26 Jul 2016

How Hamish Carter landed the big one

3:12 pm on 26 July 2016

Golden Moments - When triathlete Hamish Carter bombed in Sydney in 2000 all bets were that he had missed his shot at Olympic glory, but then came the ultimate story of triumph over disaster.

2004 Olympic triathlon champion Hamish Carter.

2004 Olympic triathlon champion Hamish Carter. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 2000 Olympics was the first time triathlon was included on that stage and Carter arrived in Sydney holding the world No 1 ranking.

But he had a shocker of a race - finishing 26th, more than two and a half minutes behind the winner, Canadian Simon Whitfield.

He realised he had made a hash of his Olympic campaign and vowed that, if given another opportunity, he would not make the same mistake again.

Two years later, at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, Carter competed impressively, finishing with a bronze medal. Still that flop at Sydney hurt.

He earned selection for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but by then he was no longer the New Zealand triathlon king. His friend Bevan Docherty had become the talk of the triathlon scene after winning the 2004 world title at Madeira. Carter was expected to compete well at Athens, but Docherty carried most New Zealand hopes.

The omens were not promising on the swim when Carter emerged from the water 33rd and Docherty 17th. The 40km bike leg was pivotal. Carter and Docherty got on to a leading bunch of six that put more than half a minute on the field. It was a gruelling, hilly course and severely tested the riders, but Carter seemed to do it comfortably.

Into the run and the front group of six soon became three, the New Zealanders and the Swiss, Sven Riederer. Carter and Docherty handled the heat well, surging and looking strong, while Riederer's head swayed from side to side.

Finally, with 1km remaining, the New Zealanders opened the throttle and the Swiss could not respond. Carter and Docherty had the gold and silver to themselves. Now it was just a matter of who would win. Most money would have been on Docherty. He was younger and his recent results were better. But Carter had other ideas and after a 12-year international career, had the race of his life.

He eked out a lead over his countryman and won in 1h 51min 07.73s. Docherty was 8s behind.

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Listen to commentary of Hamish Carter winning gold. Audio courtesy of Radio Sport. Graphic: 123rf

It was a rare sight: two New Zealanders on the dais at an Olympics. It had happened only twice previously, at Tokyo in 1964, when Peter Snell and John Davies were first and third in the 1500m, and at Atlanta in 1996, when Blyth Tait and Sally Clark were first and second in the three-day eventing.

Missing his family terribly, Carter had contemplated retirement over the previous year. At the post-race press conference in Athens, an emotional Carter realised the magnitude of what he'd achieved.

"I'm so glad I stayed on now. It makes it all worthwhile, the whole career. I remember when I was just five years old I watched John Walker, all in black, cross the line to win the gold medal at Montreal in 1976. It was so moving. I never thought I would get the opportunity to feel like that."

Gold Medalist Hamish Carter shows his delight at winning gold, Athens 2004.

Gold Medalist Hamish Carter shows his delight at winning gold, Athens 2004. Photo: Photosport

For a decade, until the arrival of Docherty, Carter ruled the New Zealand triathlon scene. He had some low moments, such as a nasty cycling accident in 1994 when he broke his collarbone. There were lots of highpoints, too. He won 22 professional triathlons and had 12 World Cup race victories. But for a long time it seemed he would never quite be able to land the big one.

All that changed in 2004. He won the Sportsman of the Year award that year and continued in the sport. He finished sixth at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and second at the 2006 world championships, behind Briton Tim Don, who was suspended soon after for missing three out-of-competition drugs tests.

In October 2006, Hamish Carter won the Xterra World Championship in Maui, Hawaii beating a field of more experienced off-road triathletes. With nothing left to prove he announced his retirement in 2007.

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