Bevan Docherty Calls Time On Triathlon

Thursday, 29 October 2015, 6:00 AM
By Andrew Dewhurst

News came out just after Christmas that New Zealand triathlete Bevan Docherty was calling it quits, calling time on a 15 year career that has taken him around the world and through the gamut of distances, from sprint to Ironman – if there was a triathlon somewhere, chances are he has raced it – and won.

His career is simply superb, amongst the very best in the world. In a sport that has evolved dramatically over the past couple of decades, Docherty has shown amazing endurance and longevity to consistently challenge the best in the world.

Sure, his best days may well have been behind him by the time he raced in London (his third Olympic Games), but few would argue that he hadn’t earned the right to that swan song, a final bow at ITU level if you like before he ventured off into the world of long distance competition.

And Docherty is rightly proud of his association with the sport through all of those years, leaving a legacy that few in the future will match. A world champion, twice an Olympic medalist and many times on top or on the podium at ITU World Cup and Word Series races.

On his winning way at Ironman Texas 2014. Photo © Nils Nilsen

“The sport has evolved a lot over the years and given the speed the top athletes are going at now I am thankful I was racing in the early years. But back in my day when I was in peak form, I reckon I was almost unbeatable against all-comers. But yeah, it is cool to see where the sport is going and how fast they are going. One thing is for sure, it is not going to be easy for Kiwis to get another medal at the Olympics, that is going to take something special.

“So yeah, I am proud of that history, whether in the sport of triathlon globally or New Zealand sporting history generally with my results and performances. It has been more than I could have imagined when I first set off, I hope I have contributed to the progress of the sport in that time and I think I have in my way.”

Like most young New Zealand kids though, Docherty was first lured into team sports, finding a place on the wing thanks to his Dad Ray.

“I guess I was fairly typical of a kid growing up in New Zealand, I played rugby, it was Dad who sent me off to rugby, I think he was hoping to have an All Black. I played on the wing, but even out there I got my butt kicked and it was a bit too tough for me. I was always a good runner though and always had done running through school. We grew up doing harriers and I would always do well in school cross country.

“Then I did a triathlon at school one year – I was part of a team and from what I recall we were pretty average and didn’t do that great so I thought I would do it better by myself. And I think I still sucked but I enjoyed it and the passion grew from there. That first Tri was out at Kinloch and maybe three or four years later I ended up winning, it never came naturally but I always worked hard at it. It has pretty much been triathlon from then, I still did a bit of running at school but always with triathlon in mind.”

Photo courtesy of NZ Triathlon & Multisport

Docherty is probably an athlete that has featured on the wall of a plenty of young New Zealand kids as they have grown up idolizing their Olympic heroes – that is part of the legacy we referred to earlier. So who were his pin-up idols when he was coming through the ranks, who influenced him as a young triathlete?

“Craig Watson and Paul Amey were big influences on me in my younger days. When I was trying to breakthrough they were two guys I knew and looked up to and one year – I’m not sure if Mum had kicked me out or I took off, but one year I flew to Australia and slept on their couch for 6 months and learned the ropes. Man that was some hard training, I would pretty much go out and train and come back and fall asleep on that little couch on the Gold Coast. Craig Watson was renowned for his training ethic and workload, I guess those two guys set those foundations for me and gave me the idea of what it took to become a good athlete.”

Speaking of sleeping on couches and training hard, there are plenty of stories around about how tough it was for our pioneer triathletes on the international stage, are some of those stories pure urban myth or is there some truth to them?

“Most of what you hear is true, when I first went to Europe I borrowed money from a mate who had access to a student loan, I used it to pay for my ticket. The first few years were tough, not much money, only just getting by – but I always had homestays so in that respect it wasn’t too tough and I always had a roof over my head but when racing on a budget sometimes you had to toss-up between a hotel room and not much dinner or the train station to sleep and a decent feed. Once I was hungry and stole some corn, the corn though turned out to be maize so it didn’t work out so well. You hate it at the time, but I look back and laugh now. “I am pretty sure that Mum and Dad paid the loan back in the end too, he is still a good mate so I’m sure that worked out okay!”

Docherty is recognized for his toughness and hardnosed approach, it is no surprise then to hear that he thinks the current generation could do with a little ‘tough love’.“I personally thing guys should get more ‘old school’, toughen up and try not to soften them up too much. If I was a coach I think I would be ‘old school’ and harden some of them up a little. That is probably the reason I am not getting into coaching! Sports science and support has its place for sure, but at the end of the day I believe what makes a good Kiwi sportsperson is a tough attitude first and foremost.”

Photo courtesy of NZ Triathlon & Multisport

When reminiscing about his racing days, Docherty says it is tough to find the ‘perfect race’ but does recall a day when he went as close to it as he ever did in those fifteen years.

“I don’t think I have ever had the perfect race, but one that is close was a World Cup win in Sydney in 2010, I just felt like I was in control, I made smart choices and had the fitness to back it up. I swam well with the lead pack and then broke away on the bike, I had a 40 second gap with some faster runners off the bike that had sheltered so I jogged the first k, let them catch up, played with them and then ran away with it on the last lap. It wasn’t perfect but I made some smart decisions and had some great form and came away with a win in front of the Sydney Opera House where ten years earlier I had watched the start of the Olympic movement for triathlon, so that was pretty special.”

Docherty plays down a little the competition that he enjoyed from other New Zealanders throughout most of his career, saying his goal was never to be the best local triathlete anyway.

“My aim was to be fastest in the world, I was never interested to be fastest New Zealander. Obviously if I achieved my aim I would naturally be fastest Kiwi. Having some good competition with Hamish and Kris really contributed to our results though for sure. It gave us world class athletes to train with and naturally produced good results internationally. Like the Brownlee brothers train and key off each other, that is one of the reasons they are successful. So it was fantastic in getting the best out of ourselves to be best in the world.”

Through all those years racing it is no surprise that Docherty recalls a few scary moments, one in particular when he questioned his decision to commit to an event.

“The details are a bit sketchy now, there was this one race somewhere in Europe, it was in Eastern Europe – maybe the old Yugoslavia and it was pretty crazy. The hotel had blood stains on the mattresses and was just a real dodgy place. The people were super nice, but I just didn’t feel comfortable there and didn’t go back.”Not surprisingly his favourite venues are the ones in which he raced well in.

“Most of the events I did well at I did enjoy returning to. Kitzbuhel in Austria was beautiful and I always enjoyed going back there. I remember I did a race in Sardinia a few years ago - maybe in the year 2000, if I had a chance I would go back there. I remember sitting watching Sydney Olympic Games with some Italians, it was a bit surreal and very enjoyable.”

There have been plenty who have helped Docherty along the way, he does though single out just a few.

“My coach Mark Elliott is top of that list, he saw eye to eye with me and things just happened naturally. He was a smart guy and there is a reason he is so successful with Bike NZ at the moment. Kris Gemmell was my training partner through two of my Olympic medals and Will Smith was my training partner through my last six years of my career. They have helped me a lot. So many people have on the way, they have all played a part to be fair. To be successful in an individual sport you have to have a good team around you. And Tri NZ has played a big part, they have been very supportive and allowed me to do a lot of things out of the norm.”

Docherty wins the ITU World Cup Triathlon in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Photo © Jo Caird Photography

This is where Docherty the old morphs into Docherty the new though. Enough of the reminiscing and the looking back through rose tinted glasses. Docherty the husband and Docherty the Dad starts to come through and expose a few soft edges that his opponents never saw sight of.

“My outlook in life changed as soon as my kids were born. The Olympic medals I have in the house were moved out of the way, kids toys took over and that put a perspective on things – it is amazing to have won a couple of medals and world titles but to be honest, my kids and family they are number one in my opinion, my biggest achievement is my family.”

The 37 year old is not sure what the future holds, for now he is content to put his feet up, play with his kids and spend quality time with the family – time that is not spent training, eating or sleeping.

“Flying has always been a passion of mine, I have had some help in the form of a Prime Ministers Scholarship to dedicate towards that, it is something to fill in the gap at the moment and keep me occupied and great to be learning again, I’m not sure if this will be a career for me but I am enjoying it.”

“So that could be a possibility career wise but I am not going to rush into anything, for once I am taking my time and enjoying having more energy than normal.”

Originally published in NZ Triathlon & Multisport Issue 101, April 2015


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