For the second time in five weeks, Tasmania’s Jake Birtwhistle ran his way to a major triathlon silver medal.
After storming through the field to finish second at the Commonwealth Games, the 23-year-old repeated the feat in the World Triathlon Series.
Birtwhistle was in blistering form in the Japanese sun with only Spain’s two-time world champion Mario Mola denying him victory at one of his favourite events in Yokohama.
“I’m becoming a bit of a sprint specialist now I guess,” said Birtwhistle, whose late burst pinched silver from another Spaniard in Fernando Alarza.
The former under-23 world champion said he had been “training solo” in Launceston since the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where he also anchored Australia to mixed team relay gold.
Birtwhistle was delighted to find the extra gear to equal his best ever WTS result.
“I thought I was spent in what was my first Olympic distance race since last November,” he said.
“But I just dig deep and found something over those closing stages and I’m very happy to come away with the silver.
“With such a big group on the bike and the weather so warm it was pretty sketchy at times – and the most important thing was to stay safe and stay hydrated.”
Birtwhistle said his major goal for the season was the Commonwealth Games and with that box ticked it was time to continue with a successful WTS season which had already seen him finish fifth in Abu Dhabi.
He now sits second in the series standings, behind Mola, whose sensational sub-30-minute 10-kilometre run clinched gold in Japan.
Birtwhistle, who has previously finished second at WTS races in Hamburg (twice) and Edmonton, emerged from a huge pack after the cycle leg and dug deep to run from third to second inside the last kilometre.
Alarza opened up what looked like a commanding lead and a Spanish 1-2 finish beckoned.
However, as Triathlon Australia reported: “But Birtwhistle wasn’t going away and had other ideas, producing the kind of tactic he has often used in his spectacular climb up the ITU rankings, pouncing like his “Tassie Tiger” nickname suggests racing away for a remarkable silver medal.”
In a great day for the Australians in the opening race of Olympic qualification period, Rio top 10 finisher Ryan Bailie was seventh and young gun Luke Willian – who like Birtwhistle made his Games debut last month – finished ninth, with another Rio Olympian Aaron Royle 19th and another youngster in Matt Hauser 22nd after coming out of the swim up front.
Earlier in the day, Birtwhistle’s Commonwealth Games relay teammate Ashleigh Gentle, of Queensland, produced a sizzling run to just miss the podium, finishing fourth.