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Vicky Holland gears up for ‘last dance’ as WTCS Yokohama test beckons

Vicky Holland talks in-depth about her goals and motivations as she seeks to go "full circle" before signing-off from a stellar career

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World Triathlon Champion in 2018, Great Britain’s Vicky Holland has pretty much ‘been there, done that’ in the world of short-course triathlon.

Bronze medallist at Rio in 2016, the three-time Olympian also has Commonwealth Games medals, Mixed Relay World Championship titles and more on an international C.V which dates back to the 2005 World Junior Championships in Gamagori, Japan.

Holland will return to the Land of the Rising Sun this coming weekend at WTCS Yokohama, an event which will be her first at the top table of international competition since her return to the sport following the birth of her daughter in early 2023.

I recently spoke to Vicky about her first experience of indoor supertri E racing in London, her early season ups and downs, the challenges of breaking into the British team and her goals and motivations before finally bringing down the curtain on a fantastic career.

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“Incredibly hard” supertri E baptism

Far more comfortable out on the roads, the real life meets virtual format at the London Aquatics Centre was a baptism of fire for Holland.

“It was a new challenge, definitely. It was probably as awful as I thought it might feel, racing as hard as you can in a very hot environment… it’s probably not my forte on the pool side here! I like to be out on the roads, but I did want to give something else a try.

“To be honest, coming back from pregnancy with absolutely zero points to my name, this is an opportunity that I sort of had to come and do, because there are quite good points attached to this race. I did not benefit at all from a pregnancy policy that’s come in a bit late to help me, so it was a case of turn up and see what you can do.

“I’ve been sick since Hong Kong. I’ve done about four days of training since then, so it was always going to be incredibly, incredibly hard. And that is what I found today, to be honest.”

Vicky Holland supertri E World Championship 2024 London bike
No roads here for Vicky Holland

Battling back from illness

After securing a World Triathlon Cup podium finish in late 2023, the new season hasn’t quite reached those heights yet, with illness and misfortune playing their part.

“Before I went to Hong Kong [Ed. World Triathlon Cup, where Vicky finished 11th with the quickest run split], I was actually really, really pleased with what I’ve been able to put together over the few months beforehand and felt like I was in really good shape, and that I was actually really excited to go to Hong Kong and see, you know, what I could do. And I was disappointed, predominantly with probably the first 100m of the swim, and that was kind of decisive for me I guess in a lot of ways.

“I was really pleased with how I rode and ran there, but that wasn’t enough for a really top result.

Vicky Holland World Triathlon Cup Hong Kong 2024 swim exit
Vicky Holland in action at World Triathlon Cup Hong Kong 2024 (Photo – World Triathlon)

“Off the back of that I immediately got sick unfortunately, as did a lot of the athletes who raced there. I chose to go to Liévin because I was on the start list, it was too soon for me to really make a decision on the day that I had to travel to go, and unfortunately, I was still not really feeling particularly well on the day of the race. I made a mistake that I didn’t even know I’d made, but didn’t take a penalty because I didn’t realise I had one, and that unfortunately got me disqualified.

“And that was really, really disappointing because I think that was the sort of race I could have actually really enjoyed, running around the track there. Coming from a track background in my youth, I still love running on the track whenever I can. So I was really excited about that race and so absolutely gutted that I’d managed to get myself there through all the sickness, think I qualified through my heat and then find out I was disqualified.”

When I spoke to Vicky in London, her potential schedule for May was up in the air. With big WTCS races in Yokohama and Cagliari in demand from athletes – especially after the cancellation of Abu Dhabi and the final top-tier events before Olympic selection – world rankings were going to be central to even getting race starts. Points are something Holland is having to play catch-up on.

Having been something of an ever-present on Elite British teams for more than a decade prior to her maternity, it’s a different challenge being on the other side.

“I mean, it shows how amazing we are in Great Britain that we have this challenge to get back into races. And the same with the American girls, they face exactly the same. And I am really pleased that World Triathlon do now finally have a policy that would protect people who want to go off and have a baby, because if you just think about any other job in the world, where would you be?

“You know, top level, managerial level, for example, in your job, go off and have a baby and have to go back down to basic pay on the bottom rung… like you would never get demoted, you know, for having a baby or you shouldn’t be, it’d be illegal! Whereas in sport, that’s essentially what’s happened to a lot of us who’ve gone off to have children.

“And unfortunately, with the timing of when I had my daughter, I just had a few months less than some of those other girls to get back in and to try and get those points. And so it’s just a bit of a scramble. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing I’m learning is how hard it is when you’re on the back foot to try and get the points – when you’re chasing, it so rarely works, that constant chase to try and get the points. So it’s been a whole new adventure.”

Aiming to go “full circle”

“I’d love to be able by the end of this season, to say that I can get the starts that I want to get, and, for example, go to that Grand Final and in my own right have earned that start. That would be a really nice sort of full circle moment to say that I was at this level, I took time out to start a family, I have my daughter now and I’m back and I’m racing at that standard again.

That would be a really nice way, I think, for me to possibly sign off.

While the next month is central to Paris 2024 Olympic selection discussion – talks that Vicky hopes to be a part of – her goals are not limited to that one race.

“I mean, I didn’t even know if I was coming back to sport after having my daughter. And it was never all about the Olympics. I knew that would be too big a sort of lofty goal to just be super focused on that.

“I think that was always setting myself up for a lot of barriers and potential disappointment. And that’s not to be sort of negative about it. It’s more out of respect, really, for the other girls that we’ve got who are as amazing as they are and are no doubt going to be pushing for those spots to go to the Games.

“And like I’ve just said, it’s hard enough just to get onto the start line with them, let alone to be able to contest. And if I am given an invite by World Triathlon to get onto a start line in May, I’ll do everything I can and I’ll just have a free shot. I’ve got nothing to lose.

You know, I’ve been to three Olympics. Four would be amazing. But it’s not the be all and end all.

“There’s a bit more to this story for me now about coming back from having a baby. I think there’s not that many people who’ve done it in short-course triathlon. We’re seeing more now, but there’s never been that many people who’ve done it.

Rio 2026 Olympic Games triathlon female podium - Gwen Jorgensen, Nicola Spirig, Vicky Holland
Olympic Bronze in Rio

“Now that I’ve also got Rheumatoid Arthritis as well, coming back and showing that you can still be very, very active whilst managing that kind of condition, I think that’s really important to me too. There is definitely this element of kind of full circle; come back to the level I was before I had a baby, because I think that’s really important.

“I’ve done it right at the end of my career. But there might be girls, women who want to do it a bit earlier on and want to know that they can get themselves back to the level that they were.”

Sharing the journey

Earlier this year we featured Vicky’s challenges with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and she has since appeared on national TV talking about the impacts of dealing with that as an elite athlete. I asked her about the balance of whether to share that message, and the benefits that doing so can bring.

“It was something I wasn’t really sure how, or if, I was going to talk about it. And I was also very conscious that I didn’t want it to be like a ‘woe is me’ sort of story, because actually, for me, it’s been a real positive story. You know, I had a lot of problems pre-pregnancy and then whilst I was pregnant that I didn’t know what they were.

“And in the build-up to the last Olympics I had a lot of problems with my shoulders and it was really inhibiting the swimming I could do, and we didn’t know what it was. And now we’ve got an explanation as to what was going on there. And so far, the medical care I’ve received since my diagnosis has been really good.

“My condition is currently completely under control, and I know that there probably will be times in my life where that’s not the case, but right now I’m in a really good place with it. And I think that is something that when you hear that you’ve got an autoimmune condition, it’s lifelong, that there’s no cure for it. And you think, oh my gosh, you know, this is pretty heavy and I’m going to be on medication for life.

“But actually, I would say the impact on me of having to take this medication is so minimal compared to what it gives me back, that it’s actually a really positive story if you can still do all the things that you sort of want to do.”

Best of luck to Vicky this coming weekend in Yokohama.

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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