Miles Stewart last spoke to Trizone 12 months ago about the importance of young talent in Australian triathlon, and Commonwealth Games selection shows his mission has continued in a big way. Trizone caught up with Stewart to better understand the choice of youth over experience in Australian triathlon.
Impressive results in the past year create excitement for Commonwealth Games
“Last year we had some of our best results in ten years,” Stewart told Trizone. “We had our first junior world champion in 18 years, and our first mixed team relay champions in the year it was announced it was going to be in the Olympics. We had a duathlon world champion, long course world champion, and a junior world champion,” said Stewart proudly. “We’ve had incredible para results too; world champions, silvers and bronzes.
“Performance wise, I feel like we’ve turned a bit of a corner.”
While Australia’s results in the past year are impressive, Triathlon Australia’s financials have also been a key focus for Miles Stewart. “Like all sports, we’ve experienced a decline in membership. We need to see how we can offer a better service to our members without going broke,” said Stewart.
“No one wants us to be where we were six years ago,” Stewart said. His comments on debt refer to the sorry state Triathlon Australia faced six years ago when it was struggling to make ends meet. Slowly, Miles Stewart and the team have managed to bring TA out of the red and into the positives, a vital element to triathlon’s success in Australia.
Is the Commonwealth Games triathlon team too young?
Last month, the Australian triathletes who qualified for the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast were announced, with a number of infamous Aussies left off the list.
GOLD COAST 2018 AUSTRALIAN TRIATHLON TEAM (ABLE BODY)
- Jake Birtwhistle (TAS)
- Ashleigh Gentle (QLD)
- Charlotte McShane (NSW)
- Luke Willian (QLD)
- Matt Hauser (QLD)
- Gillian Backhouse(QLD)
Fierce Aussie triathletes Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie are notably missing from the list, which echoes’s Stewart’s ethos around encouraging your triathletes; a direction he’s been leading since he started at Triathlon Australia. “Are there reasons why Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie should have made the team? Absolutely,” said Miles Stewart. “Same goes for Emma Jackson and Emma Jeffcoat, but I’m not in charge of selection.”
Experience doesn’t mean what it used to in triathlon
“Just because you’ve done it once, it isn’t an indicator you’re going to do it again,’ Stewart said, referring to Australia’s well-known triathletes left off the qualifying list.
“We haven’t had an individual medal in the last few years, so why not take a chance on a younger group with all eyes on Tokyo?”
If you’re confused by the line up for the Gold Coast, don’t be, as Stewart has always had this approach. He told Trizone last year; “The whole thing revolves around Australians winning medals. The more growth we get out of our coaches, the more access kids will get opportunities, and the more likely we are to get medals,” Stewart said.
Australia’ main team comprised of Junior Champs
Australia’s Commonwealth Games triathlon team is essentially comprised of many junior champions, but Stewart is confident in the selection committees’ decisions. “If you look through the qualifying period, Luke Willian only just missed out on individually qualifying for the Gold Coast by 10 seconds,” said Stewart. “The selection committee see him as someone who could be a force in Tokyo.”
Willian is known as an up-and-comer, but Jake Birtwhistle is already well known.
“He’s with a chance at an individual medal if the planets align.”
“The selection committee sees Luke (Willian) as someone who could help Jake win a medial or go for an individual medal,” said Stewart.
Matt Hauser is another well-known champion who surged to greatness as Junior World Champion in 2017 after a disappointment in Mexico last year. “Sure he’s a young kid, but the mixed team’s relay is probably about promoting younger people,” said Stewart. “If it was an Olympic distance race, it might have been a different team, but because it’s sprint distance it’s opened it up to younger athletes.”
Disappointment stems from depth of field
While some triathlon fans have been surprised with the youthful Commonwealth Games team, Stewart is adamant it’s a positive sign, so many great Aussie athletes have missed out on selection. “We’ve come out of a period where we’ve never talked about who’s missed out as we haven’t had the contenders,” Stewart told Trizone.
“The fact we’re having the conversation shows there’s a depth of talent within Australia.”
While Stewart was very stern when discussing the topic of athlete selection, he did soften when he remembered his past as a professional athlete. “It’s never nice to be that athlete who missed out though,” he added kindly, “I’ve been in those shoes.” Recovering himself, Stewart adds “it’s not an easy decision either. The selection committee has very robust conversations for final selection.”
Aussie athletes must stay on track to access funding
“While athletes continue to deliver, we’re happy to support,” said Stewart of the high-performance division. “We have to look after the funding the sports commission provides us, and there are parameters around that.” In other words? Athletes have to perform well and under approved environments. “If someone jumps in an environment where performance is diminished, we have to decide if we’re going to fund that.”
“High performance is an ugly space where it’s all about how your race.”
Has Stewart delivered what Triathlon Australia needs?
So far, yes. Since our last catch up with Miles Stewart, he’s helped decrease Triathlon Australia’ debt, so it’s now in the clear, plus he has stayed true to his mission of supporting younger athletes. Better yet, he’s encouraging the value-based culture of the business, while continually looking for ways to offer member even more value.
What remains to see is Australia’s performance at The Commonwealth Games and The Multisport World Championships in Copenhagen, where the world will know if it was the right decision to choose youth over experience.