We met with Courtney Atkinson after his return from London. Meet the first Australian over the line at the 2012 Olympics, talking racing and beyond…
We all want medals but you can only do the best you can do. I had no reason to be upset. I had to overcome a lot of adversity to get back from where I was at after Beijing
Can you talk us through your race in London?
I had the perfect race, really. The swim divided the race and it was over before it began really. I was in a good spot after the swim, I rode smart and covered the little breaks. In Transition, I positioned myself relatively well. The run is what it is for me at the moment. It was only 12 month ago sitting in the gutter at World Champs in Beijing, thinking of giving up the sport. Looking at this short timeline, from my failure in Beijing to being the best Australian at the Olympics 2012, I walked away from London, over the moon with myself.
Did you meet your own expectations?
We all want medals but you can only do the best you can do. I had no reason to be upset. I had to overcome a lot of adversity to get back from where I was at after Beijing. I went into the Olympics analyzing realistically what I can do. A lot of disappointment in the Olympics comes from unrealistic expectations. Miracles won’t happen, usually. We have raced all our competitors every other weekend over the last 4 years, so nothing should really be a too bigger surprise at the Olympics. The Olympics are magical but the race is really no different to what we do in other races.
What is the one thing that you will remember from London?
The crowd! The best way I can put it: I watched Kate & Will getting married and that same crowd watched us race the tri in the same location! It was a spectacle that was finally watched by the world and other athletes from other sports started noticing us. The analogy of the royal wedding and our race will stick in my head (…and yes, I watched the royal wedding).
Looking at your team and supporters around you, who challenges you?
I am very individual in my approach. When I was having difficulties last year and decided to give it one more crack, I needed to be alone to give myself every opportunity. For me, that meant to live on the Gold Coast, train by myself, skip ITU Sydney and go over to the US on my own initiative. TA always backed me but I made my own choices. The result wasn’t a medal but I achieved what I wanted.
The original drive to succeed, the challenge, I believe needs to come out of yourself.
How did you experience the selection process?
To be honest, I struggled. I ended up putting it aside and go on with my business. Until you are giving the yes or no, there is always doubt. The longer that doubt lingers, the worse it gets. It takes away a lot of energy from the preparation process. The earlier the team is being announced, the better it is for everyone. We knew the selection process and criteria for a long time. I am not having any problems with the policy, but waiting forever is a bad thing. Weather you choose the right or wrong athlete doesn’t matter in the end, as the performance of the individual changes every day. There is no perfect team but there can be great preparation.
What other events did you watch during the games?
I only spent about four days in the village as we were based an hour’s flight away in France. Being an athletics fan, I watched that almost every night and I did see a hockey game too. A lot to fit in – together with all the partying.
What should I do next time I head to London?
I suggest you don’t take the bike and enjoy the city instead! London has enough parks to go for a couple of runs and get done what you need to get done. But instead, go check out the bars, cultural stuff – what normal people do!
What bike did you race and how does it differ from what the usual age grouper rides?
I had a special Olympics frame made by my sponsor Orbea. It’s an existing model, but colored in a unique way. In an ITU race, we use road bikes and the technical components all have to meet UCI standards. It’s like in the Tour de France. Personally, I don’t find it a huge difference racing in a time trial position versus on a road bike.
Talk us through your thoughts on the ITU vs. non-drafting race difference.
The one negative about ITU racing is that age groupers can’t experience it for themselves. We don’t have what Ironman has. You don’t turn up on the same day, compare times with the pros and you can’t race the same course as the pros. It’s what we are missing a little in ITU. It’s harder to get across what we do. It’s still the same sport anyway and you see lots of pros move from ITU to non-drafting and back – successfully. The change isn’t astronomical and hopefully, the Olympics brought the sport closer together.
Do you think that Ironman World Champs are seen as the real heroes of the sport?
I think everyone’s view is scued by what they are closer to. The majority of serious triathletes want to do an Ironman. The novices that enter the sport via beginner events, they wouldn’t know the difference between the two parts of triathlon. The public might know more about the Olympic side of triathlon, if at all. Or they are still mixing us up with surf life saving. So in summary, it depends who you are but within the industry, definitely.
What have you been up to since London? Any cross-training?
I surfed a fair bit during training in the US actually! I took some time off after the Olympics after coming home on the charter, cutting off training completely with no race plans. But after a couple of weeks of catching up, I dived straight back into training. I love it – that’s what I do! At this stage, I want to go back to Noosa and see if I can win that 4th title! After that, I’ll be doing the Mark Webber challenge and I look forward to that new challenge more than to anything else.
Many love the idea of being a full-time pro. Can you bust some myth?
I have been very fortunate in my time. I raced when in school, earning pocket money on the weekend. Triathlon was on TV back in those days. The second part of my career, the travelling part, came a lot later. My livelihood was here in Australia. It was only after 2004 when I started racing in other countries.
That’s were I saw the sacrifices a lot of pros have to make and that includes time, money and family. I haven’t met a lot of pros though who are complaining, but it’s hard for some. It’s getting harder for young pros, especially in the Olympic side of it. ITU is pulling in a lot of new countries, which makes it a lot more competitive.
Would you be interested in competing at the Rio Paraolympics as a guide for a vision impaired triathlete like myself?
I never say never to anything- talk to me closer to the date! At this stage in my career I don’t even know what I am going to do beyond next year. At this point, I am committed to racing and I am going to try some new things. I want to give back to development within ITU, as I think we are struggling.
Are you considering racing Ironman?
I will step up in distance and will consider 70.3 as there is not such a big difference in training. A full Ironman, I don’t understand. What I enjoy, is to go as quick as I can for as long as I can. To me Ironman is quite the opposite, it’s about conserving energy. Let’s see where racing will take me.