Dual Olympian and world champion triathlete Courtney Atkinson has today announced an end to a two-year sabbatical from full-time ITU triathlon in a bid to contest a record third Olympic Games in Rio 2016.
Just two years after putting his International Triathlon Union (ITU) racing pursuits on the backburner following the London 2012 Games and turning his focus to endurance ironman and off-road adventure racing, the Mackay-born product has done what few thought likely and made official his return to the Olympic arena.
Atkinson never ruled out an Olympic return but his success in endurance ironman and off-road racing over the past 24 months suggested a return was unlikely. So it is a comeback of sorts.
Of course, the 35-year-old will have to qualify as one of the country’s top-three triathletes to first earn a berth. But a toe-in-the-water return to the Olympic distance last year saw him emerge victorious over the country’s best and cemented his desire for one last chance at that coveted Olympic medal.
And should he do so, he’d become the first triathlete in Australian history to compete at three Olympic Games.
“It’s a decision that’s been a long-time coming but after two years of new challenges, endurance racing and time away from the Olympic discipline I’ve spent more than half my life competing in, the spark is back,”Courtney said today upon formally notifying the Australian Triathlon Federation.
“I’m more hungry than ever to compete in triathlon and the lure of Rio in 2016 is just too strong to ignore. I feel like I’m fitter and more focused than ever.
“I believe I still have my best racing ahead of me and I don’t want to die wondering ‘what if?’ I’m committing 100 per cent, full-time to Olympic distance triathlon and my plan is to not just qualify for Brazil in 2016 but come away with my best result yet.”
Courtney’s decision comes just 12 months after his successful maiden endurance debut at the 226km Melbourne Ironman, which he says coincidentally reignited his passion for sprint racing after a year stripping himself of muscle and speed in an effort to increase his endurance.
“As satisfying as it was to get through it in a pretty decent time for my first go, I missed going fast,” Atkinson said of the ironman.
“I enjoyed the experience but it just didn’t grip me to the point where I wanted to give up all my other racing. The Xterra racing re-confirmed my passion for sprint racing. I love the speed of Olympic Games triathlon racing “going fast as opposed to conserving energy.”
Courtney’s first Olympic appearance in 2008 saw him finish 11th while in London he recorded an 18th placing. Since his sabbatical from triathlon post the London Games, Courtney claimed victory in his first ever 70.3 Ironman in Cairns, finished just outside the top-10 in his maiden full ironman race in Melbourne and won the Australian XTerra championships among countless other victories in various categories.
And while the Games are some 18 months away, Courtney only has a matter of months to re-establish himself at the top of the Australian Olympic triathlon scene again and become the first Australian triathlete to compete at three Olympic Games.