‘I’ve got nothing to lose’: Howell’s Path to Paris

10 May 2024

When Jack Howell speaks of the prospect of racing at the Paris Paralympic Games in September, you can practically feel the energy crackle from his every word. At the mere mention of the Games his eyes widen, his buzz as palpable as his excitement is infectious. It is little wonder why. After all, he’s the man that cannot lose.

Howell was the first of the para-triathletes that World Triathlon caught up with as part of its ongoing Paths to Paris series and he cut a relaxed image in the face of the biggest year of his career so far. The Australian has only recently turned 20 years old and as such will be one of the youngest Para-triathletes in Paris. Yet far from any hint of nerves, “exciting” is the word that came up most often with him, whether in discussion of Paris, his season, or his looming World Para Series appearance in Yokohama.

Born with a limb deficiency in his left hand, Howell competes in the men’s PTS5 category. As things stand, he is ranked 3rd in the PTS5 World Triathlon Paralympic rankings; the leading nine athletes in the ranking will go to Paris.

“It’s exciting that I’ve been able to put myself in the position I’m in,” said Howell when asked about the Games. Paris will be his first Paralympics, a point he stresses.

“That itself is exciting, let alone the actual race and venue and all that comes with it. Purely the fact of making it there would probably be the greatest achievement of my life. That’ll be the first achievement and after that it’s all good, it’s all experience.”

With a knowing look, he added, “Being so young, I’m going to hang around for a while.”

When it comes to Paris, then, the pressure is off. Howell can afford to enjoy every element of it, from the city to the atmosphere to the course he called quite challenging and to the race itself. At the same time, he will not simply be there to make up the numbers.

“With my recent form, I’m quite hopeful I can put in a really good result and prove to everyone and to myself that I do well and truly belong with the top guys.”

On that front, Howell is on something of a hot streak. In December, he won the Australian para triathlon title and then added the Oceania crown in February. A month later, he was victorious at the opening World Triathlon Para Series stop in Devonport. With three wins from three, he is arguably in the form of his life. He pointed to a pair of major changes at the start of the year that helped push him to a new level.

“I’ve actually moved up to the Gold Coast and on top of that I’ve changed coaches and institutions as well,” explained Howell.

Now guided by a former Olympian Brendan Sexton, Howell’s training environment also has the likes of WTCS gold medallist Matthew Hauser.

“It was a very controversial change for a few people in terms of being so close to the Paralympics. It could have gone either way. I could have struggled with moving out of home and changing so much so close to the Games, but so far it has proved to be a change that’s worked.

His next opportunity to test his new set-up will come this weekend in Yokohama. It is a race he enjoys and an event at which he already has fond memories.

“It’s such a high quality race!” Howell noted that being attached to WTCS Yokohama gives the whole weekend a little extra shot of adrenaline.

“I really like it. I got second there last year to Martin (Schulz) and I’m trying to channel that energy a little bit.”

Having capitalised on his early season form to bolster his Paralympic ranking and all but secure a spot at the Games, Howell faces less pressure to think on the outcome of races. Instead, he can enjoy stepping back and racing the race without having to worry about position and points.

On paper, a fourth win could be on the cards in Yokohama, but he was under no illusions as to what lies in wait.

“I’m trying not to be too hopeful as it is essentially a Paralympics trial run. I don’t think Martin is racing but pretty much everyone that is racing will be going to Paris. I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself as with the races that are coming up the quality of racing is going to step up that bit again.”

Howell finished 6th at the most recent World Para-triathlon Championships in Pontevedra. Martin Schulz (GER), the Tokyo Paralympic champion, took the win while Stefan Daniel (CAN), the 2022 world champion, claimed the silver medal. While Schulz will not be in Yokohama, Daniel will be on the start line. Howell, however, pointed to the different pressures that await him and his rivals. 

“I’ve got nothing to lose yet. I’m still young and still have so much to learn, so it’s about utilising that. Someone like Martin (Schulz), he will be going for the ultimate of becoming the triple Paralympic champion. But there’s Stefan (Daniel) as well. When he’s fit and healthy, he’s unstoppable!”

At the Games, he expects some athletes to thrive and others to buckle. Howell is planning to fall into the first group and is eager to use the crowds to his advantage and enter conversation for a medal, or perhaps even more.

“I’m in the position now, better than ever, to understand what it takes to win.”

“In saying that, the field is very stacked. There’s the likes of Chris Hammer, who’s an absolutely insane runner. I’ve had many battles with Ronan Cordeiro in my short career and the list goes on. Even my Aussie counterpart David (Bryant), for the past two years we’ve pretty much gone head-to-head at every race and one of us has come out on top.”

“It’s going to be exciting and that’s what I grew up watching, those elite races that are only separated by 40 seconds. If that’s what we have in Paris then I’ll be in no way disappointed. That kind of racing is what excites me.”

In between fighting for medals at the world level, Howell is studying education full-time with a view to becoming a sports teacher.

“I really like that aspect of using sport as a way to motivate people and teach healthy living,” he said.

After Yokohama, he will tackle the World Para Series stop in Swansea later in the year where the plan is to mimic his Paris training plan two months ahead of schedule to see if it works. Thereafter, in Paris, “Everything is on the cards.”

Regardless of how the cards fall, one thing that seems almost guaranteed is that Jack Howell won’t be left wondering what could have been. Whether he leaves Paris with a medal or not, he will have already won.

WTPS Yokohama
Saturday, May 11 – 7:50 am AEST

Nic Beveridge (PTWC)
Glen Jarvis (PTS2)
Thomas Goodman (PTS2)
Justin Godfrey (PTS3)
Jeremy Peacock (PTS4)
Jack Howell (PTS5)
David Bryant (PTS5)
Sam Harding (PTVI)

Lauren Parker (PTWC)
Anu Francis (PTS2)
Sally Pilbeam (PTS4)

Full Start List


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