Tri guys Docherty, Gemmell go out on high
The Olympic Games careers of New Zealand triathlon stalwarts Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmell ended with a momentary man-hug in London's Hyde Park.
Docherty - the only male triathlete in the world to win back-to-back medals in Olympic history - had just finished 12th, 11 seconds outside the former Olympic record.
The Taupo triathlete was given a rousing send-off by the capacity crowd, who know a true triathlon great when they see one.
Docherty waved to the fans to return their salute, crossed an Olympic finish-line for the third and final time and lingered in the chute to welcome teammate and friend Gemmell, who had been running in his slipstream before fading a few places to 15th.
The two 35-year-olds - competing at Olympic level for the last time - embraced briefly before leaving the stage on the shore of The Serpentine lake.
Docherty, the silver medallist in Athens in 2004 behind compatriot Hamish Carter and the bronze medallist in Beijing four years later, said it was fitting to finish the Olympic chapter of his career with Gemmell, a popular Palmerston North athlete.
"We're very good mates, we're going to be a little disappointed but at the end of the day, we're proud to have come this far and it's great to share this experience with him.''
Docherty now lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife Cheryl and their three children. He's still going to take part in long-distance triathlons but he has new priorities in life.
"I'm happy [my Olympic career is] over. It's been a long haul and things have changed. I've got a family now and there is pressure there and I don't want to make too many sacrifices there.
"I'm very excited about the future and proud of my results in the past.''
Gemmell and Docherty, whose careers have criss-crossed each other's for more than a decade, were side-by-side at the start of the race, drawing adjacent spaces on the pontoon for the swim.
They were part of a chasing bunch with showed some real mettle midway through the 40km cycle leg. Through sharing the load, they hauled in the front five riders, who included eventual champion Alistair Brownlee (Great Britain), runner-up Javier Gomez (Spain) and Brownlee's younger brother Jonathan, the bronze medallist.
Gemmell was second off the bike, narrowly behind Alistair Brownlee. He and Docherty and were like black-clad conjoined twins on the 10km run - until the dying stages.
"I was pretty much running 10 metres behind Bevan the whole way, till the last bit when the Russian guy [Ivan Vasiliev] and the American guy [Hunter Kemper], who sat on me the whole way, ran past,'' Gemmell said.
"I was pretty much strung out like a shanghai at that point.''
Gemmell said it was good to finish with "my good mate Bevan'' and there was "nothing personal'' when they were in 12th and 13th places, respectively, on the run. "We weren't fighting, or anything.''
The popular Palmerston North athlete was chuffed to complete the race in competitive fashion after his earlier Olympic setbacks.
Gemmell missed selection for the Athens Olympics where he watched Carter and Docherty complete a Kiwi quinella. He had stitches inserted in a foot wound before the Beijing Games in 2008 and struggled home in 39th place.
"I just wanted to be able to go [to the Olympics]. To have that opportunity taken away from me in Beijing [was tough], but I'm just glad I went through the preparation that I needed to and gave a good account of myself.
"I beat a lot of guys who thought they were going to win or get on the podium... I didn't beat some other guys, but I had a try. I did everything I wanted to be able to do.''
Docherty remained competitive to the end, saying he took no joy in being the first Kiwi home.
"The Olympics is all about winning medals, no-one cares when you are off the podium.''
But, judging by the ovation he received down the final straight, the triathlon world still cares about Bevan Docherty, a trail blazer who has passed on the mantle to a new generation.