Episode 7 - TOKYO Triathlon Recap: With Coach Dan Atkins
TOKYO Triathlon Recap: With Coach Dan Atkins
I feel so honoured to be able to speak with Olympic and Paralympic coach Dan Atkins on the podcast. Coming to you live from day 1 of hotel quarantine following the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
As the Gold Coast Performance Centre coach of Matthew Hauser, Jaz Hedgeland, reserve Brandon Copeland, Lauren Parker, Katie Kelly and her guide Briarna Silk, he provides some fantastic insight from the ground into what Tokyo Triathlon and Para-triathlon was like.
Dan will do anything for his athletes to provide the right platform and environment to support them to perform at their best. He only wants the best for everyone around him and sacrifices so much to do this.
In this episode we talked about:
- What the preparation involved knowing Tokyo would be hot
- What it was like travelling to the Olympics during a global pandemic
- What his experiences were for his first Olympics and the debutant athletes as well
- Insights into the men’s and women’s Triathlon race results
- How the Paralympics compared to the Olympics
- What’s next for our Australian Triathlon and Para-Triathlon team
- PLUS so much more!
I really hope you enjoy it and join me in standing proudly behind our Aussie athletes who went over there and performed at their best.
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EP 7 – TOKYO Triathlon Recap: With Coach Dan Atkins
Taryn Richardson 00:00
I had the absolute pleasure of talking to triathlon coach Dan Atkins today. He is the Gold Coast Performance Centre coach down on the Gold Coast in Australia. You can now call him an Olympic and Paralympic coach. So he looked after the likes of Matt Hauser and Jaz Hedgeland. And in the Paralympics, he was a coach for Lauren Parker, as well as Katie Kelly, and her guide, Briarna Silk. Dan will do anything for his athletes. He only wants the best for them, and he always puts them first before his own needs. I had the pleasure of working with Dan on the Gold Coast looking after the GCMPC group. When I was the sports dietitian for Triathlon Australia. He is fun and full of life, loves him a bit of karaoke. Today I've talked to him about his experiences going over to Tokyo for the Olympics and Paralympics and a bit of insight into what happened on the ground. Dan lives on the beautiful Gold Coast with his tolerant wife and three beautiful girls who he's excited to go and see shortly. So let's get into it.
Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast, the show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts.
Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy to digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.
Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast, Dan Atkins!
Dan Atkins 01:50
Hey, Taz. How's it going?
Taryn Richardson 01:53
So good. I'm so excited to talk to you, Dan and I feel honoured that you're speaking to me from the comforts of quarantine.
Dan Atkins 02:00
Yes, comforts of quarantine. Look, I guess it's a process of what I've been through. I knew what I was signing up for going to both the Olympics and the Paralympics but pretty stoked it's over and actually believe it or not stoked that I'm into quarantine now and I can sort of sit back and reflect on what's been over this 5, 10, 15, 20 year journey to be here.
Taryn Richardson 02:23
So, for people that don't know who Dan Atkins is, shame on them. But for people that don't know who you are, can you give me a brief background about who you are and where you've come from and how you got to be in hotel quarantine off the back of the Olympics.
Dan Atkins 02:37
I'm a triathlon coach, a high-performance triathlon coach that works for triathlon Australia, which is our national governing, sporting body for high performance sport. I've worked in that role for eight years, which you were a part of from very early. That’s obviously evolved from what was ideally, a development program, but I also called it in my own eyes, the target 2020 program, and "perfect vision", which is what 2020 is. So, I was proud of that little catchphrase.
We had a target in 2014, to have representation at 2020 Olympics. So, I guess that's come off. Obviously, there's been some ebbs and flows and running a program like that is very much a roller coaster, there's no other word for it. But very fortunate that we had four athletes plus one reserve in Tokyo across both the Paralympics and the Olympics. That's just been a really, really long journey with six actually pretty remarkable humans. Started way back as a swimming coach, about 16 years ago, and started doing Learn to Swim and teaching little kids the art of swimming through to where I am, where I sit right now, but interestingly, I still call myself a development coach, and I don't ever want to stop I don't think. Happy to learn from anyone and anything to keep moving forward.
Taryn Richardson 04:08
That's what's so great about you, Dan, is that you're always open to learning new things and you never one to say that you know everything and you're the best and all that sort of stuff like maybe internally like "Yes, I'm the best" but you're so open to learning and putting your hand up to saying you don't know. It's awesome. So, the athletes that you got to work with or have worked with that were at Tokyo are the likes of Matt Hauser, Jaz Hedgeland, Katie Kelly, and Lauren Parker.
Dan Atkins 04:36
Yeah, and Brandon Copeland was there as a reserve at the Olympics and also, Briarna Silk is Katie's guide. So up to this point, I've been coaching Bri full time as well. Having all those guys there at the two events is pretty special for me.
Taryn Richardson 04:56
Amazing. I'm sure you're very busy on the ground too.
Dan Atkins 04:59
People say to you, it's a circus and that's probably the perfect word for it. But it reminds me of when you put a mouse on one of those spinning wheels, and he's running as hard as he can, and he has no real idea where he's going, or what he's doing. That's just what I felt like the whole time. You were just frantic in the lead up. The three weeks before the games were the busiest, I've ever worked, and I didn't think I could work anymore than I do. But yeah, it was just chaos, really was, the whole time. So, you know, and I'm just proud that I got them on to the start line, all the athletes and they were all healthy on the start line, every single one of them in a way that they were physically capable. So yeah, I'm really happy that I got them there, and then let them to do their job.
Taryn Richardson 05:45
I want to ask you about what it was like on the ground. But before we do that, I think people have no idea what goes into the Olympics and for an athlete's journey to get to that start line. So, can we go back, however many years, we need to where that preparation did start for Tokyo 2020, ended up being 2021 trying to do Olympics in a global pandemic, but what was the pre stuff like to get to Tokyo?
Dan Atkins 06:13
If we talk about what we did, in the lead up just to the Tokyo event itself was, it was probably three years in the planning. Obviously, an Olympic journey is four years. However, after the first year after Rio 2016, so 2017, I sort of sat down with my little team, and I said, I think we've got the cattle in the yard to be able to try and produce something here and try and get people on the team. It was sort of laughed out a little bit even by my own team. But knowing Matt and Jaz, Katie, and obviously, I started working with Lauren in 2018. I just really had this thought that we could do something quite special with this program.
The biggest hurdle for me was keeping them together, keeping them with me. So, I had to reflect a lot on how I coached and what I was doing to try and keep that unit together. But as it got really close, there was a lot of heat strategies that we had to put in there. I'd been to Tokyo every year since 2018, just scoping out the course. Checking the weather, the location, little things like how far away we could stay at that stage. We were staying out of the village, obviously, through the pandemic, we had to stay in the village. So, we were working on little things like how long it took me to run, not walk but run from the team hotel to race site, if someone forgot something in the hotel, and you know any triathlete whether they be Juniors, Age Groupers or Olympians - you tend to all be scatterbrains before the race. That's where a coach does his best work to control that that stuff. I've often been on the start line at major start races where athletes have forgotten something, or some goggles are broken. Or they forgot their gel, or their electrolyte and I've had to run like a madman.
So, I really focused on Tokyo for myself and I had to be really fit and conditioned. So little things like that you had to take into consideration where all the turns were on the bike, how, how many little risers there were, what gradient they were, just things like that. But the most important part was how to acclimatise them to the demands of competition, because in 2019, when we did the test event, we were not good. I came away with that with a lot of knowledge on how I felt we had to prepare and for the better part, I thought we did a really really good job.
Taryn Richardson 08:52
It's a nice segue into an episode I did a couple back where I gave people a race pack list. It gives you everything you need for the swim the bike and the run and stuff you might need before and after the race as well. That's all the details that you can just take it off every time you do a race and then not forget something because the number of times, I've seen athletes forget pivotal things like a helmet for a race is insane. So if you haven't listened to that episode and you want to go and listen to it, the link to download the race pack list is dietitianapproved.com/racepacklist.
So some of the preparation that they had to do for heat acclimation, and can you walk me through some of that process? How long it takes, what's a physiologist role? What sort of things did you have to do to prepare for Tokyo which was always destined to be hot?
Dan Atkins 09:39
Where we're based on the Gold Coast, we're very fortunate that the conditions that we knew were going to happen in Tokyo. We were living in that through our summers so obviously January, February, March, April tends to be very hot in the Gold Coast. Very humid. We were fortunate that we could you know, and I have real belief, it's probably more the art of coaching rather than the science that the more you're in that sort of environment, the more you adapt physiologically, and with that also comes with understanding your nutrition and how to obviously fuel the body pre during and post. I invested a lot of time in that area, just to try and make sure the athletes gave themself every possible chance to be able to perform.
So the old Formula One car mentality that if you haven't got the right fuel in, you're not going to perform at your best. That rang true for me and we really worked hard at the athletes understanding for every drop of sweat they lost, they were leaking, I love that word 'leaking' energy. For me, that was going to cost them somewhere in the race. So 2019, I stuffed that up, we went to Utah, we trained at 2000 meters, and had a ball of a time. The athletes came out and raced really well. But then we went from there to a place called Miyako-jima, which is an island, which was hotter than the demands of Tokyo and I thought "yeah, I'm just going to harden these guys, they're going to be so robust come the test event that nothing's going to hurt them". But I basically just stuffed it up because they were exhausted.
So I felt when we went home that our preparation the lead up to the Olympics was going to be based around aerobically conditioning the athletes in the Gold Coast Winter or the Autumn into slight Winter but do all our really really hard sessions in a heat chamber. I knew that with our physiology team have a Avish Sharma, who's our triathlon Australia lead who's done a PhD in heat acclimation and altitude training, so he was the best person to get on board. Shaun D'Auria, who's our QAS lead physiologist who helps me with load and conditioning management. Both those guys had a really important role in playing and how to plan it out but at the end of the day, it was my decision how to do it.
I had a heat chamber set up in my garage, much to my family's disgust and had this tent there and whacked her up to 37 degrees. More importantly, it was the humidity that we had to prepare for, because if anyone's trained in Queensland, they know or Northern Territory in winter, that the humidity is what hurts you are not necessarily the ambient temperature. We had to acclimatise to getting really sweaty and dealing with that.
The dovetail of that is understanding again, as I mentioned earlier, that nutrition was as important as the work we were doing. I had Up&Go's, I had protein shakes in my fridge just ready to go as soon as they got out of the chamber, just refuelling, and obviously doing the sessions in there you feel quite sick stomach wise after the session, so you don't feel like stomaching anything. But I just like forcing it down their throat like "come on, you've got to get this back into recover". So that was a big part of it as well. But it was probably two six week blocks that we did that in the lead up with a couple of weeks in between off doing it to recover.
Taryn Richardson 13:15
When did you do those two, six week blocks?
Dan Atkins 13:17
It was just as we were coming off summer. So it was around April, and we finished some racing then, which was really good, and we had an easy week. Then we just did some, you know, some little snapshots I might say of it. We didn't necessarily get it 37 degrees, but we were just sort of doing some harder sessions in amongst the middle of the day, or we're sitting in a spa, which is a really good way to heat acclimate. And then the second block, well, we went to Cairns after that in June, so we got a little bit of heat in our system, and obviously some good humidity, early June. That was where we knew what the final team would be so that was an exciting period.
Taryn Richardson 14:00
When did the athletes find out there were going to be Olympians? What date?
Dan Atkins 14:05
For me that was probably as exciting, if not more exciting than actually being at the Olympics. Seeing that Matt and Jess both found out on Monday the 21st I think it was of June, which was exactly or they're about four weeks out from the Games. I knew that was the day they were going to find out and I just couldn't, me being me, and you know me Taz, I can't sit still. I said, "I'm going to walk home". So I left my car at the pool I decided to walk home and then Jaz rang me, and I was just screaming at the top of my lungs. I was that excited. I was just, I'm getting goosebumps thinking about it. I honestly didn't think she'd make the team. But we had such a good plan around how to make the team and Jaz really took it on. I'd felt she'd done enough. Obviously, the selectors thought that as well.
That was for me personally, it was a real highlight and then about an hour later Matty rang me, and we had a really cool moment. But he was and this is probably the special most special part of it for me was he was more excited that Jaz had made it. That we'd had two from our squad, this little development program that eight years ago, we were told you'll only be development, just have under 23's and juniors" and now here we are, and we're still I think, a development program but development program with Olympians and Paralympians So, yeah, it was pretty cool.
Taryn Richardson 15:29
It's testament to Matty's personality, though, too. He's always thinking of others, and he's quite humble.
Dan Atkins 15:36
He's a very, he probably won't like me saying this, but he's a very emotional, big man. COVID is not good for Matt, in the sense that he's a hugger. I love his hugs because I'm a hugger, too. I'll tell you a little thing what we did that night, because we weren't allowed to say anything about the team because it's all under embargo. It just so happened we were having a team barbecue that night. Everyone was at the team barbecue looking at each other going have you found out, have you not found out. We're trying to be really quiet.
I asked Matt and Jaz to come up to my room and we popped a bottle of champagne in my room, and we were screaming and hugging and crying and it was just such a nice moment. Of course everyone heard us downstairs and they were like "we know what's going on here". So we sort of gave it away. But again, the squad and the program and the staff and everybody felt a huge part of it. I tried to make them feel a huge part of because every person played their role in getting those athletes there. And for me, steering that buss as the head coach, it was just a really nice moment.
Taryn Richardson 16:42
And nice to reflect on that too. After working with someone like Jaz and her sister Kira forever, like how long have you known Jaz Hedgeland for?
Dan Atkins 16:51
Well, I moved to Perth for a role in 2013. Honestly, I say this wholeheartedly. Jaz was part of the reason I went there. She was an exciting athlete. I've worked with her at the Youth Olympics as one of the star head coaches and there's just something about her that, when the roll came up 20-30% of the reason I went there was to try and work with someone like Jaz. You know, it's just one of those moments that you just knew you had to do it. I didn't coach Jaz when I first got there. It was Kira, her sister, who has this amazing characteristic that she just doesn't take no for an answer. She was this little 15 year old and she's basically said to me, "what are you doing over here if you're not coaching?" And I said, "well, I sort of need a break from coaching". She just didn't take it, she said "you got to start coaching me". Of course Jaz went "well if you're coaching her you better coach me". That's how it sort of started and the first session I did with Jaz, I just went "this kids got this tenacity that is really rare".
Obviously, she moved to the Gold Coast with me, and I reflect on even that and as a 17 year old, letting your child go across the other side of the country trusting them with me, who they'd only known for less than a year effectively. That's massive for a parent to do that. I've got a 15 year old, I'm not sure I could do that. But they did, the parents. So they're a huge part of it as well. You know, the parents and I'm sure there's not an Olympian that was in Tokyo that didn't have a support network around them like Jaz has and, and myself. So 2013 to 14, that was when we first started.
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Taryn Richardson 19:42
It'd be so hard because the Olympics is not the Olympics, you're trying to do the Olympics in a global pandemic. You know, so much uncertainty. Everything was last minute. To know that you're racing in that biggest race of your life for weeks before it is. There's so much to get your head around with that. Then traveling through a pandemic, let alone toeing the start line ready to race, it'd be very challenging.
Dan Atkins 20:08
Yeah, it was. There was a lot of things that we had to do. I think at the airport coming in, we had we picked up like, nine pieces of paper, had to have all these apps filled in, like OSHA, it's called, which is like a COVID questionnaire that you had to fill in every day for 14 days beforehand, and the mountain of work, and then you had to train for this event. Then you also had to focus on the biggest event of your life. That's why I always felt a sense of relief when I got on the start line. I'm like, "they're there, I can't do anything else now".
But I must admit, the IOC and Triathlon Australia did a great job in giving the athletes every possible chance from that area, you know, to try and keep them centred on the job. But it was impossible to not avoid getting caught up with COVID. The fact that the Games have gone ahead and the fact that there's been so many remarkable stories is just phenomenal. I want to know all of them. That's what I do at the moment, I'm sitting down watching interviews of the Paralympics, and interviews on coaches post the Games that have been successful. I just love listening to that stuff. Because I'm like, "how did you do it?" Because I want to know the answer.
Taryn Richardson 21:19
Just on that COVID and travel stuff, when did you guys have to get your vaccinations? Did you have to get your vaccinations to go to the Olympics?
Dan Atkins 21:28
It was for the Olympics. It was different to the Paralympics. The Paralympics, they made it mandatory unless you had a medical reason, which there were some, but they insisted that you had both shots of the vaccine as well as a flu shot. The IOC heavily advised it and obviously Triathlon Australia said, "No, we want you to do it". To my knowledge, there was no one that didn't do it. We had exemptions from the government based on the fact that we're going to Japan so Matt, and I got our first shot on the 10th of May, and the second one on the 31st of May. We were I guess, in the scheme of things quite early on. Very thankful that we were able to do that. Equally thankful that neither of us at this stage or any of us have had any, you know, COVID problems or, or anything. If it wasn't for the government allowing us to do that, it would've been a very stressful period.
Taryn Richardson 22:32
So what was it actually, like when you got to Tokyo? What was it like on the ground?
Dan Atkins 22:36
Well, first things first, getting off the plane, it was just getting ushered everywhere. We were warned it could be a 3-8 hour process. It was very smooth. The one thing I'll give the Japanese and the organising committees is as far as having an event through a global pandemic, I'm honest when I say this, I don't think anyone could do it as well as them. They were so organized. So many volunteers, you could not have put a foot wrong as far as trying to work out where to go. You had your first COVID test there and you had to wait till that came back negative. Obviously that all came through. So then you go on a bus and you go into the village and when we go to the village being triathlon, you're there quite early. So it's quite calm, but and you're ushered straight to your team hotel, which is one of, you know, 32 buildings or whatever it was there in the village.
We had a fantastic area there, which is sort of overlooking Tokyo Bay. You could just sense the security presence was there with the Coast Guard all around and it was excellent, you felt very safe. We could run around the village, which was a 3k radius. But obviously for us early on, it was all about the race and getting ourselves right and getting the athletes in and the girls travelled a couple of days after the boys just because their race was a bit later. So boys and I and a couple of the other staff sort of had got a bit of an idea of what to do, where to go and things. The Dining Hall was as exciting I guess as it probably got for us. We were able to go there once a night once a day and just eat and you know, I'm just in awe of Olympic athletes and Paralympic athletes.
They're just the fittest humans on the planet. Everyone's ripping. Everyone's the same sort of confidence when they walk around. And I have to stop myself because I'm a real people stalker. So I tend to just stare at someone because I'm just in awe of them. And you know, I saw Djokovic having some run throughs with Kipchoge one morning and you know, seeing that was just unbelievable. You know, seeing the athletes and famous athletes blending in together and feeling comfortable with each other was probably the coolest thing. All the Aussies getting around each other at the events and we'd sit outside and watch all the events was just awesome. It's really cool. Absolutely pinch yourself. You look down, you see the Olympic rings on your chest. It's very, very cool. And something I don't take for granted.
Taryn Richardson 25:18
With the actual race, with the triathlon race for the Olympics. The televised event was shithouse. Like, I had no idea what was going on. I guess I had a sense in my mind of what the game plan might have been. I don't know if you're allowed to talk about the race or what happened. And I'm not going to tell you what my game plan is because I'm sure you already know what it is. But you know what, what actually happened in the event because it was really hard to see sitting back here in Australia watching on TV, like what was going on?
Dan Atkins 25:47
I guess the first thing I'll say with that is that I felt as a team, the one area we couldn't control, and we didn't execute well was we hadn't competed internationally that much. I'm not going to use as an excuse because a lot of the other countries are in the same boat. The Kiwis who had a fantastic campaign I felt but for me, I did we just it felt rusty, certainly the boy’s race, all three got through the race, and all three of them reflected and were disappointed for their own reasons. I mean, I know Matt particularly was just stoked that he finished and so he should be finished 26th and battled his way through a cramp on the run and things like that.
So, you know, I look at that as a coach and go well, how do we make sure that doesn't happen again. But the strategy was pretty simple. It was get in the race and protect your run, basically, and how we did that was totally up to the athletes in the race and look, Jake rode really well and was there they were all there, all three boys were there. So it came down to the run.
I can only speak for Matt but honestly, I felt he was tired before the event. We had such a big lead up. They raced really hard in Port Douglas, four weeks out, and then even three weeks out and honestly think the conditioning he had his best race was in Port Douglas, which is probably hard for people to hear when you go well, how do you not get up to the Olympics. But it's not a matter of about mentally getting up, it's physically your bodies got to actually respond on the day and getting it right.
I think for me, as the coach, I'll look at it and go that race was probably just that bit too hard for him. Four weeks out from an event a major event like an Olympics. So that's my own challenge now is to work out how to do that better, and sort of help my athletes through that. So yeah, obviously, we were a bit disappointed with how everyone did in the individual. I don't think that's secretive or anything like that. But as far as the girl’s tactics, there was none really, it was just again, like the boys get in the race and race hard. Triathlon Australia wanted everyone to finish. We want you to finish, we want you to be there to be on TV and represent Australia, your coaches, your staff, your family, your friends, and do your country proud. So that was sort of our tactic, I guess, was to do Australia proud. I still felt they gave what they had on the day, which is all I can ask for.
Taryn Richardson 28:27
They all did amazing. They represented their country so well, in such an adverse situation that's hopefully never going to happen again, for athletes to be given the call up so close in a really hot environment and traveling into a race in a global pandemic. Like hopefully, that never happens again.
Dan Atkins 28:44
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we're all living it. That's not lost on us that we are privileged enough to travel to a country and to race. I've heard 1000 different interviews with athletes just saying how privileged they feel to be here. We've all got to understand that, going through an Olympic journey is bigger than I ever could imagine it would be. It's more intense than I've ever worked. It's more intense than I've seen my athletes go through things and they'll be better for the experience. People that know, know how hard it is, whether it's a pandemic or not. It just adds a different complexity to it that I don't think anyone was prepared for and we sort of just tried to get through it the best way we could, I think.
Taryn Richardson 29:30
I was so proud to see Jaz, you know, likes of Jaz and Matt who I've worked with personally over the years front up to the Olympics. How cool is that? So proud.
Dan Atkins 29:39
Yeah, yeah. When you when you coach juniors and you see them as little kids and they got no idea about what's going on in life and now they're adults and at the Olympics, and I'm with them even more so is something I'll cherish forever and I'm sure they do as well. It's been a pretty awesome.
Taryn Richardson 30:00
You got to hang around after the Olympics and you stayed on for the Paralympics, where you worked with Lauren Parker, Katie Kelly and Bri. What was that like compared to the Olympics? Was it any different? What was the kind of mood like? What was it like on the ground for the difference?
Dan Atkins 30:17
It only came through probably two weeks before going to the Olympics, that I would be staying for the Paralympics. So for me personally, that was even a stressful period, because I'd worked with Katie Kelly, since the week after Rio, basically when she won the gold medal. So it's been almost five years that I've worked with Katie, and I've worked with Loz since you know, 2018. So very, very long journey for both girls. And Bree, we've worked together for three years. So I knew all the girls really well, and all three had said to me, we really want you there. That's all I needed to hear.
I knew that me fighting, which I literally had to do fight to say no I need to be here. I need to be on the start line next to them. I need to hug them goodbye and wish them well and tell them no matter what I'm proud of them. So, two weeks out, I get the call. Yep, you can stay. We don't know where you're staying, but you're staying, and you can't leave. So I was hoping I could come back and finish their training camp in Cannes with them. But they said no, it's safer for you to stay in Japan. Then I had hoped to go to Canada to be with my other guys doing World Titles. But they said no, you go stay here.
So I was very fortunate that Paralympics Australia supported that. I was one of only three coaches that got to do both Olympics and Paralympics. So, again, something I'm really proud of. They put us down this little town, two and a half hours south of Tokyo, and we just hold up for another 16 days before the event. So I'm sort of used to what I'm doing right now in quarantine I've sort of got an idea of how to manage myself and get through it.
Taryn Richardson 32:08
So that was quarantine for you? Those 16 days down there, you couldn't go anywhere?
Dan Atkins 32:11
We were allowed out an hour a day, effectively. So for me, that was great. I could go for a walk or run or both and allowed me to just get outside and that got me through. We were there for 16 days. There was a team of probably 20 Australians that were crossing over both and we weren't allowed to eat together. We weren't allowed to interact with each other really, at all, unless it was something you had to do with uniforms or doing documents or whatever. But it was a long time. It seemed to drag on there at certain times, but I stayed busy. I made sure I kept in contact with everyone back home a bit more so and just made sure I made it all about what they were doing.
Taryn Richardson 32:56
And then how is the experience racing in the Paralympics? What was the racing event like compared to the Olympics?
Dan Atkins 33:02
Very similar. Obviously, I'll say this, firstly, that anyone that doesn't think our Paralympians don't put as much effort in as the Olympians well then, they've got no idea, but these guys put everything into their preparation. They put everything into their day. Katie Kelly doesn't work, effectively. She's a director of her own charity, which is remarkable. Bree has a business that she has to manage. Lauren's a full time athlete, so they are so fixated on that event. I know every one of my squad was watching Katie and Lauren's races, and they were asking for messages through the race and so forth. So, you know, that's awesome for me. And they felt really proud of the girls of what they achieved and as I do, but look on the ground, it was very similar. It was a bit tighter. Paralympics Australia had a little bit tighter restrictions on things like going to the dining hall, they fed us in Village, which was just exceptional, and especially how hard they worked. So I was there the week before the game, so I helped set up a bit. So seeing the operation set up a Paralympics for a nation is massive.
Just a bit of trivia, how many sets of scissors do you think it takes to run a Paralympic Australian team? 64 sets of scissors and 46 staple removers so they just left no stone unturned. The feel for me around the Paralympics was sort of somewhat better in the sense that they just love what they're doing. They are just you know, whilst the Olympic athletes are so much more in the know or in our spotlight and you're seeing Novac Djokovic walk around or Kevin Durant walk around because you can't miss him at 7 foot 4 but these Paralympians I put on the same pedestal if not higher, because they are just exceptional people, they all have a story. They blew my mind with some of the things we spoke about. I spoke to Dylan Alcott and he's just a bloke that loves a yarn and the emotion he had after his semi-final was just, I've never seen anything like that in sport. He basically told COVID where to go, which may or may not be right, but hug that young fella and it just oozed emotion and are just so so proud to be a part of what's called the mob. And everything the Olympics was for me the Paralympics, it was almost a better experience.
Taryn Richardson 35:38
One of the things that a lot of people won't know or understand is that previously, as in pre, like three days ago, the Paralympians didn't get anything for winning medals. But just ScoMo's maybe going to come to the table, and he's going to change that.
Dan Atkins 35:53
Yeah, it's been announced three days ago, that there was a bit of a public uproar that people were coming to realisation that Paralympic medals weren't equal as far as government funding to the Olympic medals. Look, to be brutally honest, a lot of countries do it anyway. But I'm really, really proud of the fact that our government has actually acknowledged that and gone, you know, and I honestly think through COVID, everyone's watching it, everyone's watching the games. Everyone's seeing the passion in these guys. And I think everyone would agree, yep, they need to be on equal terms. And I mean the word itself Paralympics, para means parallel. So equal to, and that to me is, what the government is realising gone, you know what, we can't turn away from these guys.
Dylan Alcott crying on TV, because he just won the gold and I felt a part of that emotion, talking to him. Seeing what it means to these guys is, it's everything. The fact now that they're getting the same sort of funding for medals is just brilliant. It just really is. It's going to get a dozen kids into this, and they're going to look back and they're going to mention this in Brisbane 2032 and say, you know, it was that moment that we realised the government was supporting us as equal to the Olympians that got me into it. So that's fantastic.
Taryn Richardson 37:20
I love that the word parallel, like it just sums it up perfectly. A lot of people may not know that, you know, the funding for Paralympic sports is often a whole lot less. So for athletes to even get to where they are to that Olympic level, they have to do a whole heap of self-funding themselves, just with local races or national races to even get to that point to start with. So it is such a long slog and can be often a harder journey to get there for the Paralympians.
Dan Atkins 37:48
Well, without a doubt. I mean, they have all impairments that they need to manage as well. So Lauren's in a wheelchair, Katie's a VI athlete, vision impaired athlete, so there's all these things that they manage just day to day, you know, just life. I mean, imagine trying to ride a bike at 45km an hour with your eyes closed, imagine swimming, in a lake with your eyes closed without legs, or the capabilities of using your legs. Like it's, I forget about that sometimes because I don't see it anymore, I don't see what's holding them back.
I just see them as athletes in front of me wanting to do their very best. And that's what I try to deliver to them is there is no restrictions on what you're doing because you're right here right now, which means you've got an opportunity to give it your best and that's just how they want to be perceived as well. They are just remarkable people. I've learnt so much from them over the last three weeks and it's just been a huge thrill to see the differences in all of them from all around the world and see how they work, and it just blows my mind.
Taryn Richardson 38:55
And KK put so much sort of faith, not faith. But you know, Bri does such a fantastic job to lead her through that race. Not even lead her, she's not allowed to lead her but all of the logistics that people don't see for her to even get to the start line for her to you know, even get there and pack her bag and get the bikes sorted. All those sorts of things is a challenge when you can't see 100% so the guides do a fantastic job there and Bri still got to be that fit.
Dan Atkins 39:26
Bri and I worked out early on that I had to coach her sort of full time as well and that made it easier for me to manage. So I managed it in threes. I managed it Bri and I then I managed it Katie and I then I had to manage it as a team. There was conversations I was having with Bri that I wouldn't have with Katie and Katie that I wouldn't have with Bree and probably those two having conversations about me. It's a selfless role. So you basically got to commit four years or three years like it was for Bri without a lot of return on your investment and if Katie's having a great day, well then, you've got to match that. If Katie's not having a great day then Bri's got to wear that and accept that and yeah, it's been a really interesting period for myself because some of the things that Bri's done has really challenged her. I'm sure it's made her stronger or more stronger than she already was to take the roll on.
But I just knew when we talent search for the guide that there was something about Bri's characteristics that was going to work with Katie and her easy-going nature but her toughness. There was a toughness there that I felt Katie needed that was quite internalised. It was just a great partnership. I'm going to miss it. I'm going to, it's a huge hole now that Katie's decided to pull up stumps and you know, I don't necessarily lose just one athlete, I lose a team. So yeah, it's quite sad to think about that. But it's been a huge thrill for me to work with both girls.
Taryn Richardson 41:10
She's had a fantastic career KK. How old's KK now? I don't know if she'll mind me asking or saying on this podcast.
Dan Atkins 41:17
She's the same age as me. And I'm 46 so there you go, I won't tell everyone her age. Part of her reason for walking away, I believe, is the competition's getting better. They're getting younger, they're faster, there's more information out there, coaches are getting smarter. You know, winning the first ever Paralympic gold medal in Paratriathlon is history. She's a history maker, she'll go down as a legend in Australian sport that'll never get taken away from her. Whilst unfortunately she wasn't able to replicate that here, her goal medal performance was just getting on the start line at 46. And competing for her country and doing it with a remarkable person in Bri was so cool. And yeah, I'm just so proud of both of them.
Taryn Richardson 42:09
Me too. Her and I have had some conversations in the past about her going long course. So we'll see if that comes to light.
Dan Atkins 42:17
She's already talking about all sorts of things and I'm just going okay, Katie. Yep, no worries, that sounds good. But she's you know, I've always said, you know, to be an Olympian or Paralympian or even just a high performance athlete, you're a warrior. And when you walk away from warriors always look for the next war. She's got to look for the next thing to commit physically to. I've just made her promise me that she will look after herself. She made me promise that I'll always be in her life. That's definitely going to happen. I'll be her number one fan.
Taryn Richardson 42:55
I'm so jealous I am. I was sitting here in Australia, just jealous.
Dan Atkins 43:00
Look, the support from home is honestly, if we didn't have COVID people wouldn't be up to date with everything as much as they are. I know there's a big backlash with us going and the Australian community, you know, through COVID, how can you do it or the money that goes into it, but seeing Australians do their thing, and everyone loves a champion, or everyone loves a battler. You know, whether they've done well, whether they haven't, some of the interviews are just so raw and honest. You only got to think about who's at home supporting you, and it just breaks you up. If that's anything to go by, it just shows how much the athletes and myself want to do it for more than just us. There's no 26 million people we're trying to do it for and there's nothing like the support of your own and we've felt that.
Taryn Richardson 43:54
Can't keep you still either, Dan. So what's next?
Dan Atkins 43:58
The funny thing is after the Olympics and we all know it wasn't great. It wasn't where Australia wanted to be. Australia wanted us to be better. We wanted to be better and we're all the first to admit that. I think people were worried to actually reach out to me afterwards and it took people almost five days to start, you know, it's like they were tiptoeing around "are you okay?", and I'm like I have never been more motivated. I walked away from the Olympics just going, I know what it takes now. I can see it, it is so glaringly obvious in front of me what it takes, and it's pretty simple.
We’ve just got to be better. I've got to be better. I've got to learn more. I've got to listen more. I've got to challenge more. I've got to ask, you know my favourite what if questions. What if we do this or what if we made that? I've already started that. The passion I have wearing the green and gold. I wear it every day of my life. Got it on right now. Still contracted to PA to wear it. So I've got it on. I didn't bring any other clothes, Taz. I've got one Hawaiian shirt that I wear for Avish and myself. That's our thing. And I'm sure when we catch up, we'll wear but it's a consequence of being in triathlon. But I'm just so proud of it. I mean, I'm wearing the coat of arms on my heart, like how good is that? It's not lost on me that so many people wish to be in my situation. But also say be careful what you wish for.
Taryn Richardson 45:29
You will have learnt so much by being there. You know, like all of the learnings just being there on the ground and seeing what's going on. You can only get bigger and better for and build from that and you're open to that which is great.
Dan Atkins 45:44
Well, you have to be either pack up my stumps and carry them under my arms and go home or I come away from here motivated and I honestly can't wait to get home to see my family, my friends. I miss them so incredibly much. But I also can't wait to get back to work and that's scaring me a bit. Like, I went for a walk one day around the village and if you follow me on Strava you'll know that I'm the local legend around the village because I've been there for so bloody long. I've just got bloody local legend because I've run around that goddamn thing so many times, but a lot of it was on my own.
Taryn Richardson 46:26
Did you set up the segments on Strava? Or were they already there?
Dan Atkins 46:29
No, they were already there. I did go looking for them though. Who doesn't love a bit of self-promotion, a bit of self-accolade? Everyone does. And if you don't, you're full of it. I'm a bit scared to be honest. I'm a bit scared of how I'm going to go home and get into it. I need to be calmed down a bit.
Taryn Richardson 46:49
You need some karaoke. That's what you need.
Dan Atkins 46:51
I probably need some karaoke. So if anyone's out there that would like to help me with that after I get out of quarantine. I'm happy to go on a road trip. Do whatever it takes to do some karaoke. Doesn't mean I'm good, I just love it.
Taryn Richardson 47:07
Come up to Brisbane and I'll do karaoke with you. I'm terrible. I cannot sing. But I will do it for you, Dan.
Dan Atkins 47:15
Excellent. Happy to. I love it.
Taryn Richardson 47:17
Not going to go home to Katie and the girls. Going to come straight to Brisbane and do karaoke with Taz. I think you'll get divorced mate.
Dan Atkins 47:24
Yeah, I would. I would definitely. I'll bring Katie along too. She can sit there and shake her head at me like she does 90% of the time.
Taryn Richardson 47:33
What are you going to do? What's the first thing you need to do other than like, obviously go home and see your family? What's the first thing that you really want to do after coming back to Australia, being away for so long and being in quarantine for 15 days?
Dan Atkins 47:45
Besides see my girls and hug them and hold them really hard, like really hard. I want to cook a steak on my barbie. With my Akubra on. I want to open my beer fridge, I want to, I got a really cool barbecue setup. If anyone knows me, they know my barbecue setup is great. I want to check my lawn out. I want to have a look at my lime garden.
I want to, I have this thing on Thursdays where my next door neighbour and I have beers with the boys on bin day. And I think that could be a good podcast. So every Thursday we put the bin out and then we have a beer, I miss that, I miss that. Coming home, put the bin out, beer with the boys on bin day, how's that for a title. You do take it for granted. And I go away a lot more way effectively, probably five months of the year. And that's a long time for people to go I just couldn't do it. I think of the people in the army and or mining or whatever. And you know, they do that for their jobs as well. And families, you know, have to manage that. And it's hard and it's hard for our family.
This job's very lonely, you're on your own a lot. But knowing that you've got things to look forward to, to come home to, that keeps you going. And for me, I'm going to go away for a week with my family. It's my father's 70th, my wife and my father have insisted I go on a holiday. So we're just going to go up to the caravan park in Coolum and I'm just going to chill out with my girls and my family and stoked looking forward to that and then I'm just going to get back into it. That's just what I do. I'll see who's there to come on the journey with me. I'll get home and we have to reassess everything and everyone with athletes. I've been away a long time, lots has happened at home. Lots is going to happen once I get home and I just got to see who's there who's ready to get on the bus and come on another journey with me.
Taryn Richardson 50:00
What a lot of people don't understand is that I'm not going to talk about politics or funding or anything, but sports that get a lot of gold medals get a lot of funding. And so if you don't perform, then your funding is limited or reduced and so it's really hard to then get back into that limelight and get sexy you know, get all the gold dangling medals because the funding’s not there.
And so I've had this conversation with a lot of Triathlon Australia, providers, physios and things like it makes no sense that if your sport is not performing to the level that you think it should, or it deserves to be, then the funding should be more, not less, it makes no sense. Like how, how is the sport going to get ahead, when their funding just keeps getting cut, and cut and cut?
Dan Atkins 50:46
That's the brutality of our performance sport. That's, you know, I've been the back end of contracts, and it's coming up to 10 days before Christmas, and you're not sure whether you've got a job. They're pretty dark times, pretty, pretty hard times to manage. There's not a single person I blame or hold accountable to those sorts of decisions. There's so many hoops to jump through, and policies and things to get right that it's just like, I wouldn't want to be a politician at the moment in Australia. I mean, you think about everything that we've been through floods, fires, COVID, and then a little piece of good comes out of it when Scotty M bloody announces we're getting some funding for some Paralympians to get them through like that's just that to me, gives me hope that the world's going to be okay eventually.
And we're going to get on with it. But I mean, for us in in triathlon, I don't know what the next six months look like, I don't know. But a lot of it, I can't control either. Like I said, I just got to go home, I've got to sit down, I've got to see who's with me, who's ready to go again, who's pumped up like I am, and just focus on them. My core business is athletes. That's what I'm all about. That's what I do. It's when I get distracted from that, that I I'm not good, or not comfortable. If it was just coaching athletes, I'd be as happy as a pig in mud. I honestly would be rolling around in all days going I love life. But high performance sport, there's an element of your role that you've got to do things that you don't necessarily want to, but you have to because you're accountable to so much. And I've got to turn up then to training and be ready to give my athletes what they need. And sometimes that's not anything that's not a single word, it's just there's a session, let's go. Other times it's sitting down and having a heart to heart with them about something outside of sport.
They need energy from me to get through that. So where we sit now, for the next six months in triathlon, I'm not sure but I trust that we've got the people in place to manage that out and do the best by all of us. And I'm just hoping that I've got a place in that system. And my contract is till Paris, that's never happened before. They've never gone from one cycle to the next I've normally had to go home from something like this and fight tooth and nail for it. So the fact that I can go home, and I can have Christmas with my kids and not have to think about shit, should I buy those swing sets? Or where's our next food? Bills, how are we going to pay for that? School fees or that like that's where I've been sometimes. And I don't often talk about that. Because if I do, it's taking away from my core business, which is athletes. But that's the realisation of what we go through. To me, that's nothing compared to what a lot of Australians have had to go through in the last even little period now and it's not lost on me how hard it is right now for everybody.
Taryn Richardson 53:43
You should be so proud Dan, and all the athletes should be so proud of their performances. They got to toe the start line in the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic, like I said before, it's a testament to their character and their spirit and their grit, that they went out there and smashed it and did the best that they could. So I'm so proud to sit here and you know, have been involved with them. Not in this lead up but, in the past, to go and see athletes that I've personally had some dealings with to go and do that. It's going to be the highlight of their career, whether they won or not, it doesn't matter. They still got to go out there and smash it with the best in the world.
Dan Atkins 54:23
Yeah, absolutely. It's strange because when you get there and you're on the start line, it's the same people you race. Normally week in week out, there's no one new. It's the same group of people, but it's everything in the lead up to it that you know, from working with you a few years ago to, you know, the people we work with now to you know, it's not lost to me that there's so many people that's gone into this and I know the athletes over time will reflect on all this and every now and then they'll see a glimpse of their Olympic shirt or their Olympic suit and actually feel proud and it will make you feel a bit taller.
That's why I'm hugely honoured that I get to wear it every day of the week. My Australian colours and yeah, I just love what I do and bloody want to go again. Brisbane 32 I said I'd retire after 2028 and then as soon as Brisbane was announced, Katie looked at me and just went, I've lost you for another four years after that, haven't I. And I went, It's Brisbane. It's my home city, hometown. Oh, what a way to go out. There will be karaoke that year. And look out. Look out Brisbane we're coming. Prep the karaoke now. I'm going to bring the whole team there. We're going to be doing it all night. Everyone's invited. Just got to wait 11 years. That's alright. It'll go quick.
Taryn Richardson 55:44
Well, thank you so much for talking to me today Dan. I know that you're coming to me from what day 1 of quarantine so I've hit you up early. Thank you for being so honest and open and having a chat through what Olympians faced over in Tokyo.
Dan Atkins 55:58
Aw thanks Taryn, I really appreciate it. I wouldn't have wanted to talk about it with anyone else, so there you go. Number one podcast hopefully after this. Anyone else wants to be on a podcast, give me a shout. Happy to talk about karaoke, singing. beers, steak, pool cleaning anything or Triathlon? Cricket, bloody Broncos. Oh, maybe not them. Nah, I'll talk to the Broncos. But thanks, Taz. I really loved it. It's been great.
Taryn Richardson 56:26
You're welcome. I wanted to leave you with one final question. If you could go for a long ride with anyone, anyone in the world? Who would it be?
Dan Atkins 56:36
Two people. My mate Kerry Wild who's just passed, and probably my grandfather who basically was there from the start for me and pushed me all the way. He never rode a bike but he's the one bloke, he'd probably be waiting at the end of our ride but right now it'd be Kerry Wild and my grandfather. Two remarkable blokes that have been in my life and have taught me so much. Yeah, it'd those two.
Taryn Richardson 57:04
Beautiful. Well, thanks so much, Dan. Enjoy the rest of quarantine. And I'll see you for some karaoke when you get out.