New Zealand's best male triathlete is on the verge on retirement but he wants a gold medal to bow out with.
Bevan Docherty already has silver and bronze medals. Now he is determined to make the most of his last chance at Olympic glory.
The 34-year-old is not in peak condition. He is nearing the twilight of his career and senses the new generation biting at his heels but the desire for a medal three-peat next year continues to push him through the pain barrier.
"I'm getting slightly older. That is hard but I'm getting wiser," he said.
"It's definitely my last Olympic campaign. I want the full set [of medals]. Unfortunately, I've got the hardest last. That's definitely driving me. It would be good to get the gold, then I can retire a happy man.
"I've been at the top of my game for many years now. There are constantly younger, more aggressive guys coming into the sport.
"But it's a one-off race and anything can happen."
After a poor season by his standards, Docherty realises anything less than a podium placing in today's ITU World Cup race in Auckland will be a disappointment given the field is weakened, with the race coming at the end of the season.
"You don't want to be going super well at this point but I'm here to win the race," Docherty said.
"It's mixed emotions. I'm going to give it everything I've got and, hopefully, it's enough."
Many of the world's top triathletes, including the powerhouse Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonathan, have chosen to rest rather than attend this event. The world No7, Frenchman Laurent Vidal, is the biggest threat to New Zealand's 11 male competitors.
American-based Docherty, who has not raced for more than 2 1/2 months, registered just one win of note this year, in July at Edmonton.
He offers no injury excuses for his form, only frustration that his sharp training times have not transferred to the courses.
"The year hasn't been great. I've been quite disappointed. Everything is geared towards the Olympics. It's still on plan."
Kiwi hopefuls Docherty, Kris Gemmell and Ryan Sissons, 22, are all yet to qualify for the Olympics, having missed top 10 finishes and automatic selection in London and Beijing.
Their final automatic entry chance is in Sydney in April but today is a prime opportunity to regain confidence and secure qualifying points on a favourable, hilly course.
"The going joke is this course offers more hills than the entire championship series," Docherty said.
"It's a tough mental process, pushing yourself day in, day out. In this sport you generally feel like crap 90 per cent of the time and hope the body comes right and you freshen up for the big races."
Gemmell, too, is on the comeback trail after suffering bouts of blood poisoning caused by repeated muscle damage. The condition is normal for triathletes but usually occurs only during, or straight after an event.
In Gemmell's case, his legs would feel as though they had done 40-50 hours training the week before a race when, in fact, he had been freshening up. "For some reason I was having that the day before races. I found it difficult to sleep and move around," he said. "I had a few issues I couldn't get around. Those around me couldn't work out what was going on. I don't like making excuses but something wasn't right.
"I've taken some antibiotics to try to clear it up. Hopefully, that's gone now because it's not something I want to have to deal with. You can't be one per cent off your game to compete with the best guys in the world."
New Zealand's Andrea Hewitt is the top-ranked athlete in the women's race and a grand chance of success on home soil. Only Kate McIlroy is missing from the New Zealand ranks that include Nicky Samuels, who won the Mooloolaba round of the World Cup, and outstanding junior Mikayla Neilsen.
- © Fairfax NZ News