As he looks to secure his first podium finish in the World Triathlon series, Launceston’s Jake Birtwhistle has revealed how a gruelling initiation to the sport inspired the success he is now enjoying.
The 23-year-old enters Sunday’s WTS final on the Gold Coast in second place, 824 ranking points behind leading Spaniard Mario Mola’s 4925 and 191 ahead of third-placed Frenchman Vincent Luis.
A good showing in a city where he has won Commonwealth gold and silver will be enough to secure the podium finish Birtwhistle set out to achieve at the start of the season, and top spot remains a mathematical possibility.
But just three and a half years ago, he had been pleased to finish 38th in his maiden WTS race in Auckland.
“It was like I’d been thrown into the deep end, particularly over the toughest course,” Birtwhistle said of a race which saw 16 athletes fail to finish.
“But as the year went on I actually snared some top-ten finishes – including ninth in the very next round in Yokohama.
“Those results and results in the middle of the field kept coming. I knew I just had to keep hanging in there but it was a massive jump.
“Now I’m stepping up to the podium it’s nice to finally be in there. You just have to stay focused and believe that your time will come … but I was impatient, I kept pushing and I wanted it as soon as possible.”
Adding to the intrigue of Sunday’s race is the fact the series’ three leaders all train together under internationally-acclaimed coach Joel Filliol.
Mole and Luis are five and six years Birtwhistle’s senior, and the Tasmanian is the youngest athlete in the top 15.
“It’s interesting,” said Birtwhistle, “now that Vincent has joined the group and there is now all three of us on top going into the grand final.
“What I have noticed that they are just human too, they have their bad days and their injury scares … it happens to the best ... they just have their ways of dealing with it and get the good results.”
The men’s race starts at 3pm.
Launceston teenager Ethan Stretton has been recognised at Triathlon Australia’s awards banquet after winning the ITU Youth A male series earlier this year.
The St Patrick’s College student finished on the podium in all three races to finish just clear of Western Australia’s Daniel Kempson.