Olympic Odyssey: Gemmell’s tricks
Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes eyes
Kris Gemmell has relied on bike breakaways to secure his three World Cup wins, but his new running strength means he is now a man of many Olympic options.
Kris Gemmell is the type of athlete spectators adore. An Evel Knievel type mentality means his race lives and dies on the back of brave tactical moves off the front of the pack. And just like a daredevil sometimes Gemmell lands the jump with stunning victories, sometimes he ends up broken, chased down in the run.
Gemmell, 30, may not have been in this place if it were not for the fact he missed the New Zealand Olympic Team in Athens 2004. This might seem strange, but as a reserve team member he was determined to only take good from the situation and build off it.
In Athens, his countrymen Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty took gold and silver, reflecting what Gemmell was up against trying to make the team in the first place. But the New Zealand one, two Olympic result was something that could be shared by the whole team, whether having raced or not.
This is because Gemmell gave up all other racing to spar with Carter and Docherty in the lead up to the Games. And it was this experience that fuelled the desire to fulfil his dream one Olympiad later.
I was thinking at the time, How did I make this mistake? Gemmell said of missing the 2004 Games team. So the next logical thing was how to turn it into a positive. So I decided to do the lead up to the Olympics with Bevan and then for the last month with both Hamish and Bevan.
And the experience was worthwhile. I tried to take in as much of that situation as I possibly could, he said. I could have gone to America and made money, but I always wanted to go to the Olympics. That is something I have wanted to do since I was a young kid.
I saw training with Bevan and Hamish as an opportunity to give me the experience for the next Olympics. And a big part of the Olympic process is actually getting onto the team. So turning that negative into a positive was the big thing I got out of 2004.
And he did. Having posted some lacklustre results that Olympic year, including 51st, 19th, 11th and a DNF in World Cup competition, after the Kiwi Olympic camp, Gemmell knocked out fourth on a flat track in Hamburg.
In Hamburg, I should have had second, Gemmell said of the race, but I was in complete euphoria about what had happened at the Olympics and had a dig for the win and blew up completely and ended up fourth.
Gemmell had never been so close to a win. This reality he took to the Gamagori ITU World Cup two weeks later. The Gamagori course had been changed from its usual technical but flat bike course and that year included an Athens-like hill on the bike.
This was ideal for Gemmell.
Heading to the race, he had a point to prove. It was an opportunity for me to show that I could have raced well in Athens for New Zealand, and I wanted to prove that by winning.
So, like Carter and Docherty in Athens, Gemmell attacked the Gamagori bike course. I thought, if anyone can come with me then they would, and not many people could.
Even with a healthy lead off the bike, the race still came down to a sprint. Former 1999 World Champion and brilliant runner Dmitriy Gaag chased him down but could not overcome the strong Gemmell sprint.
It was his first World Cup win and a major breakthrough.
Off the back of this 2004 end of season achievement, Gemmells strength and confidence improved in the next couple of years, winning two more World Cups and standing on lesser steps of the podium four times.
But his wins relied on bike breakaways which were becoming increasingly more difficult to pull off as Gemmell had become a marked man. This was not so bad because, as breakaway opportunities were diminishing, his run speed was accelerating.
Now Gemmell had finally found his run legs he was determined to test them in World Cup competition.
Hungary last year was a turning point for me because my plan was to run as fast as I could, even if it meant running by myself, Gemmell said. In the end, I ran ten meters behind Javier (Gomez, the 2007 World Cup series champion) the whole time. This race was a big thing for me. I didnt win it, but I ran by myself for the first time in front of the field.
Although he didnt taste victory, it was a major breakthrough and meant he was no longer a one-dimensional athlete. Whats more, this new element to his athletic armament had come at the perfect timethe year before an Olympic Games.
Thats definitely where I am getting my biggest gains over the last four years and certainly the last two years, he said of his run. Peter Pfitzinger, a running coach from Auckland, has come on board and we have changed a few things, trying to make my run past being strong, but into a weapon.
After his great run in Hungary, Gemmell pulled the same trick again in last years Beijing test event, placing fourth by running with the leaders and securing a spot in the 2008 New Zealand Olympic Team.
Despite this success, Gemmell still knows there is a long way to go to conquer the Olympics. There have been times when I have tried to win it on the run, he said. It is a thing that I have been fighting withthat I have not won a World Cup on the run yet. But it is something that I figure, if I do it one time, I just hope it is the right time.
And, of course for Gemmell, the right time has to be in August at Beijing.
Having affirmed his new running ability, he then quickly adds, Ive got a nose for a breakaway and if I smell somethings up I wont miss it either, you can be sure of that.
Kris Gemmells three World Cup wins proves he is a master tactician but with new found run strength, his Olympic options are now manifold as he heads into Beijing 2008.
Former World Number one Chris Hill brings his unique elite athlete perspective in weekly Olympic columns to ITUs website, triathlon.org. He competed on the ITU World Cup circuit, winning three titles and ten medals in total. He was crowned the overall World Cup series champion in 2001. That same year he was silver medalist at the ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Watch for Chris Hills column, Olympic Odyssey every week on triathlon.org.