AUSTRALIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: The Australian Olympic Committee has announced a six-strong Australian Triathlon Team for Tokyo, the sport’s sixth Games since it debuted in Sydney 2000.
Rio Olympians Ashleigh Gentle and Aaron Royle return for their second Games, while Jake Birtwhistle, Matt Hauser, Jaz Hedgeland and Emma Jeffcoat will all make their Olympic debut.
On top of their individual events, the athletes will contest the Mixed Triathlon Relay in the event’s Olympic debut, an event Australia has had great international success in claiming a gold, three silver and a bronze at the Mixed Relay World Championships since 2015.
Australia is the only country to secure the maximum six quota spots for Tokyo, with Australian athletes consistently performing at the top levels of international triathlon.
Birtwhistle was the only male to win two World Triathlon Series races in 2019, Gentle has 11 World Triathlon event wins and 33 podiums, Hauser is a World Junior champion and World and Commonwealth Games Relay champion, Hedgeland was recently crowned Oceania champion and Royle and Jeffcoat are World Championships Mixed Relay medallists.
Gentle, 26th in Rio, joins Loretta Harrop (2000, 2004) and Erin Densham (2008, 2012) as a two-time Olympian behind recent Triathlon Hall Of Fame inductee Emma Moffat (2008, 2012, 2016) as the sport’s only triple Olympian, while Royle joins Peter Robertson (2000 and 2004), Courtney Atkinson (2008, 2012) and Brad Kahlefeldt (2008, 2012) as the fourth male two-time Olympic triathlete.
Chef de Mission for the Australian Olympic Team for Tokyo Ian Chesterman congratulated the triathletes on their selection.
“It’s fantastic to announce Emma, Jaz, Jake and Matthew to their first Olympics and to welcome Ashleigh and Aaron back to the Australian Olympic Team,” Chesterman said.
“These athletes have shown tremendous perseverance and grit to make it through the challenges of the pandemic and to secure their place at the Tokyo Games.
“I’m particularly excited to see the team compete in the Olympic debut of the Mixed Relay, the team element has brought out fantastic performances from Australian athletes and I’m sure they will represent the country proudly again in Tokyo.”
“Thank you to Triathlon Australia for helping these athletes realise their Olympic dream, and to the families, friends, teammates, coaches and supporters who have been there with the athletes every step of the way.”
Sydney's Olympic rookie Jeffcoat, who transitioned from Surf Lifesaving to Triathlon in 2015, has not been able to wipe the smile off her face.
“I could not be more proud to be named on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic team,” said Jeffcoat.
“The massive drawcard for me was to make an Olympic Games and become an Olympian...triathlon offered that and my coach back in my surf club days (at Dee Why) gave me the motto ‘Dare To Dream’ and I’ve carried that with me the whole time and he honestly believed I could get here today – so I’m stoked.
“When I look down at my Olympic Team polo and those Olympic rings you just cant wipe the smile off my face – I’m absolutely over the moon, I’m just so humbled and so proud. Knowing how much hard work it takes to get here, it literally gives me goose bumps.
“It’s a dream and it’s a dream come true and I don’t think it will ever get old. I’ll never lose the smile when I remember I’m going to be an Olympian.”
And Jeffcoat, at 25, is also the fourth Australian “Emma” to represent Australia in Olympic triathlon, following Emma Snowsill, Emma Moffatt and Emma Jackson.
“When I moved to triathlon, people said well you’ll have to do well because your name is Emma. And now five years on and to be going to Tokyo as an Australian Olympic triathlete named Emma is special,” said Jeffcoat.
In Rio, Royle finished in ninth place becoming the fifth Australian alongside Miles Stewart (6th in Sydney), Greg Bennett (4th in Athens), Simon Thompson (10th in Athens) and Ryan Bailie (10th in Rio) to place inside the top ten.
The 31-year-old Royle, who had travelled from Girona in Spain to the French Pyrenees for an altitude training camp, admits he was having a restless sleep the night he was due to find out the team.
“Our call was set for 7:30am so it’s fair to say I had a pretty restless sleep that night,” said Royle.
“Obviously I was over the moon, ecstatic, stoked or many other similar descriptive words, but mainly I felt very relieved and proud to hear the words ‘you will be nominated to the Australian Olympic Team.’
“It’s a privilege and an honour to be able to do so and I’m looking forward to being able to do this in Tokyo with my team mates in July.”
Newcastle local Royle is the first to admit his five-year journey between Rio and Tokyo has had its challenges.
“Injuries, changing training locations and coaches, having to overcome many days of self doubt, asking 'Am I past my best, do I still have room to improve ?’ type of self doubt. Ultimately I learnt to find joy in the struggle and to embrace this journey.”
Triathlon Australia’s Performance Director Justin Drew said he was proud of efforts to date of Australia’s triathletes, the only country in the world to secure the maximum six quota spots, saying it was an endorsement of the athlete group, who stayed focused until the end of the qualification period.
“We have a really nice balance in this team,” said Drew. “Ashleigh has achieved a host of major WTS and World Cup podiums including her Grand Final win in 2018 as well as her relay results and Royle is an experienced campaigner across individual and relay events who has been a part of multiple world championship medal teams in relay and a top 10 finisher individually in Rio.
“Then there’s an athlete of Birtwhistle’s calibre who is the only man to win two WTS races in the last full season in 2019 as well as the emerging talents of Hauser, Hedgeland and Jeffcoat. It is not a surprise that no matter where our athletes have been based around the world that it has been one incredibly demanding campaign but it’s always apparent that the focus has been about performing in Tokyo which is what we want to do.”
“The Australian team has had some great success in the relay, including being on the World Championships podium in every event we have contested since 2015. And when they do race for that team and no matter what that combination is they set out to do something special.”
The Triathlon competition will run from 26-27 and 31 July at the Odaiba Marine Park.