In the countdown to next week’s Olympic triathlon events, Triathlon Australia’s Performance Director and Olympic Team Leader, Justin Drew has provided this overview of his team, managing the heat and their realistic chances on sport’s biggest stage.
Monday will see two-time Olympian Aaron Royle (NSW) adding Tokyo to Rio and Olympic debutants Jake Birtwhistle (TAS) and Matthew Hauser (QLD) take to the Odaiba Marine Park circuit in the men’s event, LIVE on the Seven Network at 7.30am (AEST).
While Tuesday will see the women with Ashleigh Gentle (QLD) also returning from Rio and joined by exciting Games rookies in Jaz Hedgeland (WA) and Emma Jeffcoat (NSW), all in action LIVE on the 7 Network at 7.30am (AEST).
With triathlon’s newest event on the triathlon program, the Mixed Relay scheduled for Saturday, week, July 31 (LIVE on the 7 Network at 8.30am (AEST).
Australia is yet to win an Olympic medal in the men’s triathlon with the best finishes from Greg Bennett, fourth in Athens in 2004; Miles Stewart (sixth in Sydney 2000) and Royle ninth and Ryan Bailie 10th in Rio – the best of the Aussie men from the first five Olympic triathlons – an Olympic sport born on the steps of the Opera House some two decades ago.
Will Monday, July 26 be the day the boys in the Tokyo class of 2020 breakthrough for a slice of history?
Drew believes there is no time like the present.
“One thing I like across the board is, it is a young team and it is a team that’s moving up; clearly there is an opportunity to create a momentum which is something that we want to see from the sport not only at these Games but coming out of Tokyo as we head towards Birmingham (2022 Commonwealth Games) and then rapidly back into Paris.,” said Drew.
And on the heat factor, Drew has a simple answer: “There will be challenging climatic conditions but you prepare, you don’t worry about it and you just go and get on with it, remembering it’s not over till you get to the line.
“All of our athletes have done extensive heat preparation and have their own heat strategies; with preferred protocols for the day and I feel extremely comfortable that the work’s been done that will give our athletes the best opportunity to perform to expectations.
“These protocols have been on the radar since before the Test Event in 2019...that gave us and the athletes a further insight into what would be required and interventions and protocols have also been ramped up since then.
“We have to go back to 2019, the last full year of the World Triathlon Series when Jake Birtwhistle was the only man to win two events (Leeds and Hamburg)...that’s no easy feat,” said Drew.
“Jake absolutely sees himself as one of the bench mark men in the world...we certainly have a lot of expectations from Jake but I think Jake is the one who puts the most expectations on himself in what he believes he can do...”
Can he become the first male Olympic medallist...?
“Jake’s performances do mean that is possible...he is one of the very fastest finishers in the sport and if he sets himself up to capitalise on that, then getting across that line first is clearly his want and his expectation....and we could definitely see that.
“I’m not sure there is any athlete out there who wants to get to the end of the race with Jake still beside them...with 300m to go...”
And if there is one thing Matt Hauser does well says Drew it’s race without fear.
“Matt will back himself on any day to have a go and he’s another member of this young team who is absolutely on the way up,” said Drew.
Aaron Royle knows what being at an Olympics means, says Drew.
“He knows how Rio went and there is no one out there who is more motivated to get another shot at that and make sure he makes an impact in Tokyo,” said Drew.
“With experience probably comes a calmness and Aaron brings something to this team way beyond being an athlete as well... “
Here is Justin’s take on the Australian women, who have dominated Olympic triathlon for Australia winning one gold Emma Snowsill (Beijing 2008), two silver Michellie Jones (Sydney 2000), Loretta Harrop (Athens 2004) and two bronze Emma Moffatt (Beijing 2008) and Erin Densham (London 2012).
Gentle has had some outstanding results in her career, culminating in that World Triathlon grand final win on the Gold Coast in 2018 and along with Hedgeland and Jeffcoat they are going out there to give Tokyo the best shot they can.
“There is no doubt Ashleigh is using her Rio experiences as motivation leading into Tokyo...and I feel Ash has really refined her approach to the sport – clearly she’s always been a very talented and successful athlete and with her ability now to focus on that one day is something she wants to get right.,” says Drew.
“Ash knows she has to put herself in the race with a strong swim...and that’s where her training emphasis has been over this period
“Certainly positioning early and covering the race with a strong swim...would be a good way to go about it...
“Ash’s bike is a known strength of hers – once she hits dry land she’ll be wanting to capitalise on that and assess where various competitors are...and move swiftly to contain the race....and set it up for the run....
“She has always had one of the best runs and against the best runners in the sport...
“This race in Tokyo is clearly going to come down to who can position themselves well...and put together a performance in the heat...and I know that is something Ash believes she can do.”
The Olympic rookies Hedgeland and Jeffcoat have progressed significantly over the past couple of years and we have particularly seen them capitalise on their strengths.
“Emma has always had a great front-end race and Jaz’s run has continued to ramp up over the last year,” says Drew.
“Emma is a talent transfer athlete who has spent a lot of time in surf lifesaving from when she was young and it’s reasonable to say that Jaz is a by-product of a very traditional triathlon pathway, a pathway that is now starting to mature as the sport starts to get into 20 years of being on the Olympic program.
“It’s reasonable to say that Australians have done historically well racing in Japan over the years and they enjoy racing here; there’s a similar time zone and our athletes have always enjoyed their time in the country and we’re planning to make it a happy hunting ground yet again..
“We are very lucky we have six athletes on the team that can race well individually as well as in the relay.”
Photo credit: World Triathlon | Wagner Araujo