Age / DOB
Sep 14 1991
“My first triathlon was actually a multi-sport race which had a kayak leg in it, but I fell out of the kayak!”
That wasn’t the most auspicious of starts for Amelia Watkinson, but it has been quite a journey since then and she is now one of the leading middle-distance athletes in the sport with a slew of big-race wins to her name since turning professional.
The New Zealander also has a passion for travelling and a talent for documenting it in both images and words. This dovetails perfectly with her race and training schedule.
Regular training stints in Phuket and St. Moritz are a feature of her triathlon year, as is a busy race programme.
Amelia has had to deal with injury setbacks along the way, including nearly six months off from running in 2018 after a fracture of the second metatarsal.
2019 though saw her best numbers yet in all three disciplines, which translated into three more half-distance triumphs, a first top-10 finish at the 70.3 World Championship and a top-five in her debut appearance in a full-distance race.
Battling back from injury
That kayaking mishap in her first event was very much the exception to the rule as Amelia starred in a whole variety of sports when she was younger, thriving in the outdoor life in New Zealand.
“I was a high-energy kid, who tried hard at everything. I got teased for this in school but rewarded for it in sport,” she explains.
Running was an early favourite (road, track and cross-country) and she made the top 10 at national level, first getting a taste of a team triathlon in the running leg. That piqued an interest in cycling, and she proved a natural.
She says: “I couldn’t swim to save myself, so it took a little while to get into triathlon and I just focused on cycling for a while.
“I joined the cycling club in Auckland. This was an amazing culture, we won most of the national team races, and I was national U19 TT and road race champion.
“I progressed into triathlon from there – I did my first half just for fun and qualified for an age-group race in Spain. I couldn’t turn down a travel opportunity!”
There have been plenty of chances to travel ever since thanks to her triathlon exploits.
Early on in her career, it was a balance between her academic life (she spent five years at Auckland University studying architecture) and training, with that Spanish triathlon actually being the 2012 ITU Long Distance World Championships in Vitoria, where she won her age group.
Over the next couple of years Amelia won plenty of domestic races (including the Auckland Half and New Plymouth Half), but she didn’t take up her pro licence until late 2014 by when she’d become a middle-distance national champion and qualified as an architect.
Her first event, aged 22, was the Challenge Half Gold Coast that August where she was involved in a head-to-head battle with the experienced Annabel Luxford (who had been third at the 70.3 World Championship the previous year), before drawing clear on the half marathon to win by just over a minute.
It also won her an all-expenses-paid trip and entry to Challenge Bahrain that December, where she rounded off the year nicely with an 11th-placed finish.
The following season, which had started with a podium place at 70.3 Auckland in January, then proved a little frustrating as she struggled with a hip injury.
A clear run in 2016 though made a world of difference as she took in no fewer than 20 events (both triathlon and cycling), which returned the incredible tally of 16 wins and three podiums.
The victories included IRONMAN 70.3 races at Busan and Thailand as well as Challenge Half titles at Puteri, Jeju and Kanchanaburi.
Spending lots of time training in Phuket (as part of the Thanyapura Triathlon team) coincided with a run of success in South-East Asia.
That pattern continued in 2017 when after signing off a European summer stint with a win in Lanzarote, she took 70.3s in quick succession in the Philippines and Indonesia followed by three other wins back in Thailand between September and November.
Heading back to New Zealand, and after a second and third place in the previous two seasons, she claimed the crown at IRONMAN 70.3 Taupo.
It wasn’t long however before she was derailed by that metatarsal fracture which took longer than expected to heal, some six months in total.
During that enforced absence she had been able to put extra work into her swimming (which would pay dividends later on) as well as her all-round conditioning.
The comeback arrived late in the year at 70.3 Bahrain where all was going to plan until an unlucky crash on the bike. Thankfully this one was far quicker to bounce back from, and it also gave her time to formulate her goals for 2019.
The top two were a top-10 finish at the 70.3 World Championship and racing a first full-distance IRONMAN, both of which she ticked off.
The full-distance race came in Frankfurt on a day most remembered for Sarah True’s late collapse in the intense heat when she had the title at her mercy.
For Watkinson though, it provided plenty of promise for the future as she clocked 9:49:32 for fourth place, with qualification for Kona a real target in the future.
The 70.3 World Championship meanwhile took place in Nice and featured a hilly, technical bike course. Amelia had gone into the race full of confidence after a win at 70.3 Poland the month before, her third of the campaign.
After hard work in all three disciplines she was swimming, cycling and running faster than she ever had before. And it was on the bike that she moved into the race lead before fading slightly to drop back to fourth.
The run, by her own admission, didn’t quite live up to expectations but she battled well to hold off Manon Genet and Emma Pallant and take seventh place.
The next 70.3 World Championship should have been close to home for Watkinson in Taupo, but she will have to wait a little longer for that.
Marrying travel and triathlon has proved a perfect mix for Amelia.
She explains: “The best part of the sport for me is definitely travelling with a purpose via the training.
“It means we tend to be away from the tourist areas – instead you may do a five-hour bike ride through bizarre little towns. It’s much more natural.”
However, it’s not quite a perfect life, with Watkinson adding: “I hate airports, the number I’ve cried at or had to sleep on the floor at is outrageous”.
Her passion for travelling and writing also comes through strongly in her blogs and photos and she says: “I think I’ve been to an art gallery in just about every city I’ve visited. That’s quite exciting, and it’s pretty cool.
“And I try to learn ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in every single country I go to.”