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No idols? No problem. This brash young Tasmanian is cutting his own path to ITU stardom.
Australia has gone a long way from its tri dominance in the 90s and early 2000s, but the future is looking very bright, thanks to the emergence of Tasmanian ITU talent Jake Birtwhistle. The 23-year-old’s biggest breakthrough came this April, when he won a silver medal on home soil at the Commonwealth Games and followed it up by leading Australia to gold in the mixed relay. Overall, Birtwhistle’s performance in the World Triathlon Series gave him the final podium spot in the rankings. But Birtwhistle isn’t shy about his two big goals: Becoming ITU world champion and winning Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.
“The addition of the relay hasn’t really changed my training much at all. The way I look at it, the guys who are best in a sprint- or Olympic-distance race are the same guys who are going to do well in the relay format. We’re already training for the top-end, high-speed stuff. We already train for things like a sprint finish on the run, or bridging a gap on the bike.”
“The relays are always kind of funny: You look at it as being a team event because you’re relying on three other people, but at the same time you’re doing your individual race. It’s kind of a weird dynamic, but it lifts you as well. You’re doing your own race, but you’re also doing it for others. It definitely puts on some pressure because you don’t want to let the team down.”
“If there’s one moment that stands out from the Commonwealth Games, it would be running toward the finish in the individual race with just under 1K to go. I’d just moved from fourth to second and was running pretty clear in second place. I’ll never forget the crowd—being an Aussie in Australia—they were all behind me and not the rest of the field. The roar from the crowd running down that highway in the Gold Coast was a pretty special moment and something I’ll remember for a long time.”
“When I was a junior, I was always told that I had to have an idol, someone to look up to in the sport. I would watch the ITU races—and this was when Ali and Johnny [Brownlee] were at their most dominant—and I never wanted to look up to them, because I knew that sooner or later I’d have to line up against them. I didn’t want to put them on a pedestal.”
“Missing the [Olympic] team in 2016 was a huge letdown for me. I’d only started racing the WTS series in 2015 and was thrown right into the qualification process. I’d hoped I’d done enough. Obviously, I didn’t tick the automatic qualification criteria, but I’d hoped I’d done enough for the discretionary spot. I struggled to get motivated throughout the rest of the 2016 season. I don’t know if I’ve really used that as motivation since then, but I’ve moved on, and I’m doing everything I can to be the best athlete I can between now and Tokyo.”