One city dominates the discussion as Jake Birtwhistle reflects on 2019 and looks ahead to 2020.
Speaking to The Examiner at the start of this year, the Launceston triathlete pinpointed Tokyo as the most important fixture on his globe-trotting calendar for August's Olympic test event.
Despite a disappointing 11th place, Birtwhistle was still the highest-placed Australian, claimed two victories in the World Triathlon Series and sixth overall, finished the season as the top-ranked triathlete in Oceania and remains among the favourites for gold back in the Japanese capital come July 2020.
Having been controversially overlooked when he left his 2016 Olympic dream in the hands of national selectors, Birtwhistle is understandably frustrated at again missing out on automatic selection.
But as he reflected on an exhausting six-month schedule of competition, training and travel across Asia, Europe and the Americas from the comfort of his couch, the former Riverside student remained philosophical about his Olympic prospects.
Echoing occasional training partner Richie Porte's sentiment "I didn't come here for 11th" at the end of this year's Tour de France, Birtwhistle said: "Sixth overall is not great and I'm not happy with it."
It was certainly a slip down from third last year, but the breakthrough wins in Leeds and Hamburg were a welcome consolation.
"It's been an interesting year but mostly the races were disappointing. You know things are on the right track but come race day you are not able to put it together which is as much frustrating as it is disappointing.
"But then on the two occasions where it did go well it could not have gone better and if not for those two it would have been a really disappointing year.
"As it turned out I was the only male to win two races in the series this year. Usually you only have the top few battling it out but this year it was so wide open. Of the seven races there were six different winners.
On the two occasions where it did go well it could not have gone better and if not for those two it would have been a really disappointing year.Jake Birtwhistle
"But that just showed that winning two races is not enough."
After failing to sparkle at the opening rounds in Abu Dhabi (eighth), Bermuda (28th) and Yokohama (23rd), it all came right in Leeds.
"I have not done well there in the past but Leeds is always an amazing race. It's where the Brownlee brothers are from and they are huge in the UK, so the crowd is unbelievable there and it's always a good race to do.
"Ali and Jonny helped design the course so it is really made for a swim-bike breakaway which is where they get an advantage over faster runners.
"It was probably a surprise to a lot of people that I won and kind of a surprise to me as well.
"The year before I had been with the lead group starting the run but had nothing left in the tank.
"This year there was a group of about 15 for the 10km run and I was at the back just holding on. Every time someone was dropped I would overtake them and hang on to the back of the group.
"When there were just four of us left, Henri Schoeman, the Commonwealth Games champion from South Africa, attacked. I let him go because I was hurting and just trying to survive.
"But all of a sudden I thought 'I don't feel bad any more' and chased after him, went straight past him and ran the whole last lap by myself.
"With 2km to go that's still six minutes and anything can happen. You don't want to celebrate too early but I was feeling pretty good and going up a short hill near the end for the last time I knew I was safe.
"It was such a relief to get that first win but also after a couple of bad races it was reassurance that I was on the right track."
A 10th-place finish in Montreal was followed by another victory in Hamburg but it was the "Did Not Finish" in Edmonton that killed off hopes of back-to-back series podiums. "I had come from Europe to Flagstaff to make the adaptation easier post-Edmonton ahead of the Tokyo test event but after 10 days at altitude I was destroyed and had no energy.
"When I was on the bike I realised it was not my day and called it quits. It's a shame because it would have been a perfect race for me because they all came together on the bike. That was so annoying."
Birtwhistle's plan to tailor his training around the Olympic test event further backfired in Japan.
"It was good to see the Olympic course and I was the highest-placed Aussie but needed to be top three to get automatic selection. After that it's down to selectors.
"Tokyo was not a great result for me. I think that was more down to my own mistakes.
"Because it had been built up as a hot, challenging race, I paced myself out of it. I started out more conservatively than I normally would. About 8 to 10 went up the road and I thought I'd get them back when they started to struggle but it was not actually that hot and those guys up ahead did not slow down. Their lead ended up just getting bigger and bigger."
The 2018 Commonwealth Games gold and silver medallist, whose last race for the season will be next week's Noosa Triathlon, said the successes and failures of 2019 should stand him in good stead for an Olympic year.
"I look at races that did not go to plan, such as Bermuda and Edmonton and see what I did wrong.
"Bermuda I went too hard in the lead-up with too much taper so when I went there I was flat. I train with Mario Mola and Jelle Geens and we are quite strong on the bike. None of us had a great swim and on the bike we just kept getting overtaken so we knew something was not right and we had got our preparation wrong."
The game-changer for triathlon, and Birtwhistle in particular, in Tokyo will be the introduction of the mixed relay competition to the Olympic program.
With strength in depth in both genders, Australia is among the world leaders with Birtwhistle having been an ever-present member of world championship teams in the last four years that have won silver (2016), gold (2017), silver (2018) and bronze (2019) medals.
"Every world champs and world series relay team I've been a part of has medalled in the last few years so we've definitely got an opportunity to come away with a medal. It was always looked at as a second-tier event, a bit of fun on the side, until it was picked up by the Olympics and now it's more important and presents big opportunities.
"It always feels a lot more relaxed because you have other people with you. It's a team event but when you are racing you are still out there by yourself so it mixes the team aspect with individual performance.
"We prepare for the individual race but at the end of the day everything you need to be good over that distance is exactly what you need to be good at relay. It's a lot more simple than people make out and an extra opportunity to race at the Olympic Games and perform well, which we should do.
"I've had the best last two years of any Australian, male or female, and the relay is also going to be quite a big part of it and I've put in some quite strong performances there.
"Obviously you never know but at the end of the day I cannot change things so now I go ahead as normal preparing, hopefully, for the Olympics."
JAKE'S 2019 WTS
Round 1 Abu Dhabi 8th
Round 2 Bermuda 28th
Round 3 Yokohama 23rd
Round 4 Leeds 1st
Round 5 Montreal 10th
Round 6 Hamburg 1st
Round 7 Edmonton DNF
Grand final Lausanne 26th
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