. Still, his results say he’s one of the best in the game. He has eight major championships under his belt and was seconds short of winning both the XTERRA USA and World Championships in 2011.
Last year Hugo raced at more than a dozen XTERRA’s in nine countries and posted six straight runner-up finishes at XTERRA World Tour races –South Africa, Philippines, Saipan, Guam, Malaysia, and the Southeast Championship in Alabama – before winning the East Championship in Richmond. He was third in Brazil, 7th in Colorado, 2nd in Mexico, won XTERRA Japan, was 5th at the USA Champs, 2nd in the U.S. Pro Series behind only Josiah Middaugh, and 14th at Worlds.
We caught up with the star from Stellenbosch this week to get his thoughts on last year, plans for this year, Nelson Mandela, the lure of XTERRA’s exotic destinations, the new XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race, and life after racing.
XTERRA: 2013 was a rowdy year, tons of travel, lots of fun. Looking back, would you have changed anything about it?
Dan Hugo: Agreed, I had a more colourful year in 2013 than any other. I was inspired to get travelling after missing 8-months of racing in 2012. Highlights were XTERRA Japan, Mexico and Brazil. Change? Well perhaps the niggle side of things, and for that I should have managed my recovery and alignment better. After XTERRA Richmond it became a push-n-pull scenario. So yeah, that is the plan this season. Stay healthy and manage the body better.
XT: Maui was a tough one for you, did going home and a little rest help with your perspective?
DH: I had been labouring for weeks before Maui, and to be frank was real glad to move onto downtime afterwards. I'd started up 15-months earlier after surgery, making it a much longer than usual year. Typically I'll do an 11-month cycle. That, together with a niggle which had me training through bits of pain, seem to push my system into a dull state. I wish I had more at Maui since it's our showpiece, but I'll try fuel the disappointment to motivate for the coming season.
XT: What's new for you as you enter 2014?
DH: On the racing side I am going to race in Australia for the first time, at the new XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship. Also plan to get up north to the XTERRA Nordic events of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. That would be a real treat. I continue with the same supportive sponsorship stable, my dreamGivers. I'm starting my 8th year with both Specialized and Puma, partnerships to be proud of.
XT: Congrats on Buffelspoort. Tell me of the pleasures of racing at home, and winning in front of a big crowd?
DH: It’s all happening out here, another great XTERRA weekend with the Full and Lite each on a separate day to accommodate the mass of entrants.
Winning was festive, as you'd expect. And, since I'm an ambassador for Totalsports - the sports retailer who is headline sponsor to the XTERRA South Africa series, as well the two presenting sponsors of Rehidrat and Specialized ZA, it is significant for me to represent well at the local events. The race village looks world class, so too the overall production. Being on form there is a sweet affair.
XT: You're back to exotic locales, racing the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour again. Can I assume the experience last year brought you back?
DH: You could. Brad Weiss and I had a raucous time there, met great people and enjoyed the change of racing scene. I would like to go back once more to try and win on some of the islands.
XT: The new XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race puts a crown on the region races, has more money and TV. Does that make the XAP Tour more appealing?
DH: Seems a powerful step forward for XTERRA, especially in a nation that celebrates triathlon as much as Australia does. I look forward to being there, supporting an event that wants to raise the bar.
XT: Have you been to Jervis Bay, or raced much in Australia?
DH: No, that is part of the appeal. I've been to Australia twice to visit mates, but never raced on the continent. I'll stay in Sydney for a few days, for which I'm just as excited.
XT: Your blog is titled "Dare to Dream" - can you share some of your dreams for this year with us?
DH: My year is shaped much like my 2013 season was. I just dream of executing it better this time around. I hope to be an ambassador for the three Nordic events, and get the momentum started there for XTERRA. My old coach Torbjorn Sindballe is in Copenhagen, so too some photographer buddies of mine. Through them it seems I'd enjoy the culture and lifestyle there.
During 2014 I dream of basing in Spain for 6-months and racing the XTERRA Europe circuit.
XT: The entire world mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela. What was it like for you, and your extended South African family?
DH: Madiba had a slow decline, making for less shock and more relief at his passing. He had re-shaped the world at large, our nation and certainly every soul in this current generation. The impact here was unprecedented. A sure highlight of his life's celebrations was the address by Barack Obama. My people cherished his words, a thoroughly researched piece, and took to hear his challenge to pursue Mandela's example not in part, but in full.
I was grateful to be home at the time of his passing, to see gatherings of dancing and singing on the streets. What a life well lived.
XT: You're a talented story teller, and paint vivid pictures of races, places, and experiences. Is there a literary future or ambitions for you past your athletic career?
DH: Appreciate the compliment. I doubt true writing, though I would very much like to work on a global level in the sports marketing space after retiring from full time racing. I hope that through such an opportunity my appreciation for the power of words could be put to use. I doubt I'll race much beyond the next three to five years. There are multiple experiences I'd want to pursue through my thirties, including a work stint in NYC. But that might have to be as a barista and not a writer.
Learn more about Dan and follow along on his adventures at www.dghugo.com.