Triathlete – Emma Davis
When Emma Davis steps onto the Olympic pontoon, becoming the first Irish triathlete to compete in the sport at the Games, she’ll fulfil a dream she has had since she was seven years old. The 22 year old from Bangor will also carry with her a philosophy that will hopefully see her through the rigors of a 1500m swim, a 40km cycle and a 10km run. “It’s tough; if it’s not then you’re just not trying hard enough.”
It’s difficult to understand how and why Davis adores the sport of triathlon.
“I thought at first I’d like to be an athlete when I was younger, maybe a 1500m runner but I love the diversity of triathlon and the way it doesn’t fit just one body shape. You don’t have to have long legs or big hands or feet, none of which I have so I could never have been a swimmer or a runner but you can shape yourself to the sport,” she explains.
Davis’s rise up the world rankings and meeting the qualifying standings for the Olympics this year has been a hugely impressive feat in only her second year as a fulltime athlete.
At the end of 2007, she was ranked 137th in the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Olympic rankings. This year she has criss-crossed the world, travelling to eight different countries from South Africa to Korea, racing and collecting all-important qualifying points. She posted top-15 results in five world cups and the world championships in Vancouver and jumped to number 51 in the Olympic standings by the time the qualification period ended. It was a remarkable feat.
“It was only about a year ago I thought it could work out and with the way the selection was I knew it was going to be tough and I’d have to be lucky with the way the races worked out and I’d also have to avoid injury. Back in January, Richard, my coach, said to me while we were training that the intensity of it was going to lead to a top ten in a world cup but that I’d only need to average top twenty so don’t worry if I needed to miss an odd session. I didn’t believe him, I thought he was just trying to give me some confidence but he was right. Luckily I didn’t get injured, I got a few top ten finishes and everything worked out and I was very excited to actually qualify.”
Davis is originally from Bangor, Co.Down which is where her late grandparents and father are from but due to his work commitments she has spent most of her life growing up in Surrey. She went to Bath University where she qualified with a first class honours degree in mathematics last May.
“I come from a swimming and running background. I won the British Schools Biathlete Championships in 2001 and was asked to attend a triathlon trials day to get onto the British Triathlon development program. I was successful and completed my first triathlon later that year, the Dover quick change triathlon, where I came 2nd. However in 2006 I decided to race for Ireland. I went to the 2006 Irish National Triathlon Championships in Lough Neagh. I had a great time, obviously I didn't know anyone but the spectators and organisers went out of their way to make me feel welcome. This really sealed the deal for me and I applied to swap nationalities”.
Conditions in China are expected to be hot and humid but luckily that appears not to bother Davis.
“We’ve done quite a lot of racing in the heat and as long as I have a week or two weeks to adjust because I’m so small my body copes better than in the cold were I really suffer especially in the swim. I’m pleased that it’s in a hot country and it should suit me and we’ll have three weeks in Japan to prepare so with regards to the heat I’m not really concerned.”
Of course behind every great sportswoman there is a back-up support team in place offering support. For Davis that means her coach and boyfriend Richard Stannard, himself a four-time world champion for Great Britain.
She admits, “I really owe 99% of my improvement to him this year. I didn't realise how much training you have to do to be an elite athlete and didn't believe in myself enough to commit to serious program. Rich had belief in me and showed me the best way to achieve results and how to construct a great program, it's very hard but it works! Without him I wouldn't be where I am, and I'm very grateful to be able to benefit from his ten years experience in triathlon. Yes, there are times we fall out like anyone else but for us it just works.”
Preparations have been going well, Davis recently took second place in the triathlon in Athlone and while a medal in Beijing may be a little beyond her reach a top ten finish certainly isn’t.
“I came from a swimming background so for the last year I’ve been working really hard on my running and it’s been going along very well so now I’ve been going back to concentrate on my swimming because I’d been losing a bit of confidence in it, but now we’re training really hard on the swimming, bike and with the running. I wouldn’t say I have a particular weakness, we’re just making sure that the work load is spread a lot more evenly.”
These Olympic Games may be a bonus for Davis, “Obviously 2012 is a major goal, but really at the moment, this is my first year and I'd just like to do a lot more racing,” she says and beyond Beijing, “I'd also like to win a medal at the World Student Games and the European under 23s in September.”
Even now standing at the start line at the Ming Tomb Reservoir on Monday August 10th is a thought she can’t quite believe.
“I have dreamt of racing in the Olympics since I was seven years old, it has been a major life goal for me. My aim was to qualify so now I’m just focusing on going out there and doing the best job I can, I wouldn’t like to say where I’ll come because I don’t want to put any pressure on myself. As long as I can do the best job I can on the day who knows what can happen, we’ll just see. It is just one race, a complete unknown can win it, it’s going to be interesting, we’ll find out once it’s all over.”