Rugby Union’s loss will very much be triathlon’s gain with today’s announcement of Ben Gathercole’s appointment as Triathlon Australia’s new Performance Director.
Gathercole leaves the role as Team Director of the ACT Brumbies Super Rugby franchise to head up Triathlon’s National High Performance Program over the next four years in the run up towards the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
For the former National level swimmer and Ironman triathlete and celebrated triathlon coach, it is a return of a prodigal son for the son of former Olympic swimming silver medallist, world record holder and one of Swimming Australia’s great National team coaches Terry Gathercole.
Gathercole will take on the new role from next Monday and comes as some of Triathlon Australia’s biggest names in Ryan Bailie, Ashleigh Gentle, Charlotte McShane, Jake Birtwhistle, Emma Jackson and Natalie Van Coevorden prepare for this weekend’s Noosa Triathlon.
Before joining the Brumbies as coach Stephen Larkham’s right-hand man in 2014, Gathercole was in charge of a thriving triathlon community after founding the Tridents Triathlon Club.
He not only founded the club but coached and managed Tridents over 20 years to become one of the top performing clubs in the country with its high performance frame work, structures and methodologies.
It culminated in putting the ACT’s Simon Thompson onto the 2004 Athens Olympics team and the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games team.
Gathercole takes over from Bernard Savage who guided the Triathlon Australia teams to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, this year’s Rio Olympics and through the ITU World Triathlon Series between 2013 and 2016.
His appointment comes from a strong list of candidates who applied for the role before the Triathlon Australia Board of Directors confirmed Gathercole’s appointment.
“It’s a very proud moment for me to come back into the sport of triathlon, a sport I am so passionate about and to bring not only my triathlon experience but my experienced gained with the ACT Brumbies Super Rugby franchise,” Gathercole said today.
“I am really looking forward to getting back into the sport of triathlon
“My love of triathlon came via my mates who sucked me into the sport in the early 90s in Canberra via Ironman racing but I soon figured out that my future lay with coaching and that was going to be a better gig for me.
“By 1998 I had become a full time triathlon coach in Canberra and we formed the Tridents Triathlon Club and come 2000 it had become quite a successful operation with several assistant coaches and up to 120 athletes on our books – covering Ironman, draft legal, ITU and Xterra racing.
“It culminated in putting Simon Thomson onto the 2004 Athens Olympic team and the 2006 Commonwealth Games team and various other World Championship events.
“When the opportunity came up to apply for a role in triathlon it was too good not to go for it – it is my sport and a sport I am so passionate about.
“Of course I grew up in a coaching household and I have been around coaches since I was born; it has been inherent in my life.
“I have the passion and the belief and I want to help young coaches form platforms for their futures and to help develop the next generation of coaches and the next logical step in that process is the development of exceptional athletes to hold us in good stead for the future.
“Australia has always had good pathways in triathlon, a good lifestyle, good parent involvement and I am sure we can continue to produce some fantastic athletes. I’m excited for our future development of coaches and what will be a winning formula.”
Triathlon Australia’s CEO, Sydney 2000 Olympian, Miles Stewart said the organisation was very excited about Ben’s appointment.
“He has a coaching environment in his blood from his father Terry and it is great to have someone with a big, long history (in coaching) and we are looking forward to seeing what Ben can achieve in triathlon,” Stewart said.
“He has been there done that in a coaching space, having coached Simon Thompson to a top ten finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and with the Brumbies in a high performance area so I think he will be a great asset to our team.
For the first time since triathlon came into the Olympics in 2000 there were no Australian medallists in Rio but Stewart admitted there were encouraging signs with two top ten finishes in the men for the second time and two in the top 12 in the women.
“There is a lot of work to do and a lot of history to keep up with. Hopefully we will see some of those performances come back in line with the Commonwealth Games (in 2018) and Tokyo for the Olympics in 2020,” Stewart said.
“To have the Commonwealth Games here and the ITU World Championships here on the Gold Coast in the same year will be great for our athletes to have these events in their own backyard.
“It will be a fantastic opportunity. They will be great experiences and great events and to have the Teams Relay included in the Commonwealth Games over the shorter distance will suit our athletes very well.
“We do have a lot of kids with potential but it’s how we nurture that potential and I look forward to seeing it come to fruition.
“We were looking for someone with a lot more triathlon experience and external experience – a mixture of both and fortunately we were able to discover Ben who did have both.
“Triathlon experience was essential and the work he has done at the Brumbies around team’s performance will be good for us moving into the future.
“It is going to be an exciting time for our younger athletes. The Commonwealth Games is wide open, especially with the Teams event attracting maybe even younger athletes.
“It is important to have someone like Ben Gathercole to lay those foundations not just for 2018 and 2020 but also for 2024 to enable us to get through those periods. Exciting for the program and exciting for the athletes to have some things coming up to really look forward to.
“Those open spots for Tokyo are open to anyone so it will be interesting to see who gets their hands on them.
“It’s a big job to get his head around but I’m sure he’s very excited to get the opportunity.”