By JULIE JAG
LONDON – Bevan Docherty had no intention to “Inspire a Generation” – the official slogan for the 2012 Olympics – when he set out to qualify for these Games in men’s triathlon.
Known as a solitary man, Docherty had zeroed in on two goals:
A) He wanted to become a member of his third New Zealand Olympic triathlon team.
B) He wanted to put himself in position to win the gold, which, when added to the silver he won in 2004 and and bronze he won in ’08, would make him the only triathlete with a complete set.
Being a role model to a couple of fresh-faced kids 10 years his junior didn’t necessarily fit into his plans.
Yet at least two young Olympic-caliber racers credit Docherty for altering their careers. Win the men’s triathlon in Hyde Park on Tuesday, and he could alter the sport and “Inspire a Generation” of triathletes to move to sea-level training grounds like Santa Cruz.
“Bevan is a huge influence in my life at how committed and driven he is,” wrote Tommy Zaferes, an Aptos native and Rio 2016 hopeful, in an email. “How he can train so hard, and still be a solid family man. That’s a tough double!”
Endurance athletes stereotypically flock to high altitude bases to train for big event. Docherty went against the stream. Looking for warmer winters and a lower elevation than Boulder, Colo., where he had been living during his 2008 Olympic campaign, he and his wife, Cheryl, flew into LAX airport late in 2009, hopped in a car and started driving up the coast in search of a new home for what would eventually be a family of five.
“We stopped in Monterey for the night and we were all excited, thinking this could be it,” Docherty said from his Westside home. “Then when we woke up, it was all fogged in. As soon as we drove in to Santa Cruz, we knew this was it.”
Docherty could check off all his boxes in Santa Cruz. It is near a major airport, is big enough in size but small enough in feel, has good training terrain and, being on the coast, is at sea level. Docherty, who hails from Taupo, New Zealand, believed he could train more vigorously at sea level than at altitude. He could, likewise, get the benefits of living at altitude – more oxygen carried in the bloodstream – simply by sleeping in a high-altitude tent, which he and Cheryl do nightly.
That thought pairs with results of a study out of Oxford, where he and the rest of the New Zealand team have been stationed during the Olympics. It has also caught on with Matt Chrabot, the alternate for the USA triathlon team and the top-ranked American on the International Triathlon Union circuit, who moved from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Aptos in June.
“It was too much and too stressful,” Chrabot, said of living in the mountains. “I push myself really, really hard and after a while my body couldn’t take it. It kind of broke me down, and I was like I’ve got to find a sea level training location that I can train at all year long.”
On Docherty’s advice, he chose the Santa Cruz area.
“I just met Bevan [at a race] and Bevan’s like, ‘Come out and train with us, we’ve got Tommy Zafares and [Ironman standout] Paul Matthews,’” Chrabot, 29, recalled. “Tommy and I started talking on Facebook and I said I’m going to come out and train with you guys.”
That made quite the band of merry three-sport men. But again, that wasn’t Docherty’s intention.
Docherty set the wheels in motion by contacting Zaferes shortly after he moved his family to town, but he mostly he was looking for a swimming partner. Zaferes began his competitive career as an Olympic-hopeful swimmer who lined up next to multi-medal Olympians Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte during national competitions and at the 2008 Olympic swimming trials. When an ill-timed cold derailed that dream, he had returned to Santa Cruz to coach a club team and dabble in triathlon.
“When I first talked to Bevan and swam with him, I didn’t really know who he was,” Zaferes wrote. “I had only competed in a few triathlons at this point, and only after other people were like, ‘Dude, he’s not just a good triathlete from New Zealand, he’s a two time Olympic medalist!’ was I like, ‘Whoa, sweet!’”
After a few months of helping Docherty improve his swim times, Zaferes joined him for a couple of bike training rides. That initial effort didn’t go well.
“I crashed on our second ride together in 2009, and was definitely not at a point in my career where I was able to keep up with him,” Zaferes wrote. “After that ride I didn’t really start training with him again until the middle of 2011.”
In the meantime, Zaferes improved his bike skills and Docherty started his push to make his third New Zealand Olympic team in the Olympic-distance [1.5 kilometer swim, 40k bike and 10k run] event.
The road would have a few more twists this time around. Not only had Docherty, 35, aged four years since Beijing, but he and Cheryl added two more children – McKenna and Thatcher – to their brood, giving them three in all. He didn’t qualify to the Kiwi team as early as he had in the past, which meant he had to spend more time worrying about getting in than preparing for the Games. In addition to all of that, he dropped his coach, deciding to go it alone less than a year before the Games.
“The past few years have not been ideal and I wanted to change it up a bit,” he said. “It’s kind of scary to change it up in an Olympic year. But, you can keep going down the same path and hope things change or you can switch it up. I have that kind of personality that I struggle to trust anyone else.”
But Docherty began to trust Zaferes as a training partner. As the fledgling triathlete developed into a more capable racer and started plotting his own path to the Olympics, Docherty stepped up as a sounding board. That was especially true after Zaferes also decided to go without his coach – 2004 triathlete and Santa Cruz High graduate Victor Plata — a decision he said Docherty had no hand in.
Zaferes had been desperately trying to latch onto a spot on the USA team bound for London, but everything would have had to go right and then some for him to do it. Instead, Docherty suggested he pace himself for Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and in the meantime gain experience racing the European circuits.
“I know when I qualified for the Olympics, I was ready. It came naturally. A lot of others force the issue, went before they should have and end up 30th or 20th,” Docherty said. “My first year [in 2004], I won the World Cup, the World Championships and an Olympic medal.
“Going into the Olympics, my dream was to win an Olympic medal. In hindsight, it should have been to win the gold, but I can’t beat myself up over it. It was still a bloody good race.”
This time around, gold is the only goal for Docherty. He will be relying on experience to help him overcome British favorites Alistar and Jonathan Brownlee and a flat London course that’s not especially suited to him.
But after his move to Santa Cruz, he feels he’s in a good position. And whether he planned it or not, he’s already inspired a generation of Santa Cruz triathletes to continue his Olympics legacy.
“It actually surprised me that more top athletes weren’t here,” he said, “but they all seem to be starting to come.”
Racetime is 11:30 a.m. BST Tuesday (3:30 a.m. PDT — will be aired live on NBC)