Our triathlon hopes still shine bright

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT - JOSEPH RO­MANOS

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.

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