Single-minded Docherty's last chance at gold

BEVAN DOCHERTY: Is a two-time Olympic medallist.
BEVAN DOCHERTY: Is a two-time Olympic medallist.

New Zealand farewells one of its greatest and grittiest Olympians when Bevan Docherty bids to win a third successive triathlon medal in London tonight.

Other athletes have more baubles - Docherty doesn't have a title. But his feat of winning successive silver and bronze medals has been often gone under-appreciated by the New Zealand media and public.

His sport is one of the most competitive on the Olympic schedule outside the blue-riband athletics events. 

Any one of 20 elite men could conceivably win the gold medal tonight, such is triathlon's depth.

Docherty burst on to the Olympic stage in 2004, winning a silver medal in Athens to complete a Kiwi quinella with compatriot Hamish Carter, who crowned his career with gold.

The ferociously competitive Docherty was disappointed not to win but he said: "who better to lose to than my teammate Hamish''.

That one-two punched remained - till the New Zealand rowers won double gold medals in an hour at Lake Dorney last week - this writer's favourite moment from four Olympic Games.

Carter quit at the top, but Docherty backed up with bronze in Beijing four years ago.  No wonder he's called Mr Consistency and has a street named in his honour in his hometown, Taupo.

Now at 35 and still ranked 12th in the world, Docherty is bidding to become the first New Zealander to medal at three consecutive Olympics since wind surfer Barbara Kendall (gold in 1992, silver in 1996 and bronze in 2000).

Triathlon New Zealand head coach Greg Fraine reckons more respect needs to be paid to Docherty's double-medal achievement.

"If you look at the history, the closest thing to triathlon is road cycling, as far as the tactics, the decision making and the luck involved.

"There aren't many people in road cycling who have back-to-back medals,'' said Fraine, a former Olympic cyclist.

"He's in a very select group. In triathlon, there are two of them, Bevan and [Canadas Simon Whitfield. If you look at the characteristics of those guys, they are true champions.''

Docherty doesn't have Carter's profile, probably because he prefers to plough his own furrow. He was catching up with family and friends while teammates Kris Gemmell and Ryan Sissons fronted at the pre-event press conference.

Fraine says Docherty "doesn't put himself forward, he goes out and does things''. 

"He probably doesn't endear himself to a lot of people. But, from all the guys [in triathlon], he's got massive respect. They shake their heads at him in frustration, but he's a fantastic guy and he's good for the sport.

"Our young guys look at Bevan and try to emulate what he's managed to achieved. It's going to be a shame when he does retire from the sport because there's going to be so much lost, in terms of IQ.

"His philosophies fit in with the New Zealand psyche so much - just the hard-ass get-out-there and get it done [ethos]. It works so well for him, but it wouldn't for some of the other athletes.  If they were training with him, he would tear them to pieces.

"If we sent athletes to train with him fulltime, it'd be like throwing 100 eggs at the wall. Ninety-six would break and you'd have four good ones.

"That's the way he's evolved. It's taken him 20 years ... of hard, hard grind.''

But can Docherty produce a podium finish again?

At Beijing, he spoke boldly about completing his medals set with gold in London. But can he turn talk into action at Hyde Park tonight?

"Things would have to go his way, I don't think he'd mind me saying that. But he'll be out there fighting for it,'' Fraine says.

"He wants it. He'll be happy with a race where he knows he's done his best and he's given it all and [put] everything on the line.

"If that's a medal, he's going to be one of the happiest people in the world ... It's a dream, but you can never write him off.  So much can happen.''

Kris Gemmell, the triathlon world series' 21st-ranked athlete, says Docherty is "one of my best friends and has been a teammate, rival and confidant throughout my career''.

"What more can you say about someone who's won a silver medal and a bronze medal at the Olympics,'' said Gemmell, also 35. "He's in his third Olympics, as the fourth-oldest in the race.

"He's been inspiring to me. If he quit two years ago, I probably would have done the same thing. It's one of those things that keep you motivated.  He's been a role model for all people in New Zealand.''

Gemmell says Docherty has talent and determination, "that's why he gets up at the big events''.

So does Gemmell dream of doing the double with Docherty as his buddy did with Carter beside an Athens beach eight years ago?

"If that happens, I hope they declare a national holiday,'' Gemmell quipped.  It would be fantastic, we've been in that situation a few times in our career [in International Triathlon Union circuit races].

"If it ended up like that, it would be amazing.''

Fairfax Media