With Olympic silver and bronze medals plus a world title, Bevan Docherty has had a career any New Zealand athlete would be proud of. Yet the New Zealander, the country’s top triathlete for several years and one of the most respected competitors in the world, has strangely struggled for the recognition at home that his feats have warranted.
They say that in top sport timing is everything. Docherty was a trifle unlucky with his timing in 2004. The New Zealand triathlete had a year anyone would dream of - he won a big World Cup race at Ishigaki, Japan, cleaned up London international triathlon, and then won the world title in Madeira, Portugal.
Naturally he went to the Athens Olympics as one of the favourites and competed right up to his best, taking the silver medal. Anyone achieving all that in one year would normally be ripe for Halberg Awards and other honours. But Docherty was overshadowed, even in his great year, by fellow New Zealander Hamish Carter, who pipped him for the gold at Athens.
The two New Zealanders gave their countrymen something to shout about at Athens. After all, it was only the third time in Olympic history – following the gold-bronze effort in 1964 of 1500m runners Peter Snell and John Davies, and the gold-silver effort in 1996 of individual three-day event riders Blyth Tait and Sally Clark – that two New Zealanders had won medals in the same event.
While New Zealanders were quick to acknowledge Docherty’s consistency and class, the special story of the Athens Olympic triathlon was Carter, who had waited so long to enjoy that one golden day.
However, Docherty, too, had earned himself a place among New Zealand’s sporting elite.
The 40km bike ride at Athens was pivotal. Docherty is noted on the triathlon circuit for the potency of his riding and he figured strongly when a group of six broke clear. Besides Docherty and Carter, they included Frenchman Frederic Belaubre, the Swiss pair of Olivier Marceau and Sven Riederer, and Britain's Andrew Johns.
Into the run, the six soon became three. Only Riederer could stay with the New Zealanders. Then even the gritty Swiss was burned off in the energy-sapping heat.
So it was a case of New Zealand 1-2, but which order? Both looked strong, but Carter made the telling move in the last 400m, and Docherty could not respond.
Carter won in 1h 51m 7.73s. Docherty was just eight seconds back, and Riederer finished 25 seconds later.
Known as “the quiet Kiwi”, Docherty was 27 at Athens. He had been competing on the international circuit for five years and in that time had compiled a formidable record.
In 2000, when he was just a novice, he was crowned European Triathlon Cup champion, and the following year he finished seventh in the world championship, in Edmonton, Canada. In 2003 he improved to fourth when the championship was held in Queenstown. He was outstanding throughout 2003, other notable results including victories in the St Kitts and Clermont triathlons and a fifth placing in the World Cup race in Edmonton.
After the Athens Olympics, Docherty continued to rank among the world’s best triathletes and put in a courageous showing to take the silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Docherty couldn’t keep up with Australian Bradley Kahlefeldt, the world No 1, on the run in Melbourne. However, he eventually won an engrossing duel with world No 1 Peter Robertson, another Australian, to claim silver. Robertson continually surged in an effort to break Docherty’s spirit and willpower, but the New Zealander absorbed everything Robertson could throw at him and then, with the finish line in sight, willed himself into a decisive lead.
“Sure it hurt,” he said, “but it’s the Commonwealth Games. You don’t mind a bit of pain. Now I’ve got another medal for the trophy cabinet.”
Docherty, trained through most of his career by Mark Elliott, hails from Taupo, where he is genuinely a hero – there was even a Docherty Drive named after him following his 2004 heroics.
As he had in 2004, Docherty set himself for the 2008 Olympics with a brilliant performance in the world championship months before. At the 2008 world champs in Vancouver he finished second, to again mark himself as one of the Olympic favourites.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Docherty finished third in the triathlon in a time of 1h 49min 05.59s. The race was won by German Jan Frodeno from Canadian Simon Whitfield.
Frodeno sprinted to break away from a group of heavy favorites in the last 50 metres to win the gold, 12 seconds ahead of Docherty. The New Zealander picked up his second Olympic medal by passing pre-race favorite Javier Gomez of Spain in the run to the line. The New Zealander ended 2008 ranked No 2 in the world.
After the Olympics, Docherty started a new initiative, called “The Docherty Dares programme”, aimed at supporting New Zealanders to achieve goals they previously never thought possible.
Docherty, basing himself in California, continued to race at the top level. He won an ITU world champ series in Tongyeong in 2009, and other ITU world champ series in Sydney, in 2010, and Edmonton, Canada, in 2011.
Aged 35, Docherty was the veteran of the field in the 2012 London marathon. This time he did not come away with a medal, but he again turned in a distinguished performance, finishing 12th in a field of 55. His time of 1h 48min 35s was two minutes behind the winner, Briton Alistair Brownlee, and meant Docherty was the first New Zealander home. After a strong swim and a 58min 51s cycle ride – one of the fastest in the field – Docherty faded slightly in the run.
The month after the Olympic triathlon Docherty emphasised his class and durability by taking the bronze medal in the world 70.3 ironman championship in Las Vegas.
He maintained his form well enough to win the 2013 New Zealand ironman title, beating Spaniard Marko Albert and fellow New Zealander Cameron Brown with a sizzling run.