Oscar & Charlie | Road to Paris

Oscar Kelly and his guide, Charlie Harding compete together in Para-triathlon. We’re proud to be supporting them on their journey to the Paralympics in Paris in August 2024.

In this blog post we’ve delved into their background as athletes and how they are preparing for this year’s upcoming races.

How did you get into para-triathlon?

Charlie: When I was 7 years old, I watched my mum compete in a local triathlon in Penrith. It all started from there and I joined a triathlon club.

I then ended up competing at the UK School Games when I was 14 years old, where I was asked to guide another visually impaired athlete in my region. I was actually competing against Oscar at the time and his other guide Jacob.

Oscar: I just used to love cycling. I cycled to school, and then ended up getting invited to a British Cycling para-day. I met someone there who did triathlons, and quite liked the multi-sport aspect.

After taking part in a couple of races I went to a British Triathlon camp. They saw some potential and I was invited onto the ‘Talent Squad’.

How did you meet each other?

Oscar: So we initially met at the School Games, like Charlie said, but we didn’t compete together. It wasn’t until 2021 that we bumped into each other again at a training camp.

Charlie: Yeah, Oscar ‘slid into my DMs’ on Instagram and asked if I would like to guide him in a few races.

Oscar: We clicked pretty quickly and after a few initial races, we entered our first international race, and actually came second. The rest of that year was pretty mad. We came sixth at the European Championships. We then got a start for the World Championships. Unfortunately we crashed – but we were looking at a podium place.

How often do you get to train together?

Charlie: At the minute we only train once per week on the bike together as we are both in different places and train with different squads. However, when it comes to races, we often spend more time together training and honing every detail.

Oscar: We’ve found that race week before a major event really makes a big difference to our performance and results.

Charlie: Yeah, so before Paris, a lot of work will be put in over the summer to make sure we are both in the best position.

What have been your biggest achievements to date?

Charlie: We have two second place finishes in Montreal World Para Series so far, along with a couple of podiums in World Cups and a top 5 at the Commonwealth Games (although we did have a puncture).

Oscar: There have been a lot of cool experiences. But we’re always looking forward and hoping for our first international win soon.

How important is communication during a race?

Charlie: It’s often hard for me to communicate as I’m usually at my limit of physical ability. It’s more important to understand beforehand, exactly what we are going to do during the race. We’ll also run through plans for when things might go wrong and how we would best approach any problems.

Oscar: It’s very different pairing to pairing. It also depends on how much vision the athlete has. But for myself and Charlie, one of our superpowers is that we don’t have to really communicate all that much during the race. It’s like we’re thinking the same thing.

Like when we crashed at the Worlds in 2021, there wasn’t any discussion about whether we should carry on. It literally took us 12 seconds to pick ourselves up, run to the bike and just go. That similar mentality and approach helps us as a partnership.

What does it take to be a good guide?

Charlie: There’s a lot more to guiding than just the physical aspect. It’s about working with your athlete to get the most out of them, as well as yourself.

I play a key role in communicating during racing but also understanding what Oscar needs pre and post races, as well as in training. Having the ability to stay calm and think quickly in a high-stress situation is an important skill to have as a guide.

Oscar: Yeah, there’s no need for instructions or guidance at every corner. But encouragement and being able to communicate effectively, should plans change mid-race, is important.

One of your biggest races to date was the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. How did you find that experience?

Charlie: I think it was the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced. A home crowd was certainly a big advantage and we thrived off the noise.

Going into the race we dealt with the pressure really well and often a big occasion brings out a big performance for the both of us.

Unfortunately, a couple of punctures put an end to our hopes of finishing 2nd. But we managed to come back for 5th.

Oscar: It’s a bit of a sore subject for us. We put a lot of hard work and preparation into that event. We expected a good result for ourselves. But when we got the first puncture and had to do a whole lap on a carbon rim, it was painful to watch people go past. 

But we managed to make up places in the run and was only 40 seconds off the podium in the end.

It was an amazing experience.

Obviously, the goal for this year is to qualify for the Paralympics in Paris. How did you find the test event in Paris last year?

Oscar: Qualifying for Paris is the big one. So, the test event was super important to go to. Even just to familiarise ourselves with the city and the area a bit. We weren’t at peak fitness going into that event, but we’d done a training camp the week before which really helped.

Unfortunately, the event ended up being a duathlon (run-bike-run). And that’s not really my strength. But we learnt a lot from the experience, and we ended up doing a lot better than we thought.

Charlie: Yeah, while the duathlon was probably not in our favour, we still pulled out a 4th position in the most stacked race of the year.

The technical bike course definitely suited our riding, as we are stronger on the more technical courses. If we qualify for Paris this year, we should really put up a good fight for the medals.

Are there any other key events you’re looking forward to participating in?

Charlie: The main aim at the minute involves qualifying for the Paralympics. So, much of the focus is on racing well at the World Para Series. Swansea will be a great home race, which we are hoping to do well at.

Plus, there’s the World Champs at the end of the year, which will also be a big target.  Although, it’s still a long way off, so we aren’t thinking too much about that at the moment.

Oscar: We’re also hopefully getting a new bike at some point this year. So that might change some of the races we do. But it’s all about getting those final qualification points for the Paralympics.

Hopefully there will be a few wins somewhere along the way too!

Since 2023, Hiplok have been supporting the UK charity British Blind Sport. How important is sport to you, Oscar, as a visually impaired person?

Oscar: There are a lot of barriers put in place around sports and people with visual impairments. To start with, you’ve got to contend with pre-conceptions in terms of what you’re capable of, from other people but also yourself. Plus, access to equipment is not easy and usually expensive.

It’s important that everyone has access to whatever they want to take part in, whether you have a visual impairment or not. And it’s great that there are charities out there to support people, like British Blind Sport do.

My parents taught me that there’s no reason why I can’t do what anything fully sighted people do. There were never any barriers put in front of me when I was growing up. I was very lucky to have that.

I wasn’t naturally sporty but was very active growing up. Sport at school was quite a negative experience, but once I found the right sport for me it really helped. And British Blind Sport try to open those barriers.

No matter who you are, getting active and being healthy is important. And BBS are there to support anyone from grass roots to World Champion elite athletes.

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