By JULIE JAG
LONDON – Bevan Docherty learned something during his previous two Olympic campaigns, in which he collected a silver and a bronze medal:
Go for gold.
“Obviously, Olympic gold [is the goal this year],” Docherty said from his Westside Santa Cruz home shortly before leaving to compete in today’s Olympic men’s triathlon at Hyde Park. “I have to see how my training is going and adjust. I have to be smarter, more clever. It’s not going to be easy.”
Then again, easy isn’t really Docherty’s style. His biggest claims to fame in the sport include coming from behind to overtake Kris Gemmell in a 2007 International Triathlon Union World Cup race, diving for the photo-finish win and skidding several yards afterward during a 2009 ITU race and coming from behind to keep Lance Armstrong from winning the Panama 70.3 Ironman earlier this year.
Do something similar today, and could he be the first man to win three medals in the sport. Only he and Canada’s Simon Whitfield have medaled more than once since triathlon became an Olympic sport in 2000.
“It’s just another day at the office,” he said. “The pain of regret is far worse than the pain of pushing yourself. Fifteen to 20 minutes of pain is better than a lifetime of regret. You learn what your body can endure, what works best for you.”
This time around, though, Docherty, who won silver in 2004 and bronze in 2008, is a dad twice over. At 35, he’s also one of the oldest triathletes in the field. Also, unlike his previous Olympic bids, the No. 12-ranked triathlete in the world didn’t qualify for the New Zealand team until three months before the Games.
“I have to step up to the plate and be ready,” he said of today’s race. It starts at 11:30 a.m. BST [3:30 a.m. PDT] and will be aired live on NBC. “Each Olympics is different. There’s nothing familiar. There is a small advantage there [to having experience], but not that much of an advantage.”
It’s practically miniscule when compared to the advantage held by race favorites Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee. Not only does the flat course — 1.5 kilometer swim, 43k bike, 10k race, through their back yard suit the brothers, but they’re sure to be pushed on by thousands of screaming Brits.
Alistair, 24, reigns as the European Triathlon Union champion and won the Triathlon World Championship in 2009 and 2011. Jonathan, 22, is the current World Sprint Triathlon champion and the runner-up in the ITU World Triathlon Series.
“They’re already the strongest swimmers in the race and the fastest cyclists and the strongest runners,” said Matt Charbot of Aptos, a Team USA alternate who has competed against the Brownlees in several competitions. “If they have a fast race from the gun, they’re going to win it. If it’s a slow race from the gun, they’re still going to be in it.”
They will be challenged by Spain’s Javier Lopez, the current ETU champion, and by 2008 gold medalist Jan Frodeno of Gernany.
Charbot’s training partners at the Team USA training camp in Guildford, about an hour outside of London, won’t be among the chatter about medal winners, but they’re still in contention. Still, Manny Huerta showed grit just in getting to the Games. The Cuban immigrant placed ninth to claim the final qualifying spot at the U.S. trials in San Diego. Hunter Kemper, meanwhile, finished fifth at the trials to claim a ticket to his 0fourth Olympics.
Like Docherty, he’ll rely on experience to give method to the madness that is the Olympics.
“In 2000, 2004, he put a lot of pressure on himself. He felt the pressure of being a favorite,” said Team USA high performance manager Andy Schmitz. “In 2008, he embraced the experience. He walked in the opening ceremonies. Without putting that pressure on himself, he performed above his expectations. He likes being the underdog and being one of the oldest men in the race.”
Kemper, a 37-year-old father of three, is actually the second oldest behind Whitlock, also 37.
Docherty said his approach will be similar to Kemper’s. He’s going to enjoy himself while he’s here – he even walked in the opening ceremony — especially since this is likely his last Olympics.
“It feels like the biggest race of your life,” he said, speaking from experience. “It’s hard to keep the nerves at bay.”