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LOCAL HERO: septuagenarian triathlete not about to slow down

People have spent the past 48 years suggesting to Arnott Kidd that it is probably about time he retired from competitive sport.

As a 27-year-old, he felt almost apologetic when asked if he was still playing rugby, but querying his continuing longevity as a 75-year-old triathlete meets with a more defiant declaration.

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“I can’t see any reason why should I stop,” insists the Edinburgh man, before softening his stance. “You see people who really are an embarrassment to themselves so as long as I’m in the main body of the race and not trailing in at the end I’ll still do it, but I’d definitely opt out if I got a patronising clap at the end after coming in last.”

That day still seems some way off for this remarkable competitor after a year of unprecedented success.

Gold medals in the 75-79 age group at both the European Duathlon and Triathlon championships were followed by a duathlon silver at the worlds in North Carolina, with Kidd only denied a third gold by a puncture. Not that he has any regrets at not completing a clean sweep; had he not been in the transition stage at the time and able to perform a 30-second wheel change, he would not have rescued any reward from an event he first participated in in 1995, a year after taking up the sport.

Having spent much of the 80s taking part in people’s marathons – “a complete waste of time” – Kidd was persuaded to enter his first triathlon by his son, who was involved in the New Year’s Day race in Edinburgh and needed to boost numbers for the 1500m swim, 40k bike ride and 10k run.

“It was quite a dramatic ascent but I just drift into things in life,” Kidd offers by way of explanation for his immediate immersion. “It wasn’t like the conversion of Paul on the Road to Damascus but it took me into the international field, which allowed my wife and I to travel around the world.”

Having also spent time abroad during his career as a chemist, Kidd has long used sport as a vehicle not only for his ambitions but also his social life, integrating himself into an alien community by way of the local rugby club. The conviviality and camaraderie inherent in that sport is something he has cherished since joining Edinburgh Accies as a young man but he fears that the game has suffered now that the elite and the also-rans have been cleaved apart by professionalism.

Now he finds those bonds in a new sport, the varied nature of his training allowing this “professional triathlete” to rub shoulders with swimmers one day and cyclists the next. The 12 hours a week he fits in around his “message boy” role in the family pharmacy also includes regular jogging sessions with wife Heather as the couple subscribe to the view that you are never too old to enjoy exercise.

“Sport for all and sport for life is very much my philosophy,” he says. “There’s no reason why people shouldn’t be able to do sport well into their senior years and if you take swimming as an extreme example it’s really sad. I meet 16-year-olds who’ve given up because they’ve been swimming solidly from the age of 10 to 15 and the parents have been haranguing them and they suddenly realise there is more to life that looking at the bottom of a pool.

“A neighbour of mine retired from professional football at the age of 35 – half my age – which is such a shame because there’s no reason why people should retire from competitive sport. I think society puts a lot of pressure on them, people saying things like ‘when are you going to retire gracefully’ and treating you as an invalid when you don’t really feel that way, but I suppose at my age every year is a bonus.”

Not that such an attitude will be permitted to affect Kidd’s ambitions. With the world duathlon championships in his home city next year, he would love to win gold on an Arthur’s Seat course which he has been running for as long as he can remember and heaven forfend any doddery rivals who might get in his way. Kidd insists he is not overly competitive but his attitude suggests otherwise.

“In the marathon era it irked me the idea of running 26 miles and not winning or doing well,” he insists. “So many people do these events and just shuffle round slowly, which is ridiculous. I don’t know what sense of achievement they get from doing that. Not everyone can win, but in all the time I’ve competed I’ve tried to go past people if I see them in front of me, not shuffle round spending half the time walking.

“It goes back to the days when I worked and I used to come back from the world championships and people asked if I’d finished, because they completely missed the point. I didn’t burst a gut training all these hours just to finish. If I can’t win, I’ll try and be second and if I can’t do that I want to be third – I’ll try and do the best I can.”

Just as he has for the past 48 years.

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