What’s Ben Gathercole up to at Triathlon Australia?

In sweeping changes last year, Triathlon Australia named Ben Gathercole as Triathlon Australia’s high-performance director, and he’s already shaking things up. Trizone caught up with Ben to see what these changes will mean for triathlon in 2017.

“We want to send a strong message to the triathlon community that we want to put the best athletes with the best coaching, in the best training environments,” Ben told Trizone. Gathercole and Triathlon Australia’s vision is clear, and he’s made quick work of setting it in motion, thanks to a powerful and deeply rooted background in the sport.

Describing his recent move from the Brumbies to Triathlon Australia, Ben said:

“The truth is, triathlon is my sport. I grew up on watching the legends of our sport and I feel we have the ability to regain some of the lost ground. We have incredible talent within our current generation and we certainly have a new crop of super talented kids coming along. It’s a very exciting time for the sport. I always looked up to greats like Scott Tinley and Mark Dragan. All those guys were so influential, it’s really cool to be back in it.”

Gathercole has grasped his new role with both hands, promising to work with quality people at all levels. “We get a chance to build on the foundations that Bernard [Savage] and previous generations of athletes have left,” said Ben just a few days before Christmas.

Jamie Turner to head International Performance Centre

In the past two months, Ben has created several new programmes to enhance Australian Triathlon. He hired famous coach Jamie Turner to work at the International Performance Centre Program via a four year contract. Programmes involving Dan Atkins on the Gold Coast and Chris Lang have also been created to feed into the elite program with Turner. “Jamie’s program will be the flagship program, and Chris Lang and Dan Atkins’ programmes are the underpinning [initiatives],” Ben told Trizone. “They’re going to generate young talent which will have the ability to step up to the pro level, and feed into the International Performance Centre Program with Jamie.”

With a history as a triathlon coach for twenty years, Ben knows coaching and his admiration of Jamie Turner’s achievements is clear. “I’ve been lucky enough to know JT for many years now. He’s developed his programme with four international, and eight Australian athletes. It was really tough for him to make that happen, but now it’s the world’s best practice for a program,” said Ben.” To be at the stage of his career when he’s being asked the ‘why’ and ‘how,’ it’s very satisfying for him. It gives deeper meaning to his coaching.”

“We were very proud to offer Jamie some stability with a four year contract,” he continued. “It’s been a tough four years coaching for him and the coming four years are going to be tough, so he’s on a break now.”  With many triathletes currently enjoying a few weeks of down time, Jamie Turner may be joining them. “I told him that come January, we’ll be talking endlessly about training load, volume and meticulously prepping athletes all that. So for now, have a break!”

Ben is thrilled to have Jamie Turner onboard the flagship program.“The theory I have is this; he’s the world’s best coach,” he added. If I can make it easier for him and he can go out and coach and be happier, that’s what I’ll do. There are great things Jamie and our program can do through a collaborative approach. I can’t tell you too much yet though, the scaffold we’re building for Jamie is still under construction.”

Triathletes can get faster

Ben’s philosophy on performance is simple yet impressively modern. “We’re a sport of huge training load, and the answer to going faster shouldn’t be to do more.”

“We need to bring in this philosophy at a young age,” he said. “Our athletes need to be skilful. As they progress through training in a sustained training load, that’s how you get faster. There shouldn’t be a short term answer, it’s a long term vision, at top speed our athletes need to maintain form, they can’t just fall to pieces in terms of technique as fatigue sets in. This is fundamental to elite success and we need this developed from an early age.”

Gathercole is currently implementing methods to establish this vision from the grassroots of triathlon; the juniors.

Junior triathletes keep Ben inspired

The most exciting part of Ben’s new role is seeing the juniors race, and he was sure not to miss the Super Sprint Race Weekend last weekend. “Seeing young athletes, and seeing the raw quality and courage of racing is just so exciting,” said Ben. “At WTS and elite levels, people are put under the pump so early, most people are just surviving, but these young kids; there was scope and room to be brave in their racing that was really different to see It’s a great opportunity for them to learn race craft and the skills needed to have success. It was an ideal opportunity for me to be there and meet coaches and meet the athletes to understand what’s going on.”

Ben’s passion for the sport at all levels is palpable as he speaks. “I just love it,” he said. “I went for the whole weekend. Those kids, they’re fast, dynamic, brave and tactically inexperienced, I love watching it.” His highlight was watching the kids run against a blowing headwind. “These kids were going around the corner and attacking the headwind. You just don’t see that in WTS racing, but the kids were hanging on for dear life. It’s bare bones racing, dare I say old school St George series racing. I could close my eyes and see Pete Robinson bombing off the front in the run when no one expected or Craig Walton tearing the bike apart and making everyone chase – hard,” said Ben. “You just don’t see that much anymore.”

It’s refreshing to hear the new leader at Triathlon Australia isn’t just all about the pros, but that the juniors are a key focus for him as well. “We have to have a pathway for the juniors,” he noted. “It’s important we have skillful athletes to come through the pathway and be ready for 2024 or whatever it happens to be.”

It’s not just the juniors that have enjoyed some extra attention thanks to Ben Gathercole’s new stewardship.

Paratriathletes join able-bodied athletes for training

Paratri is still a relatively new sport, and in the last cycle of the Olympics, Australia was focused on finding its athletes. “We had one athlete come from wheelchair athletics and incredible ACT coach Corey Bacon caught him to do triathlon. It was more of a learning stage.” Like other aspects of Australian Triathlon, Ben is keen to take Paratri to the next level. “Now we need the athletes to move on from basic skills, learning the sport to a sustained high level training program,” he said.

Rather than segregating para-athletes, Ben has taken an inspiring step towards uniting the triathlon community. “I don’t see why we can’t have our athletes together,” said Ben. “Coaches Dan and Christ have acknowledged it’s a sobering and eye-opening moment for the able-bodied athletes. It makes them see these paratriathletes are bloody good. They have a will, a certain belief that just inspires all. That can only be a good thing in a daily training environment.”

It’s this unique perspective that has created the fusion between able bodied and paratriathletes in some aspects of training. “The coaches say putting the athletes together almost changes the perception within your squad a little bit, and both Dan and Chris see that as a fantastic thing,” Ben added.

Christmas and 2017

After a huge two months spent changing the face of Australian triathlon, Ben will be taking some down time to be with his family over the holidays. “It’s a chance to think about what we’ve set in play in the last two months,” said Ben. “I want to have time to review a bit. I’m excited to continue a proactive approach next year.”

Ben’s keen excitement to help propel Australian triathlon forward is both energetic and bold, and it’s all fuelled by a genuine love of the sport. “I’m back to the sport I love,” he said. ‘I was watching Torrenzo Bozzone blast through the bike leg last weekend at IRONMAN WA and just thought Wow! How good is that? I love brave racing. Giddy’up I say!”

Shawn Smith

A cyclist and tech geek at heart with a passion for new shiny things and a huge appetite for triathlon. I spend most of my time between managing two of Australia's best triathletes and a traditional corporate life.