Southland lad Matt King has gone from chasing his own Olympic cycling dream to coaching medallists. He stumbled into the role but is now gearing up for a new challenge – helping a Queenstown athlete reach Tokyo 2020. Louise Scott reports
When Matt King beat two Olympic medallists during a casual bike race in England they asked who he was.
They were the British Brownlee brothers, triathletes Jonathan and Alistair, who took podium places at London’s 2012 Olympic Games.
It was a regular Tuesday night in Yorkshire and Queenstowner King was training for an upcoming triathlon.
“Then they asked me to join them for a training run and I just became really good friends with them.
“The boys had just won gold and bronze in London.
“I just kept giving them pointers – so they approached British Triathlon and said I should be getting paid as a coach.”
With sign-off from the national body, King trained the duo ahead of the Rio Olympics when they made history.
Alistair retained his title and Jonathan took silver.
While he feels lucky to land the coaching job, King is no newbie to big comps.
He cycled for the New Zealand road and track cycling team at 18 and trained as part of the Kiwi squad for the 2004 Games in Athens.
Annoyingly, his Olympic dream was scuppered by a groin injury.
It didn’t deter his ambition and he moved to the United States with the plan to turn pro.
After three months King, who is originally from Invercargill, realised the sport wasn’t quite what he thought it would be.
It was while the cycling world was rocked by news about seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong allegedly taking performance-enhancing drugs.
“I had no interest in that – that isn’t why I do sport.”
On his return to NZ he again rode for his country at the Oceania Championships and got involved in triathlon after a mate convinced him he’d be good at it.
He met his British wife Fiona in 2010 and the pair upped sticks to Europe where he competed in a number of races.
The European circuit was a different ball game.
King: “The level was just in another league. I came from a cycling background and a time-trial background but the swim was my weakest [element] so I would come out a few minutes behind.
“You’d be trying to catch the guys in front and they were just as good cyclists, if not better than me. I could finish in the top 10 – but no better.”
He thinks this experience bolstered his coaching skills when working with the Brownlee boys.
“We’d have Tuesday coaches meetings. We would sit down and discuss with the top athletes training loads, injury prevention, race and training schedules, training camps.”
They’d shoot over to Spain for these, due to England’s cold weather.
What he learned from coaching the Brownlees was the role is more about listening and being a mentor – making sure they’re not overdoing it.
“They can’t always see when they are too tired, so you give advice.”
When King’s son Sam was born 21 months ago, he decided to take a step back from coaching and move home.
Jonathan Brownlee has since trained in Queenstown.
King, who spent time holidaying in the resort as a kid, says the move was an easy decision.
It’s been home since July last year, when Fiona landed a job as a GP at Wakatipu Medical Centre.
After his return, King was approached by Olympic mountain biking hopeful Kate Fluker.
He says she’s a machine.
“She is such a natural athlete. [I’m] hoping from now until 2020 we can develop her enough, and stay injury-free, so that she can have a good crack.”
Fluker snapped her collarbone while racing during a World Cup race in France last June.
After her recovery, she’s managed to retain her Motatapu title and win The Pioneer mixed category with fellow Queenstowner Mark ‘Willy’ Williams.
Life’s a juggle for King. Aside from coaching and being a hubby and dad, he’s training to be an electrical engineer.
He also hopes to use his coaching skills to coach young athletes who have potential to move up the ranks and eventually represent NZ.