In 2004, Austria’s Kate Allen upset the odds to take Olympic
gold with a memorable run. Here’s her post-race reaction and advice for athletes…
I just kept asking myself the whole run if I was pushing as hard as I could, as it was always my philosophy that my race was never over until I crossed the line
Athens 2003, and Austria’s Kate Allen trails behind World Cup winner Michellie Jones by 2:39mins. Her 13th place is no disgrace but, being the Olympic test event, the chances of medalling at the following year’s second Olympic triathlon looks ambitious. Ten months later, Allen’s striding to gold after running 34:13mins – over 2mins quicker than in 2003 and nearly 3mins faster than silver medallist Loretta Harrop. She’d worked her way up from 44th after the swim and 28th on the bike to claim an unlikely victory. We tracked 42-year-old Allen down to Innsbruck to reflect on that golden day and see what advice she can offer to this year’s 110 Olympians…
Kate, firstly, what are you up to now?
I retired from the sport completely in September 2009 after racing for 12 years, and became a mother to Finley last year. That is my life now, which I love. I live in Austria with my husband of 13 years.
Back to Athens 2004, did you prepare any differently for this huge one-off event than when racing on the circuit?
Yes. I raced the Olympic trial race one year before the Games, where I had a shocking run [36:35mins]. We took the data home from the race and analysed it to find out why this had happened.
We compared the average wattage as I pushed up the Athens hill in order to stay in the group, to the wattage I could push at a stable metabolism in a test prior to the race. We noticed that, to stay in the group up that hill, I had to push 20 watts over what my body would allow to still have a competitive run. So when it came to the run leg, I was finished. The bike was so much more demanding than any other on the World Cup circuit.
So we prepared specifically for the Olympics for 10 months and changed our whole performance strategy. Instead of only doing two tests a year, we undertook tests every six weeks until the Olympic race. And I didn’t ride outside; I just completed specific ergo sessions and treadmill sessions for the run. The training was so specific every day that I got the optimum out of every session, and over 10 months that gave me such an incredible stability. In 2004 I only raced once before the Olympics. That was the European Champs where I came second.
How does the Olympic pressure compare with other events?
It’s not comparable and only athletes can understand this. You’re given this chance once every four years and, for many, only once in your lifetime. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get the training as close to perfect as possible, because I knew that there were other athletes out there doing exactly the same.
Achieving the national qualification criteria to be nominated by your country; showing that you can peak on a certain day; not getting sick or injured… There are many pressures. But not being a favourite benefited me, so I could prepare over the 10 months prior in relative peace.
In the final month, what did your Athens build-up comprise of?
I started tapering three weeks out. Intensity and volume on the bike and run dropped but remained normal in the water because I’m such a weak swimmer. That said, we completed key sets on the bike and run with increased intensity, but the intervals were very short and not many – just to remind the body of what it needed to do.
I attended the opening ceremony and then flew to Crete to acclimatise to the dry, hot heat. Training comprised mainly endurance, letting the body fully recover from the hard back-to-back months of training. I slept and slept, and it was the nicest part of the Olympic journey as the work was over – except for the race, of course.
Your powerful run will go down in folklore. Can you explain how close to the physical and mental edge you were on that hot Athenian day?
There was nothing more to give. I just kept asking myself the whole run if I was pushing as hard as I could, as it was always my philosophy that my race was never over until I crossed the line. It was my worst fear to finish a race and think, well, I could have gone harder. It wasn’t the run that won me the race, though – it was the stability that I had on the bike for this course that allowed me to run as I did.
How did your life change after winning gold?
I never thought beyond the Olympics and what could happen if I won; I just trained to win a medal and that was it. When I won, there was incredible interest in Austria because it was the first gold medal in a summer sport for a long time. And the way that the race ended up – from me being so far behind – created so much emotion among the people. It brought a nation together; that was an incredible feeling to come home to. But becoming a person of public interest took a long time to get used to because I was always a very private person. Having every move that you make watched was quite unnerving. For marketing purposes, being told that I had to have an image and know who Kate Allen was as a person… such things I’d never even thought about; I just wanted to do the sport. The sport from then on became more of a job than enjoyment.
Finally, your thoughts on ITU racing today?
It’s incredible. You have to be such a complete athlete in all three disciplines. I find the men to be a little higher than the women, mainly because of their extraordinary running. The women haven’t developed like the men in that respect. Emma Snowsill used to be outstanding with her 33min 10km, though she doesn’t race to the same standard as [when she won in] Beijing. The Brownlees are setting such a high level for the boys in all three disciplines – they’re taking the sport to another level.
Kate Allen grew up on a 2,000-acre sheep-farming property with her three brothers at Teesdale in Victoria, Australia. She proved to be a talented 1,500m runner, winning many junior titles. On graduating as a nurse at the age of 20, she travelled overseas. “During one of these trips I met my now husband, Marcel Diechtler, when working in a bar in Kitzbühel,” says Allen. Diechtler was a triathlete, and encouraged Kate to take it up in 1996 at the age of 26. They married in 1999 and she received Austrian citizenship in 2002. As well as winning the Olympics, Allen won Ironman Austria in 2003 and 2005. She also came fifth at Hawaii in 2005 and 2006, took silver at the 2007 European Triathlon Champs (pictured) and came 14th at the Beijing Olympics.