How Beth Potter reached the Olympic Games in a second sport

Beth Potter did not even own a bike seven years ago - now she is world triathlon champion and heading to the Olympics.

The 31-year-old represented Team GB in the 10,000m at Rio 2016 before making the switch a year later, having to learn the hard way of mastering three disciplines instead of one.  

Potter crossed the finish line in Pontevedra to win the final World Triathlon Championship Series event of the season, sewing up the world title and an Olympic quota place in the process.

The Scot has been selected to take that quota place and, alongside Alex Yee, is one of the first triathletes selected by Team GB for Paris 2024.

“I started off as a swimmer, so I swam from quite a young age, but I hadn't been swimming for eight or nine years when I started triathlon,” Potter explained.   

“And I didn't even have a bike.  

"The other athletes have obviously got a massive advantage over me. A lot of the guys have been doing triathlons since they were 10, or, in their teens.   

“I think you can pick up skills and techniques, especially on the bike, like riding in groups and riding in close proximity.   

“All that sort of stuff you pick up as a junior so much more easily than you do as an adult, because as an adult you know what happens if you fall off your bike, you know it's going to hurt, whereas kids just bounce.   

“I think that was quite hard and I ended up going and training with a bunch of kids to get better at that, I was training with 18-year-olds.  

“I had to swallow my pride and just get over it, but I think it's definitely worked.”  

Potter is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for their pathway to the Paris 2024 Games.

Potter has had her most complete season since taking up triathlon six years ago, winning World Series events in Abu Dhabi and Montreal with mixed relay silvers in Sunderland and Paris. 

Prior to this year, the former physics teacher had never previously topped a World Series podium but entered the finals in Pontevedra sitting in second behind France’s Cassandre Beaugrand.   After having to make up time on the bike, Potter produced the fastest 10k run of the field to storm to an emotional victory.  She added: "My goal was to get on the world stage and win a world or global medal, and I just didn't feel like that was achievable for me on the track.    "I just fell out of love with track and field after Rio, to be honest, and I wanted a different challenge.  

"It was really difficult making the switch, all my sponsors dropped me, I had no money. Racing was really hard, training was really hard.    "Going into a world-class environment was difficult and I spent a lot of time thinking I'd made the wrong decision.   "The feeling just got stronger that it was the right decision. Last year I got a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games and a few World Series medals.   "But I wouldn't say there was a defining moment, it was just every season got a bit better and I got slightly better results."   Potter upended her life in 2017, moving to Leeds to train alongside the Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonny, but stops short of saying it was a sacrifice.  The belief of the brothers, as well as the backing of the coaches and staff at Leeds Beckett University, spurred her on.   Potter often reminded herself that the Brownlees, themselves both world champions, would not waste their time on her if they did not believe she could do it.  

The current world No.1 experienced an illness-affected Olympic debut in Rio, where she finished 34th in the 10,000m with a time that was only 22 seconds quicker than her final leg of the triathlon at the weekend.  Next year she will have the chance to right those wrongs and is not concerned by the dominance of French triathletes ahead of their home Games, with two French women sharing the overall podium with her this season.   Instead, Potter is relishing a return to Paris where she won the Olympic test event earlier this season.  "Paris was by far the most enjoyable triathlon I have ever done, it was unreal," she said.  "The crowds, even though they were screaming for Cassandre, they were just so good and just running past some of those iconic places in Paris was really, really cool.   "And both me and Alex [Yee] got the better of the French in Paris so I think they should be worried about us because we were pretty dominant in Paris."

Sportsbeat 2023