Jake Birtwhistle leads Australia to triathlon team world title

Teamwork: Triathlete Jake Birtwhistle is hugged by Australian teammates Matthew Hauser, Ashleigh Gentle and Charlotte McShane in Hamburg. Picture: Janos Schmidt, ITU
Teamwork: Triathlete Jake Birtwhistle is hugged by Australian teammates Matthew Hauser, Ashleigh Gentle and Charlotte McShane in Hamburg. Picture: Janos Schmidt, ITU

Another trademark finishing burst from Jake Birtwhistle has earned the Tasmanian a second world title.

A day after sprinting home to claim his second successive  World Triathlon Series silver medal in Hamburg, the 22-year-old anchored Australia to its first teams relay world championship.

It proved a particularly timely result for the former under-23 world champ in the first teams relay race since the announcement that the event will be on the schedule of the 2020 Olympic Games.

“I will give it to Hamburg, I love it here,” said a delighted Birtwhistle.

“To come out here with these guys, we were all able to put together a good race and end up as world champions, it is pretty awesome.”

Already on the Commonwealth Games program for the Gold Coast next year, the mixed teams relay involves two women and two men each completing a 300-metre swim; seven kilometre ride and 1.6km run.

Australia’s latest Commonwealth Games nomination, Victorian Charlotte McShane, took the first leg followed by Hervey Bay teenager Matthew Hauser and fellow Queenslander and Rio Olympian Ashleigh Gentle, who, like Birtwhistle, had also finished second in the previous day’s individual event.

Birtwhistle set off in fifth place, 36 seconds off the leaders, and made up 10 seconds on the swim before working with riders from the Netherlands and Great Britain on the bike as they chased down the USA and Canada.

As the five teams entered the final transition area, Birtwhistle was first off his bike and third onto the run.

It wasn’t long before the former Tasmanian 10km champion stamped his authority on the road by overtaking former US collegiate runner Matthew McElroy.

Again deploying the trusty kick finish honed on assorted Tasmanian cross-country courses, the former Riverside and Launceston College student sprinted away with 200m remaining, looking over his shoulder and celebrating as he charged into the waiting arms of his teammates to claim Australia’s first ever gold in the event.

Defending champions USA came in four seconds behind with the Netherlands third.

The Aussies have been the perennial bridesmaids in the teams relay – finishing with the silver in 2009, 2015 and 2016 and bronze in the 2014 Commonwealth Games debut.

As Advance Australia Fair drifted across the German city, the young foursome stood proudly on the podium before soaking up the magical moment by showering themselves with Hamburg’s traditional steins of beer.

Hauser led the tributes to the team’s anchor. “We just wanted to stay as close as we could for Jake,” he said.

Gentle, now trained by Birtwhistle’s former coach Jamie Turner at the Triathlon Australia International Training Centre in Wollongong and Vitoria, Spain, joined the chorus.

“Jake was just amazing,” she said. 

“It was a great privilege to be part of this team.

“I have not been in too many relays but what a great feeling after some scary moments and to be able to pull together as a team.”