Cornering Kris Gemmell

Kris Gemmell just recorded a nice win at the steamy Aviva 70.3 Singapore, but his focus is clearly on the ITU Dextro Energy WCS events and qualifying for the Olympics. We had a few words with the man.

Slowtwitch: Kris, thank you so much for your time.

Kris: Cheers mate.

ST: You had a nice win in Singapore, but did it all go as planned?

Kris: Well, yes and no. I mean the result was great and a representation of how my training has gone this summer. I was hoping to push a bit harder on the run. But due to losing a bottle which was full of gels. I had to adjust my effort as I raced off just one and half gels. This was not my ideal plan and caused me to take a more cautious approach to the run.

ST: It was quite hot day - would you say that generally suits you?

Kris: I really love the heat and humidity. I have raced many times in Asia and coming from New Zealand it is always an easy flight. The conditions are always tough up there, and I think that just makes it more of a challenge for everyone.

ST: James Cunnama seemed to have been breathing down your neck. At what point did you think the race was yours?

Kris: Firstly James is going to have a big year on the Ironman circuit. He is in some great form and with Ironman SA just around the corner I wish the others good luck in keeping with him! I have to say when we get off the bike I was fairly confident that I would have more leg speed than the other boys, but with the nutrition debacle and my inexperience in the distance you just never know. James never gave up, and made for a great race.

ST: Some folks thought you did pretty well for your "first" longer race, but was Singapore 70.3 really your first distance along those lines?

Kris: It was my first Half Ironman/70.3 event. I think the training we do as Olympic distance athletes is no less than that of a 70.3 athlete. The intensity is probably the only difference. We are just training at a higher intensity when completing specific sessions.

ST: You also had a chance to watch Challenge Wanaka unfold. What did you think about the race and the conditions?

Kris: Wow, I mean I've been to Kona and Frankfurt with Andreas and even Taupo to watch, but mate, that race with the wind the way it was - was just brutal for those athletes out there. They have all my respect to not only do battle with the distance, but to do battle with Mother Nature also.

ST: Were you just there to support and cheer, or were you there to scout?

Kris: I do a lot of training down in Wanaka and so was just there watching/supporting. We had a small fun race the night before and so it was just timing more than anything.

ST: Word has it that had a chance to try out clay shooting after Wanaka. Shall we expect a career change soon?

Kris: Let us say shotguns and athlete's shoulders with body fat less than 5% are not a good combo! Not to mention I can't shoot either. I enjoyed it though and the helicopter ride afterwards was even better. Amazing part of the world, and a place where the more toys you have, the more fun there will be.

ST: Mooloolaba is coming up this weekend and rumor had it you might race there, but you are not on the start list.

Kris: Mooloolaba is one of the truest tests we have in Olympic distance triathlon currently. The conditions and the course will chew you up and spit you out if you are under prepared. It is always a usual start to my season and a lovely place to kick off the year. But with the Oceania championships 9 days ago in Wellington and defending that title and then backing up with my debut in Singapore throwing in Mooloolaba was just going to be too much. Now I'll have just under three weeks to get the body right and find some leg speed before the fireworks go off down in Sydney at the start of the World Championship series.

ST: What will be next?

Kris: Right now mate it is a massage! But after I drop this jet lag it will be back into some strength endurance type work ahead of the opening round of the WCS in Sydney.

ST: How tough do you think the Dextro Energy series will be this year with all eyes on London2012?

Kris: It will be interesting how it pans out. The year before the Olympics is always so different for every athlete. Some athletes have already nearly booked there ticket to London and can afford to carry on as per normal because they are the only athlete from that country or are pre-selected by a federation because the are stand out world class. Whilst others are in a situation where they must qualify themselves in a race chosen by there national federations due to the number of athletes from that federation. For example the German and British men, who have 6 athletes each ranked in the top 50 in the world but only 3 spots each for the Olympics in 2012.

I think the overall series will still be tough though, it is just so deep there is always some athlete filling the hole, if others are missing. There will be athletes peaking at slightly different times throughout the year. But come July and August, I think most will be at there best. The European championships and London WCS test event will most likely be used by most of countries in determining which athletes can qualify for London 2012 a year out.

ST: Earlier this year in Takapuna you had another tight battle with Bevan Docherty. What was going through your head as you ran towards the finish side-by-side?

Kris: Yes, well, we have all seen the YouTube video of us sprinting in the World Cup in New Plymouth! And that is what was going through my head.... wait for him, wait for him! We know each other so well and at this early stage in the season to race like at that speed you are basically tapped out from the word go. We pretty much raced each other into the ground, so when it came down to a sprint again there were arms and legs going everywhere. I don't think Usain Bolt could have even watched with out laughing. A sprint in triathlon in a race like that is nothing but pure strength over speed. There are sometimes when speed will serve you well at the end, but when you are already full gas for many, many, minutes before that point, speed goes out the window.

ST: How long do you think that clip from that New Plymouth sprint will actually follow you around?

Kris: For however long it takes someone to upload the one from Takapuna I guess. I think there are not many athletes that can push their body past the point that it actually can physically go. We saw it last year in London with Al Brownlee and also in Kitzbuhel with Laurent Vidal. It is not to say it is right or its wrong to push that hard. It is just that some athletes can push past the barrier of the body saying, please no more! In New Plymouth that year I can't remember the last 80 or so meters. I thought I'd won the race still, even minutes later in the medical tent. So the clip is a good reminder to me of actually what happened, and how tough Bev is!

ST: You have been racing at the highest level now for over 10 years. How much has the sport changed?

Kris: There is no doubt that the evolution of triathlon is something that I think has fascinated more than just the athletes involved in it. I regard myself as a bit of a purist of the sport. And so like to keep myself updated with everything going on in and around triathlon. I feel it helps me understand everything that is happening, and the changes in training and lifestyle that are needed to keep up with the game. I think there is a lot of misinformation out there about what actually Olympic distance racing (ITU) is all about. The triathletes that compete today are the most gifted all round athletes in the world. I believe we are seeing the first of the new generation of triathletes that simply only know one thing and that is ITU drafting triathlon. The general public forgets that the likes of the Brownlee boys and so on have probably never done a non-drafting triathlon in their life! It is not because they don't want to, but for them its not triathlon. They have been brought up with training techniques specific to the environment they compete in currently. Of course there are other guys and ladies out there still competitive enough to compete with those types of younger athletes. But they have evolved into what we know and see from something they were not a few years ago. In years to come we will see more and more younger athletes competing and dominating at the top of the sport from an earlier age.

ST: Where do you think the perception that ITU racing isn't hard comes from?

Kris: As I mentioned earlier, I don't think it's just the case that the triathlon fraternity doesn't think ITU is hard. It just maybe that they are not as educated about what its all about. The general rule of thumb is we draft, so we can't ride, and that is why we run fast. Ask any other pro athlete after they have competed in their first World Championship series race if we can't ride, and I can guarantee what the answer will be. It does sometimes look like we aren't riding hard, but the power output is still high with surges and the design of courses. There are tactics been played out with every meter that goes by and you can't afford to miss a beat. It is very much like a flat stage in any big Cycle tour, the peloton rolls along until a break goes away. Then sometimes they will sit up, or it stays together until the end for the sprinters to shine. Which is not much different to the nerves you need over the last few k heading into T2 these days.

The pace that everyone is running today, off what in most cases is a solid bike, is just so impressive. The % difference between what we run off a swim and bike, compared to the pace that the best marathon runners in the world run from 1.30 to 2hrs is very similar. People often talk about what the 10k guys and girls run on the track, and how its much faster compared to us. But we are already 1.15-1.20 into the race, and a certain amount of energy has already been well and truly expended. I think this is more of a sign of what kind of athletes are racing on the WCS circuit.

Whilst I love the idea that courses could be harder in design. And I love to ride in a time trial situation. This is ITU, everyone has the knowledge of knowing this ahead of time. You have to train specially for it so you can compete at the highest level, the Olympic games. And if it does come down to the run, you better be ready to run very fast!

ST: You were running fast at Hy-Vee but in the end you were a few seconds away from $200,000. How bummed were you?

Kris: Which year? Yeah two years in a row it has been very close but not good enough. In 2009 I made a mistake and just waited to long when I should have gone much earlier and just ended up falling over Simon, Brad and Jan. Last year I raced as well as I could but was beaten on the day by a fantastic performance by Tim. Even with hindsight I don't think I could have done anything more to beat Tim on that day. So 2011... well the format has changed, but it only makes it even more of a challenge I feel. The hardest thing maybe trying to qualify with the timing of races and juggling Olympic selection but I'll be banking to be on the start line in Des Moines once again, and go one better in 2011

ST: After Hy-Vee in 2010 it was a bit quiet around you. What was going on?

Kris: I was just focusing solely on this race and the World Championship grand final in Budapest in 2010. I got Hy-Vee nearly spot on and so went with the same build up heading into Budapest as a trail experiment for Olympic qualification. I have no problems speaking about my form prior to that race, and I was in the best shape of my life other than in Beijing in 2008 (before I cut my foot). I was excited and ready to go but due to weather and road conditions I crashed on the bike at the start of the second lap. It was a real disaster for myself, as I so badly wanted to run that day! However I know the process I went through worked. So the end result may have not been what I had hoped for but the build up was floorless.

ST: Talk about your sponsors.

Kris: I've had some very supportive sponsors over the years and most have seen the start of great friendships that will last a lifetime. They enable me to focus 100% on my goals. They also understand that its not $$ that drives me, but those special moments in time, that when given the opportunity to perform you can make them your own. Powerade, DHL, Suzuki, Zerod, Blue, Shimano, Oakley and Currency Online are some of the products you will see me rolling in or with! But there is some more exciting news in the pipelines.

ST: Anything else we should know?

Kris: Love this sport to death Herbert! Oh you already knew that... so, mmmmm coffee anyone?

The website of Kris Gemmell is

All images are courtesy and © Mike Heydon