Cover 21-year-old Hong Kong triathlete, Oscar Coggins tells Tatler that cycling is his favourite part of the triathlon (Photo: @oscarcoggins/ Instagram)

21-year-old Hong Kong triathlete, Oscar Coggins spoke with Tatler a day before jetting off to compete in the Tokyo Olympics 2020 Men's Triathalon

Triathlete Oscar Coggins, who represented Hong Kong at the Men's Triathalon at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 is nothing short of extraordinary. Not only does the 21-year-old train more than four hours each day, mastering the art of running, cycling, and swimming, he’s also an engineering student at the University of Hong Kong who has just finished his first year of studies. 

Tatler sat down with Oscar the day before his flight to Tokyo to learn all about his training, life during Covid lockdown, how he balances being a top-class athlete with his studies, and more. 

See also: Tatler Talks With Siobhan Haughey, Hong Kong’s Silver Medal Olympic Swimmer

Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview with me—how is training going at the moment?

It’s good! As I’m only five days out from the race, training has been a bit easier this week, compared to the last few. We generally really deload a lot before we fly––especially with Covid––because flights really affect your immune system. I get to rest and relax a bit before going to Tokyo, so it has been good. 

What does light training look like?

I’m sure to the average person, it seems like a lot. Today, I’ll probably train for up to two and a half, three hours total but usually, it will be four hours per day or more.

Since we’re already on the topic of training—What is training usually like and how has it been like during Covid?

On a regular weekday, I do three sessions a day, the first at around 7am, followed by a session around midday and then another in the afternoon. Each of the three sessions goes on for around an hour. Days where we have really long sessions—sometimes we spend three hours at a time on the bike—we only train twice. 

I’ve been really lucky with Covid, as I've been in Hong Kong. Since cases have been really low, my training hasn’t been affected too much. The government and the Sports Institute have been really supportive as well, keeping specific facilities open for athletes even when swimming pools were closed in the rest of Hong Kong.

What does a week of training look like for you?

We have to balance the three sports—we can’t just focus on one and expect to race well, so we alternate between running, cycling and swimming. 

I do swim training is pretty much every day, as it is super low impact. It’s very difficult to get injured from swimming, which is why it’s such a good thing to do if you want to exercise and get fit...but it’s so difficult technique-wise. That’s why we swim every day to get our technique up to scratch. We then alternate between biking and running days throughout the week. On the weekends, we’ll usually have an easier Sunday afternoon so we can do a race simulation on Saturday or Sunday. 

How has Covid-19 affected other parts of your life?

I travel far less. Most of the travel I do is for training and for races but it’s also something I enjoy—I think it’s one of the best parts of my career. I get to travel to a lot of places because to qualify for the Olympics you need a minimum of six races per year. In 2019 I was in Mauritius, and I’ve also been to Morocco. Travelling is like an extension of training but it’s also a part of my general lifestyle that I’ve been missing. 

Obviously, it’s been a lot more difficult to do other activities like going to dinner, especially when there was a two-person or four-person dining limit. It’s not so bad now, but I generally am pretty tired especially when training for big races, so I have to carefully pick and choose what I do socially so I won’t seem like a buzzkill. So when the dining limits were in place, it made it difficult to keep up with everyone. 

But overall I think I’ve been very lucky. I’m a very outdoors person and it hasn’t been too bad in that aspect, apart from when they closed all the beaches—that was a pain. 

See also: Hong Kong Fencer Cheung Ka-long Makes History With Olympic Gold Medal

What’s your favourite place that you’ve travelled to?

Saint Moritz, Switzerland. I spent a year there as I was training at a ski resort at 1800m elevation. Switzerland is just the most insanely beautiful place in the world— the roads are so smooth, everything’s so clean, the mountains are amazing. They are also lakes that people ice skate and ski over them when they’re frozen over during winter. 

Cozumel in Mexico was also a really, really amazing place to stay. When we go to tropical places, all the swim training is in the ocean, so we get to explore just by training. The water there is such a nice temperature, especially for me because I hate cold water. The water’s so clear that you can see right down to the bottom, ten metres or more.

We don’t really get that in Hong Kong.

Yeah, my favourite place in Hong Kong is Tung Wan beach. You have to either hike or get a boat there but it’s the clearest water you can get in Hong Kong. It's where Sharp Peak is, which I’ve also hiked and loved. 

How did you receive the news that you qualified for the Olympics and what was your reaction?

The qualifying system for the Olympic triathlon is based on points, so we’ve been keeping track of it really intensely. Each athlete does all the mapping, working out what we need to do in each race to qualify, so we kind of knew before we got the official news. But obviously, when I got the official confirmation it was such a relief. Especially since Covid delayed and extended the process by an extra year, so everything has been so up in the air. 

It’s just insane to think I’m flying to Tokyo tomorrow. I’ve got all the Hong Kong national team gear too! Every event I do, every piece of kit I get given, is just a reminder that it’s actually happening and it gets more and more real each time. 

I’m stressed out just hearing about the stress you must have felt. How did you manage all the stress and anxiety?

I’ve been racing triathlons since I was 15, so one of the things I’ve gotten really good at is focusing on the things I can really affect right now, and so that’s how I calm myself down. Obviously, it’s good to have the big picture in mind and work towards it but if I think of the big picture in the build up to a race, it really stresses me out because there’s nothing I can do about it. 

What really calms me down is focusing on what I can do, at this very moment, or what I can do very soon. If I’m training, I just focus on the session ahead of me, try to make the most of it and come out of the session in the best shape possible. 

When I’m in a race, obviously there’s a lot less to do so it’s a lot harder. I really just focus on planning the stuff before the race—I pack really early so that on the day I don't even have to think about whether I’ve got everything. So when those kinds of thoughts go through my mind I’m able to calm down.

Do you have other ways to deal with stress?

I love sleeping. In the lead up to a race, I’m either training really hard or I’m meant to be resting, so the activities I do reflect that: napping a lot, watching Netflix, watching sports, playing video games—even though I’m not very good!

During the off-season when training’s a little bit slower, I prefer to do a lot of active things. I love hiking, and exploring Hong Kong. That’s one of the good things about moving up to Sha Tin, there’s just so many more things in Hong Kong that I’ve gotten to experience that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I was born and grew up on the Island, so it’s very easy to think the world ends at the harbour. When I have the energy and time to do so, I really like to go outdoors and relax that way. I find that getting outside extremely calming for me. 

Where have you explored in the New Territories?

My favourite at the moment is Tung Wan. The water there is amazing, the beaches there are super nice, it’s where the rock pools are but I haven’t personally done them because my coach would kill me if I got injured *laughs*. 

I also hike where I live in the Ma On Shan area. I love Tai Mo Shan in the winter. I’ve hiked up there and the view is just amazing, especially in the winter when pollution isn’t as bad. It doesn’t even feel like Hong Kong up there.

How do you deal with the Hong Kong heat?

I think I’m pretty good at dealing with it because I was born here and have lived here all my life so I’m used to it at this point. I always carry more water than I would need, I’m always pouring water on my head to keep myself cool. 

If we have run training, we rarely do it in the middle of the day, and I apply the same principle if I’m going out for a hike—my coach would kill me if I showed up to training destroyed because I decided to go hiking in the middle of the day. 

What’s your strongest part of a triathlon for you?

My favourite part is definitely the bike. I’ve always loved bike training, especially in Hong Kong. It’s just so much fun for me. When you’re biking around Hong Kong, you’re able to look around and appreciate the city, especially if you bike up to the Peak at 5am like I do.

Hardest part?

The hardest part for me is the swim start. There are so many people diving into the water at the same time and so it’s important to get a good start. If you don’t, you’re just fighting with fifty other guys. For me specifically, I’m tall but I’m very light and I’m very skinny, so if someone decides he wants to swim over me, there’s not much I can really do. Once I get through that, especially if I get through it in a good position, I’m just so relieved even though I still have the whole swim to do. I’m just like “Okay, I got through the worst part of it”. 

What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?

The first is that I’m vegetarian, and the second I’m studying engineering at HKU. 

I just finished my first year at university. I was originally going to take a gap year to qualify for the Olympics but because school turned online due to Covid, I was able to study while qualifying for the Olympics. 

How do you have time to study?

I’m really lucky that I really enjoy everything I do. I really enjoy triathlon and I really enjoy the courses I’m doing so even though it’s a really busy schedule, it usually doesn’t feel too much like work. Of course, there are times when there are things you don’t really want to do, but when it’s for a goal you’re really passionate about it’s easy to push through it.

How would people describe your personality?

I think I come off as very shy and quiet. For things I’m less in my element about, I’m usually very happy to sit back and let other people talk but when it comes to things that directly affect me and things that I’m knowledgeable about and care about, then I’m quite talkative and happy to speak.

When you’re not training, what can we most likely find you doing?

At the moment, napping *laughs* but if you ask me in six months time, it’ll probably be being outdoors at the beach.

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