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Going for gold: Dave Ellis and Luke Pollard plot the road to Paris 2024

Better than ever, can Dave Ellis and Luke Pollard collect Paralympic triathlon gold this summer at Paris 2024?

Chief Correspondent
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On the road to Paris 2024, one of the short-priced favourites for gold medal success at the Paralympic Games will surely be the British pairing of Dave Ellis and his Guide, Luke Pollard.

Competing in the PTVI (Visually Impaired) category, the pairing have won World Championship gold for the past three years, as well as gaining prime time TV coverage when topping the podium at the Commonwealth Games of Birmingham 2022. The only title they have not yet collected is that of Paralympic champions, with a mechanical issue stopping them in their tracks at Tokyo 2020, when they were the strong favourites heading into that race.

I recently spoke to both Dave and Luke about that event, the challenges of Paris and the route they plan to achieve optimum performance later this year.

No looking back

An Olympic and Paralympic year will always bring more spotlight from the wider sporting media beyond the triathlon bubble, and the easy narrative of ‘seeking redemption’ will no doubt play out many times over the next six months in reports. That said, there’s little hangover from that day at Odaiba Marine Park, and they seem well prepared to deal with all the questions that will – repetitively – come their way, as Dave explained:

“I think because we’ve had so many races since then, and good races too, with that being one freak mechanical that had never occurred before or since, kind of makes it easier to put it out of your mind.

“Also, we went through a similar pressure situation at the Commonwealth Games, which is a similar sort of situation where you’ve got one shot to win this race and we pulled it off there. I think the combination of those two factors kind of stands us in good stead for the upcoming Paralympics.”

With his military (RAF) training, Luke brings a task focus to the team; ‘seeking redemption’ will not be the key driver for this duo.

“I think we went away after Tokyo and looked at what the problem was, and we’ve sorted the problem out and so mechanically that can’t happen again. Honestly, I haven’t thought about it for a while in the sense of it potentially being any hindrance on performance.

“I think as Dave said, the fact that he’s won three world titles on the bounce since Tokyo gives more confidence than any doubts from the past. If we do what we do best, get some good training and go into the race in good form then I don’t think there should be anything holding us back.”

Dave Ellis / Luke Pollard - World Para Triathlon Championships Pontevedra 2023
Photo Credit: Wagner Araujo / World Triathlon

Flexibility

One of the trends of the 2023 Para season was the number of events that were switched to different formats. The WTPS in Swansea (Aquathlon), the European Championships in Madrid (Duathlon) and the Test Event in Paris (Duathlon), meant that versatility was essential.

With water quality in the Seine sure to be an ongoing talking point ahead of the Games, does that prospect change anything in terms of preparations for Dave?

“I think just racing more duathlons last year probably helped for this year! I’d say generally I do a fairly heavy run programme and that’s a big strength of mine. We won’t do that many duathlons this year – probably the British Duathlon Championship – which will be a good opportunity to go through the whole duathlon format.

“I think Paris will do everything in their powers to try and make sure that it’s not a duathlon. They are a big triathlon country aren’t they – they won’t want a duathlon.”

Dave Ellis, Luke Pollard, World Para Cup Paris 2023


A “special” Paris course

While all fingers will be crossed that we do see the scheduled swim-bike-run format in the French capital, the pairing did get valuable feedback and learnings from their victory last year. Fair to say, that the swim could be a key to how the race will play out – with the conditions adding particular challenges to Para athletes.

Dave told me, “We managed to actually go in for the swim recce a day or two before the race, and the challenges of the swim are very different to what we would normally face. We’d done a bit of river prep beforehand, but it was definitely a different feeling when you were in there. We weren’t even really going at race pace, just checking out the course, but it made quite a big difference. I definitely think it could have quite a big impact on the race.

“It will definitely provide a challenge to both of us, when you have athlete and Guide swimming side-by-side and you are trying to navigate the current as best as we can.”

Piloting the tandem, you get the feeling that Luke can’t wait to ride the course again later this year.

“That bike course is pretty special – I don’t think there’s ever been a race like it, and arguably I don’t know if there ever will be another one. Riding on the Champs, riding on the cobbles and some of the technical aspects of that does come into play; perhaps not as much as I originally thought, but it’s just such an iconic and cool venue. It was quite good to be able to get around there and to be able to ride the course as hard as we did and come away with confidence for this year, has been pretty helpful.”

Speed is also the word for the run course, with one particular little twist…

“There’s a little bit on the cobbles again, just one part of it which adds a different technical aspect to the run, especially as it’s just as you come off the bike and link to the run course. It’s about 300-metres on the cobbles as you come of the bike – you definitely have to focus on picking your feet up on the cobbles. The rest is very fast.”

Teamwork

While Ellis and Pollard have developed into the top ranked PTVI athletes in the world, for Dave, the Paralympic Games is also a family affair. Dave’s long-time partner is fellow Paris-bound triathlete and multiple Paralympic Games medallist, Claire Cashmore.

How does that impact on their approach to elite sport?

“I think you just realise the amount of time it takes, the amount of energy it takes and how little energy you have left for other things and the pressures involved.

If you weren’t an athlete, I think it would be quite hard to understand just what you are going through or have been through in the previous event.

“I think we can both appreciate the difficulties we face and the challenges that we’ve got going forwards.”

Better than ever?

Turning to Luke, I asked how he measured the progress they had made individually and as a racing team. Are they better now, than they were heading into Tokyo 2020?

“I think so. I think the level of the racing has moved on in the last four years, but luckily I think both Dave and I have moved on. I think definitely physically we have.

“We are quicker triathletes – but I think just working together, when curveballs are thrown at you like a duathlon or aquathlon or even mechanical issues, I think we are just better at dealing with that stuff now. I think the last couple of years have prepared us for every eventuality really.”

If we raced ourselves from four years ago, we’d definitely come out on top at the moment.

Returning to the subject of public focus, the Paralympic cycle will shine the spotlight on athletes once again this year. Having, perhaps, gone through a similar experience as part of the Commonwealth Games in 2022, were there significant differences there versus, for example, a regular Paratriathlon European or World Championship event?

“There was more interest, definitely… but triathlon itself [Ed. for Team England] did really well with so many medals, I think that meant a shared workload! Was it four of five golds and one silver I think for Team England; I think Paralympics will be different… but then again there’s lots of Para sports too, so I don’t really know!

“I’d say the biggest difference in Commies was the amount of support we got on the day. We just don’t normally get that, and I literally couldn’t hear Luke if he was giving me instructions on the bike if a corner coming up say, the crowds were just that loud riding around the bike course.”

PTVI men's race birmingham 2022 dave ellis photo credit world triathlon
[Photo credit: Ben Lumley / World Triathlon]

Paris… via Yokohama

One Day One Race‘ is a British Triathlon pillar built on performing to your best when it really matters most, but that is rarely achieved by just training. What is the racing scheduling looking like ahead of the big one?

“As you say, I don’t think you can just bury yourself into training and then get to May feeling you are done already. We’ll try and break it up, and there’s British Duathlon Champs in March, which we’ll probably try and do. And then triathlon wise, we’ll go to Yokohama as it’s a similar quite technical bike course, similar challenge to Paris, and a chance to race a quality field as there will be other athletes still trying to qualify, so we should get a good race there.

“There’s loads of races in June, so we’ll probably do Swansea and then one of the others potentially.”

Dave Ellis, Luke Pollard on the run at World Triathlon Para Series Swansea
Racing at WTPS Swansea in 2023 – Photo Credit: Ben Lumley / World Triathlon

There may be a chance to mix things up too, with some single sport outings.

“Last year I did a 10k early on in the year, just to kind of do something different. We’ve done 5k parkrun, we’ve done 10-mile TT’s on the bike. Luke probably does more TT’s on his own too.

“Yeah, I try and use time-trialling almost as a bit of a training method for building bike power when riding a tandem. If we can do it on the tandem, even better. I’ve also dabbled in a bit of middle distance racing where I can. I’ll go and do Challenge Gran Canaria to start with, and then see what fits in around Dave’s calendar. At the end of the day, racing Paris with Dave is definitely the priority, so anything after that has got to supplement that target really.”

Dave Ellis / Luke Pollard - World Triathlon Para Cup Besancon 2022
Photo Credit: World Triathlon
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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