Emerging Queensland triathlon star Gillian Backhouse has scored an emotionally charged bronze medal to claim her first ITU World Triathlon Series podium finish in freezing conditions in Edmonton earlier today.
The ITU World Championship under 23 silver medallist from last year over the same course returned to the Alberta capital and showed just why she is considered one of the new faces of the sport in Australia.
The 24-year-old, who was Australia’s top finisher in 13th in the recent Rio Olympic Test Event, dug deep to overcome the cold and land herself a top three finish behind Great Britain’s Vicky Holland and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy.
A renowned swim-biker, Backhouse ran herself into a perfect position on the five-kilometre run after another strong showing on the tricky 20-km bike ride.
Conditions were tough with some competitors, like Australia’s leading triathlete Emma Moffatt, so cold, she struggled to get her helmet off in transition, costing her valuable time and a podium push.
It was so cold that Duffy admitted she couldn’t feel her feet throughout the entire bike ride and athletes like Backhouse wore compression garments and were wrapped in “space blankets” and beanies straight after the finish.
Moffatt, who has been training in Colorado, fought back to finish a spirited seventh, holding off her fast-finishing team mate Ashleigh Gentle (8th) who charged home after riding in between both the lead and the chase group with Emma Jackson rounding out another solid day for the Australians in 11th.
In the men’s race Australia’s first Olympic qualifier Aaron Royle again gave a spirited sight, finishing a close up fifth behind winner Richard Murray (RSA) and Spanish pair – Javier Gomez and Mario Mola.
His team mate Ryan Fisher, after giving a good sight on the swim and bike, faded to 29th.
Royle was fourth out of the water and he and Fisher shared their responsibilities on the bike but it was Royle who was on the move out of transition and sped into third, only to be claimed by the flying Mola half-way through the run.
But he hung to keep his consistent season very much on track after his fifth in Rio and last start bronze in Stockholm.
The Junior race, run in conjunction with the WTS saw Triathlon Australia’s National Talent Academy athletes Matt Hauser win the gold and Luke Willian finish fifth in a perfect hit out in the lead up to the ITU World Championships in a fortnight.
But it was a day to celebrate for Backhouse, who broke down with tears of joy after the race – returning to the course that saw her grab individual silver in the under 23s world title and also in the Under 23s/Junior teams relay.
She admitted it was a combination of coaching and mental strength that got her over the line.
Fighting back the tears, Backhouse put her success down to her Olympic coach Moss who has been in Aix Les Bains in France with his squad during the European summer and preparing now for the WTS Grand Final in a fortnight.
“I have been with my coach Stephen Moss for two years now and particularly this year we have been able to build into training.” Backhouse said.
“It’s been my first real go at the WTS Series this year…and I can’t believe I’m here let alone get a podium finish like this.
“Edmonton has certainly been a happy hunting ground for me.”
She will now join training partner Jackson, Moffatt, Gentle as well as Erin Densham and Charlotte McShane on Australia’s Elite women’s team for Chicago.
Royle and Fisher will be joined by Australia’s highest ranked ITU athlete, Ryan Bailie, Jacob Birtwhistle as well as Courtney Atkinson, on the Elite Men’s Team.