By JULIE JAG
LONDON – Bevan Docherty didn’t add gold to his Olympic medal collection, but in many ways he still went out on top.
Docherty, a Santa Cruz resident racing for his native New Zealand in the men’s triathlon Tuesday, did nothing to sully his reputation as one of the most accomplished racers in the sport at the Games. He finished 12th overall in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 35 seconds, a mere 2:10 behind Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain, a heavy pre-race favorite who ran away with the gold. Javier Lopez of Spain took the silver [1:46:36] and Jonathan Brownlee of Great Britain claimed the bronze [1:46:56], delighting a mostly Brit crowd of an estimated 500,000 fans.
“Obviously I would have liked to complete the set of medals, but as you can see, the sport is getting faster and those three guys at the front are just dominating,” Docherty said. “But at the end of the day, considering where I’m at, I’m relatively happy.”
Where Docherty is at is age 35, one of the oldest racers on the start list, and a father of three. He’s also one of two athletes to have won two Olympic triathlon medals – the most in the sport. At Hyde Park, Docherty wrapped up his Olympics career proving he’s still one of the best.
He was the top finisher out of the three Kiwis and bested both Americans Hunter Kemper and Manny Huerta. Kemper finished 14th [1:48:46] and Huerta came up with an injury and took 51st [1:53:39] in the 55-athlete pool.
“Maybe they’ll wheel me out in a wheelchair for Rio,” joked Kemper, 36, who said he hasn’t ruled out trying to make the 2016 Olympic team. If he did, he would be the only triathlete to compete in all five Olympic triathlons since the sport became part of the Games in 2000.
Docherty, on the other hand, long ago decided this would be his final Olympic race. Wanting to spend more time with his growing family, he plans to transition to longer distance racing with an eye on winning the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, one day.
That’s what made this one of Docherty’s more emotional races. Not only would it be his last Olympic race, but he got to tackle it in front of a family that includes two new faces – daughter McKenna, 3, and son Fletcher, less than a year. Docherty hadn’t seen them for nearly a month as he trained for the race, but gave them a big wave when he saw them in the stands as he set his bike up in the transition zone Tuesday morning.
“It’s weird to think this is the last one,” said Docherty’s wife, Cheryl. “He’s ranked 12th [in the world] and he finished 12th in 2012, so it’s going to be easy to remember.”
Docherty hoped his legacy would be remembered more than this final race.
“I’m still the only person to win medals back to back, and I’m quite proud of that,” Docherty said.
Docherty, a native of Taupo, New Zealand, made his Olympic debut in 2004 at age 27. Soon to be crowned the International Triathlon Union champion, he wound up taking silver behind gold-winning teammate Hamish Carter. In Beijing, on a course that suited him better than London’s flat, fast track, he took the bronze. Canada’s Simon Whitfield came from behind to take silver that year and Jan Frodeno of Germany sealed the Gold.
On Tuesday, Frodeno was in fourth after the second transition, but ended up sixth [1:47:26] overall. Meanwhile Whitfield – a four-time Olympian and the only man with as many triathlon medals as Docherty — dropped out of the race shortly after the start of the bike because of a mechanical problem.
In comparison, Docherty raced nearly flawlessly.
He came out of the balmy 66-degree Serpentine from the 1.5-kilometer swim in 23rd place, but a quick transition jettisoned him up to 15th. That’s where he stayed for the majority of the seven laps around Buckingham Palace, Wellington Arch and the Serpentine during the 43k bike ride, in which the Brownlees’ teammate Stuart Hayes set the pace.
Several teams tried to attack and take the lead away from Great Britian, but those efforts were squashed. When the athletes entered the transition into the 10k run, Docherty knew – even as he slipped on his Day-Glo orange trainers – that the race had practically already been decided. To his credit, he raced hard anyway, picking off eight runners on his way to the finish line.
“It became obvious pretty early on that those guys were rockets,” he said. “but I wanted to put it out there.”
Indeed, Alistair Brownlee pushed the pace, running just over a second slower than the gold medalist in the 10k had run at Olympic Park a few days prior – and that was with him slowing to collect a British flag and lope with it wrapped around his shoulders to the finish. He said he didn’t run hard for his own good, but to secure a medal for his little brother, who was issued a 15-second penalty for mounting his bike too soon.
Docherty slowed a little too, smiling and even waving he ran down the finish line chute toward his final Olympic moment.
It may not have been Docherty’s best race, but it was a race for the history books.
“He’s a legend,” beamed Docherty’s 15-year-old son Scott, 15, a Pacific Coast Charters student. “He’s a hall-of-famer.”