Triathlon: Star inspired by sport's first golden moment

By Peter Thornton

Andrea Hewitt. Photo / Greg Bowker
Andrea Hewitt. Photo / Greg Bowker

Andrea Hewitt remembers the famous Hamish Carter/Bevan Docherty 1-2 finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics like it was yesterday - it inspired her to begin her triathlon career.

Now eight years on from New Zealand's golden triathlon moment on the world stage, the determined 29-year-old is looking to back up her dream 2011 season at the London Olympics in July by emulating the feats of the men who inspired her.

"Athens in 2004 ... was a magic moment," said Hewitt, a former surf lifesaving rep. "It really put triathlon into the media in New Zealand."

It has proved to be an influential moment for the short and powerful Cantabrian, who has already forged an impressive career of her own. In 2011, she climbed to number one in the official world rankings. She's now preparing over the summer as one of the favourites to take out the gold medal in London. That comes with its own stresses.

"There is extra pressure because of my results from 2011 and since I'm the only New Zealand athlete to have qualified for the Olympic triathlon so far," Hewitt said. "My motto is to do the best that I can and that is what I will continue to do."

Sky Sports commentator Mark Watson, who will call the Olympic triathlon final, believes Hewitt is capable of dealing with the expectation.

"You have to experience an Olympics to understand the enormity of it and the fact it is so much greater than the sum of its parts," he said.

"Andrea is very laid-back away from training and is not a complicated athlete. She has Beijing [where she finished 8th] behind her and off the back of this year's results she will have self-belief.

"Public pressure and expectation is always there and it is a reality of being a professional athlete. She would not have achieved what she has if she couldn't handle it by now."

Watson said the biggest reason for Hewitt's improvement has been addressing the strength component in her running.

"The wheels often fell off at the 8km mark when she was in with a chance of a win. She was without doubt the best female triathlete in the world in late August and September when it counted most."

Hewitt won the 2011 Beijing world champs final, the Yokohama World Series final, plus a second and two thirds at the other world championship events in 2011. Her highlight of the year was Beijing. "I was ranked 4th for the final race from a consistent string of results, having made it on to the podium twice, but a bronze is nothing like winning. It was an amazing feeling to win."

Hewitt is nominated alongside Valerie Adams (shot-put) and Lisa Carrington (canoeing) for the Sportswoman of the Year at the Halberg Awards.

"It is an honour to be nominated as one of New Zealand's top sportswomen," she said. "I am out of New Zealand half the year racing in competitions all over the world, so it's nice to return home and be recognised."

The born and raised Canterbury woman found 2011 difficult, as she watched from afar the devastation wreaked by the February earthquake on her beloved hometown. Her parents' house is in the red zone and they relocated to her older sister's home after the quake. They have since moved in with Hewitt and her partner, Laurent Vidal, a French triathlete who is also her coach.

"We are only here for limited periods throughout the year, so they have made our home theirs for now. It's been a hard year. Christchurch is always in my thoughts ... It's nice to be back home now though and to be in the normal life of Christchurch as it is now. I am thankful that all of my family is safe."

Getting back to feeling normal in her training is all-important for Hewitt, as she needs to peak in July. She has raced in London three times and once on the Olympic course.

"I like the set-up in Hyde Park and the circuit around the Serpentine and out of the Park to Buckingham Palace," she said. "It's a flat bike course with a technical run with lots of turns. I have adjusted my training to improve my running over the past two years, so I am adapting to suit the course."

Watson believed that in 2011 Hewitt demonstrated she is on track for London.

"By winning Beijing [the biggest race on the circuit in 2011] and Yokohama in September when it counted most, she showed she has her periodisation and peaking for the right time of the year well and truly sorted. Andrea can definitely win a medal in 2012 if she replicates her 2011 season and just looks to peak a month earlier.

"The biggest mistake athletes make in Olympic year is over-thinking it and moving away from the formula that has been so successful for them in the years leading up. The timing of the Olympic Games in London is perfect with regard to her years in the sport and her age. For all her success up to this point in the sport, she is only really now just coming into her own."

After a year where her hometown was destroyed and she became the number one women's triathlete in the world, Hewitt was mentally and physically drained. She needed a break.

Now back from that break and feeling refreshed, Hewitt has begun her training with a four-week camp in Wanaka with one goal in mind: emulating the feats of the men who gave New Zealand triathletes their finest moment in the sport back in 2004.

What advice do you offer to young athletes who are interested in getting into triathlon?

Enjoy training, eat healthy and grow a support group around you. Training will sometimes be challenging, but if you train well, you will see improvements.

- NZ Herald

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