Photos: Andrea Airey

By Kent Gray/
When Kiri Atkin crossed the line at Sunday’s Canterbury Classic, the 27-year-old figured she’d finished a distant second to World Triathlon star-in-waiting Brea Roderick and was more than comfortable with that.

When it emerged Roderick had suffered, in her own words, a “mind blank” and had missed a lap on the run resulting in a season opening DQ, Atkin suddenly found herself atop the podium at the dual Tri NZ Suzuki Series South Island Standard Distance Triathlon Championships.

It’s not how anybody would want to win a race but anyone who knows Atkin’s backstory could never begrudge the Christchurch tax manager a bit of swim, bike and run happiness either.

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Atkin was a rising star herself not that many moons ago, linking with coach John Hellemans when she started at Canterbury University and good enough to finish 7th at the 2016 NZ Elite nationals in her first proper year of triathlon. Podiums at European and Asian Cup level followed (2nd at the Sokcho ASTC in 2017 and 3rd at the 2018 Wuustwezel ETU Sprint) before her burgeoning career took precedence.

The triathlon ambitions simmering beneath the surface of her busy life then properly turned turtle when Atkin came a cropper during a training ride in 2019.

“It’s kind of embarrassing. I was riding out to Godley Head up on the Summit Road in Christchurch and I came around a blind corner and hit a sheep,” Atkin told

“Fell off and cracked my pelvis and yeah, pretty nasty.”

With the beauty of hindsight, Atkin now realises she didn’t take the injury as seriously as she should have.

“It took a couple of years to get the body back fully healed because I kept coming back too early and getting stress reactions in my shins and calf tears and bits and pieces. That was the catalyst for a whole string of injuries but we’ve been pretty good at looking after the body for the last six months to a year.”

A vacation to Europe last year with partner Josh presented an opportunity to race Europe Triathlon Cup Rzeszów. Atkin finished 22nd at the standard distance race in Poland – and with her eyes wide open for the future.

“That was a bit of shock to the system, wasn’t fully prepared for that to be honest.”

Atkin was already contemplating fresh challenges, a step up in distance that will have its launch pad at the Integrity Homes Challenge Wanaka half on February 17.

“I want to see how that goes. I’d like to try a few more half distance races and just put a bit more time in on the bike over the next year and have a go next summer at that middle distance, see where we get to on that.

“Just something a little different that feels a little bit new and exciting I think.”

The Canterbury Classic, marketed as an “old school” triathlon with all those Lyttelton hills to keep everything honest, was certainly good training for Wanaka.

“It was a super, super tough course,” Atkin said.

“Nice, calm flat swim which was good but then the run across to Corsair Bay [from Cass Bay] was pretty challenging. It added a bit of distance and time onto the race as well and I got onto the bike feeling pretty pooped.

“The bike was just up and down the whole way so you don’t really get the chance to rest or take your foot off the gas, you have to keep working so I was pretty tired coming off the bike onto the run.

“The run I felt pretty good. Just tried to run pretty evenly, tried not to go off too hard. I think I do that usually a bit in the past, go off too hard so managed to nail the pace a bit better there today and just hold form and hold it together so that was pretty nice.”

Where you aware of Brea’s snafu? Did you have her in sight at all?

“She was maybe a couple of minutes ahead going onto the bike and then she rode really well and got some more time on me, so I didn’t really see her. I saw her coming back up a hill [on the bike] as I was going down to the turnaround, but, nah, she was just a level above today, yeah on fire. Unfortunately, she only did two laps on the run but she’s a class above really.”

You must have been surprised then when you found out you’d won? “Oh, yeah, I mean it doesn’t really feel like a win,” Atkin said all too modestly.

“Brea is definitely significantly better but yeah, it’s nice to still kind of be the next best I guess, and yeah, always nice to take a win but obviously not under those circumstances.”

Atkin was, of course, being hard on herself. A win is a win is a win. And given her turbulent journey since that woolly moment back in 2019, Sunday’s triumph might just prove to be the catalyst of a more enjoyable swim, bike and run future.

The Canterbury Classic incorporated two Tri NZ Suzuki Series events, the South Island Standard Distance Championships which served as a qualifier for October’s World Triathlon Age Group Championships in Malaga, and the NZ Standard Distance Duathlon Championships, a qualifier for the WT Multisport Championships in Townsville this August.

You can check out all the age group results from the Canterbury Classic HERE.

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