Ryan Sissons and Tom Davison race as a team in an individual sport. LIAM NAPIER reports on an unusual partnership and friendship.
The unique friendship has been forged on the outskirts of Cambridge, but the bond was formed long before Ryan Sissons and Tom Davison were named in New Zealand's Commonwealth Games squad.
Sissons, New Zealand's top-ranked male triathlete in a sport with a decorated history in this country, and Davison go back six years from when they first met at a development camp.
Though they share few physical similarities, they are triathlon twins who are close as brothers.
And that's where their story takes an intriguing twist.
One sacrifices for the other. Their race strategy relies on a relatively new tag-team approach to the taxing individual sport.
It is a plan designed to ensure Sissons ends up on the Glasgow podium, even though Davison will have worked just as hard to get him there.
The public first saw the tactic at the elite ITU World Series event in Auckland last April during a performance - where Sissons finished sixth - which convinced national selectors to push for Davison's addition to the team.
This tight-knit Kiwi pair have adopted an inclusive mentality. Rather than focus on their individual races, they combine their respective strengths so they compensate their weaknesses.
"It is a good match. I can't do his role and he can't do mine," says Sissons.
"But, together, hopefully we can do something pretty spectacular."
Sissons has long struggled to match the best swimmers over 1.5 kilometres - he often trails race leaders by up to 50 seconds out of the water. That deficit could be the difference between a top-10 finish and standing on the podium in Glasgow this month.
Davison's bike pedigree proves invaluable here. His tree-trunk thighs power through the field on the 40km bike, seemingly picking off competitors at will. This allows Sissons to draft behind him and conserve up to 30 per cent of energy and strength for the final leg of the 10km run home. That's where Sissons inevitably finds his groove and runs down his rivals in a now-mandatory sub 30-minute sprint finish.
"I've always had a weaker swim," he says.
"It's something I'm working on but it's just how I am as an athlete. It's helpful to have someone like Tom to get me from the water to the front.
"You've got to be pretty special to do that job. Not many people can pull it off. Tom has a lot of skill and reads the field really well."
So therein lies the rub. Without Sissons, Davison would not have made the selection cut. And without Davison, Sissons would be out of medal contention.
In their humble training headquarters in the Waikato and across undulating roads, past livestock and horse breeding stables, Sissons and Davison have worked tirelessly to perfect their rhythmic partnership.
Living and training side-by-side has only strengthened their bid for unison, although both admit their friendship is not without its stresses and strains.
"There's good times and bad. Every athlete has to know when to back off a little bit," Davison says.
"Living together you've got to know when to give him space."
"You know each other so well; you know he's a little tired and might be a bit touchy today," Sissons says, glancing at his mate in a way only married couples might understand.
"You have that good relationship with each other. I know how he races and how he rides. That certainly helps."
Davison is at ease with his role which sees him slip out of the limelight at the business end while Sissons gains the limelight.
"There's no real financial benefit out of it but for helping Ryan I got a Commonwealth Games spot," Davison says.
Sissons says his team-mate's selfless attitude inspires him to push through the pain barrier inherent in triathlon.
"It's not often you've got someone there to back you up in an individual sport, so to have not just a team-mate but a good friend right there next to you, or hopefully just in front of me, it is awesome," Sissons says.
"I couldn't ask for a better team-mate, essentially. He's there sacrificing his own race for us. There's not many people around who are prepared to go to a Commonwealth Games - a major event - and sacrifice themselves for someone else. It's a very selfless thing to do.
"I hope Tom gets credit because it is a big job. I can't do his job, essentially. Even though he's not getting the podium position from it he's playing a role in it."
Davison isn't what you'd call a secret weapon. Shane Reed assumed a similar role to help Bevan Docherty clinch a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. Englishman Stuart Hayes did likewise for champion Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonathan.
"It's no secret now, however there's still a few tactics we can play," Sissons says, pointing to third team-mate Tony Dodds.
"They know Tom is going to the Commonwealth Games to, essentially, help me. But it might not be me. Tony is there, too.
"New Zealand isn't the only country that's figured out this tactic can work but it needs that special person to pull it off."
A podium finish is far from guaranteed. At least five of the world's 10 premier triathletes are expected to line-up in Glasgow. For Sissons, Davison, and Dodds there's also the added pressure of performing to expectation to secure long-term government funding.
"There certainly are a lot of distractions that can go on before a major event. You've got to try and keep it casual and go in as you would any other race," Sissons says.
"It's not going to be easy but if we work together as a team and get everything right on the day we're a good chance. To be on that podium it would be pretty amazing."
When composure is needed in Glasgow, Sissons and Davison can not only draw on hours of practice, but years of friendship for the medal drive.
"Knowing each other for so long and now going to a major event together is pretty awesome," Davison says.
"I, personally, never thought we'd be racing together in a New Zealand team at the Com Games."
- Sunday Star Times