Our triathlon hopes still shine bright
The first time I heard of the triathlon, or anything like it, was in 1976, when I covered the ‘‘New Zealand biathlon championship’’ at Oriental Bay, Wellington.
Organiser Chester Bishop said the event called for ‘‘a rugged combination of terrestrial and aquatic skill’’. It comprised a three-mile cross-country run followed by a half-mile swim in Wellington harbour.
He billed his race as a New Zealand championship because it was, he said, the only one of its kind in the country.
The winner, Worser Bay surf lifesaver Barry Andrews, finished in just over 28 minutes. There were 91 entrants, 78 of whom completed the race. Our paper, The Evening Post, treated the whole thing as a novelty.
Bishop, who I recall was American, said multi-discipline races were catching on in the United States and New Zealanders would soon embrace them.
At the time, he seemed a bit weird. In hindsight, he looks like a visionary.
The race I covered was the second such biathlon championship. The first, in 1975, was won by national water polo rep Ross Patterson, who then travelled to the United States and won what was touted as the world championship. There was no internet back then, or I’d have learned from Google that the French had been running triathlons – ‘‘les trois sports’’ – since the early 1900s, and that the first American triathlon was held in San Diego in 1974.
Once the Hawaiian ironman started in 1978, the whole thing really took off and today the triathlon – and off-shoots such as the duathlon – is a major world sport.
We’re particularly interested in New Zealand, because the event suits our climate and geography and we have produced a succession of triathlon greats.
Topping the list is Erin Baker, who was so outstanding she led the world over sprint, Olympic and long-distance, and also won two Hawaiian Ironman events.
The closest to her among the men is Hamish Carter, who was three times a world championship medallist, won the World Cup in 1998, and won an Olympic gold medal and Commonwealth Games bronze.
Rick Wells, Jenny
Rose, Cameron Brown, Paul Amey, Craig Watson, Sarah Harrow, Evelyn Williamson, Sam Warriner, Bevan Docherty and Andrea Hewitt have all shone at triathlon world championships. Matt Brick and Baker also won world duathlon titles.
The triathlon provided New Zealand sport with one of its greatest days, when Carter and Docherty disputed the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Watching the big triathlon race in Sydney over the weekend, the first of this year’s world championship circuit, emphasised again how global the sport has become. All eyes are on the London Olympics at the end of July. New Zealanders will be heartened that Hewitt, who has won three world championship medals, raced so well, finishing a strong third.
On the men’s side, Kris Gemmell battled into seventh place to secure his selection for London. Docherty, who has two Olympic medals, world championship gold and silver, and a Commonwealth Games silver in his impressive CV, was 12th in Sydney and all but confirmed his selection for London, too.
The triathlon is a tremendous sports spectacle. What will make it that much more exciting in London is that several New Zealanders are genuine medal contenders.