TASMANIAN triathlete Jake Birtwhistle will have to wait another four years to prove his Olympic potential after missing out on selection to Rio.
The Launceston 21-year-old provided the perfect response to his omission by winning his first triathlon grand prix race in France, leading home a top-quality field including Javier Gomez and Jonathan Brownlee, both medallists at the last Olympics.
“Good memories from Dunkerque in the past and continued that today with my first GP win. Always hard, always fun,” Birtwhistle tweeted after the win.
However, the selection of 25-year-old Queenslander Ryan Fisher to join Birtwhistle’s Woolongong Wizards clubmates Ryan Bailie and Aaron Royle in Rio raised several eyebrows in Tasmanian triathlon circles.
Ulverstone’s Sydney Olympian Craig Walton said: “They are both great athletes but if I was picking the team to invest in the future of triathlon it would be hands down Jake Birtwhistle.
“In terms of who is going to win a medal in the future there is only one athlete and that is Jake. He is going to be a gold medal chance in the future.”
Triathlon Australia’s high performance pathway manager Craig Redman said the third Olympic spot has the potential to be contentious because it is purely down to the discretion of selectors.
“These Olympics have probably come 12 months too early in Jake’s development,” he said. “But I’m sure he’ll show in the next couple of years just how talented he is.”
Tasmanian Institute of Sport director Paul Austen agreed.
“Even to be in consideration for Rio shows the excellent progression Jake has made,” he said. “It is a tribute to his outstanding development and hard work.
“Although he will be disappointed I’m sure his focus will be firmly on getting to the level of being Australia’s best triathlete.
“He’s an under-23 world champion, he’s going to have a great pro career and when Tokyo comes around he will be at the peak of his career.”
Walton said it was hard to comment not knowing factors behind the selections, but he thought Birtwhistle’s running ability had him in the box seat.
“He’s the best runner in triathlon,” he said. “He’s a talented all-round athlete and growing in all three disciplines at a fast rate of knots. It is very hard to get a runner who can swim and he can. You’ve got to strike a medium between the two builds.
“The kid’s got a lot of talent but he’s also got a bit of mongrel and you need that.
“There’s a quiet, unassuming side of him which is just a typical Tasmanian kid but he is going to set the world on fire sooner or later.”
Walton, who first encountered Birtwhistle while working at the national talent academy, said the World Triathlon Series events were actually harder than an Olympic triathlon because the fields are much bigger.
“From my experience his chances would be better at an Olympics than a WTS race.”