Triathlon: Under-the-radar Vicky Holland plots golden glory in Rio

Vicky Holland competes in the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Leeds.  (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Vicky Holland competes in the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Leeds. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
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Expectation on GB’s triathletes is such that it is not a question of if they will medal in Rio but how many will they claim. Lee Sobot reports.

Vicky Holland knows there are more obvious contenders than herself to take an Olympic triathlon gold. Indeed, one of them lives within the same four walls.

Holland’s house-mate and 2009 World champion Non Stanford leads the Team GB charge against the USA’s world No 1 Gwen Jorgensen – with 2008 and 2011 world champion Helen Jenkins completing the female British trio.

On paper, Holland can see that both have stronger credentials.

But that’s all right with an athlete “privileged” to be regarded as underdog and quietly confident of being the talk of the town just when it matters most.

Holland, 30, was 26th on her Olympic debut at London 2012 and now one of six triathletes set to represent Team GB in South America. Incredibly, five of the six are based in Leeds.

Brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee plus Gordon Benson are all based in the city with Holland and Stanford sharing not just the same current home town but the same house. Jenkins, based in Wales, is the odd one out location-wise yet Holland is the only female GB athlete without a victory in this year’s ITU World Triathlon Series, despite finishing best of the Brits when third in the recent Leeds leg in which Stanford was ninth.

Jenkins – fifth at London 2012 – took gold to seal her Olympics spot in the Gold Coast leg while Stanford was victorious in Cape Town where Holland had to settle for sixth.

Jorgensen has won both races since and would be the undeniable strong favourite to take gold in Rio.

But Holland feels any of the GB trio are capable of beating the American and, while less obvious to the eye, that very much includes herself.

Holland reasoned: “Maybe given that I didn’t race particularly well in Cape Town this year and I was a bit disappointed with that, you would probably say that I am the underdog of the team currently with the other two having won races this year. But actually that’s a real nice place to be. It’s a luxury.

“If people are chatting about the others and leaving me out, well I’ll just go about doing my own thing and we’ll see on August 20 won’t we!

“I think there’s a huge chance for medals for us, I really do.

“Without ever wishing to jinx yourself and you can never ever say you are going to an event to expect medals, but we expect it of ourselves.

“We expect good results of ourselves and I think if we go there and all three of us perform how we can perform and how we have shown we can perform within the last year, I fully believe that there will be medals coming out of Rio. How many is probably the question but that’s an amazing position to be in.

“You can see Gwen has got a really good tactic – it’s to run really fast and there’s not much you can really do about that is there.

“She is obviously a factor in our thinking going to Rio – we’d be stupid not to consider that she’s the favourite.

“Everybody knows that she’s the favourite but at the same time that’s not always a blessing, to be labelled as the favourite and to be labelled as the favourite from such a long time out. We have our own thoughts about potential ways to beat her and we know that it’s possible – Helen showed that earlier this year.

“That said, it would take a phenomenal performance from any of us, from anybody at all to do it on the day but that’s what we aspire to.”

Holland’s ambition was certainly made loud and clear after the recent Leeds leg of the ITU Series in which she finished a fine third behind Jorgensen and runner-up Flora Duffy.

“It’s the best in the world I want to be,” said the 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, who refuses to settle for being third best.

And it is the absolute best off the course that has further enhanced the progress of an athlete who is relishing life in Leeds having moved to the city in 2014.

“I think, for me, it’s been the biggest thing in my success really,” said Holland.

“Firstly moving here and being able to learn from Non and Jon and Al; that’s been huge.

“But I’ve also had probably the most balanced lifestyle here that I’ve ever had.

“In previous years and previous training set ups and coaching groups, it’s always been a battle between your training every day, your work life and then your personal and social. How do you fit things around it? How do you have that balance to keep your mental frame of mind where it needs to be to get the best out of yourselves in races, and in training.

“But here in Leeds it’s probably been the first time I’ve really struck that balance perfectly and I’m very happy with where my training is at day-in, day-out, where I am at when I am at home with having my boyfriend around, all those sorts of things really just gel here. I’m just in a happy frame of mind and I’m relaxed and that translates into results for me. Rio is a bit of a Leeds takeover this one isn’t it?

“But it’s just a testament really to the centre that we have here now and the fact that – it’s a bit of a cliché and used so many times – but success breeds success and that has just been shown time and time again.”

Assessing which of GB’s three female athletes has the best chance of glory, Holland pondered: “That’s too tough to call and it’s too early to call as well.

“Two months is still quite a long time to get things right or alternatively to get things really, really wrong.

“And we’ve also had very different preparations.

“Helen had to be in absolute peak form in March to qualify herself because of the way she hadn’t qualified last year, and the way our selection policy is written she had to be at her best earlier this year.

“At that point, I had barely started doing any run sessions so we are in very different phases of our training and where we will be. We all know where we are going to be on August 20 and we will all be at our best for that race then but at the moment I think it’s too tough to call it.”