Matthew Hauser: Behind the Scenes of the Commonwealth Games & What it Took to Get There
Matthew Hauser is becoming a household name among triathlon fans. The 20-year-old’s most recent victory was the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games mixed team relay triathlon. He competed on the Australian team. In the elite men’s individual triathlon, he came in fourth. He also earned a silver medal in the International Triathlon Union’s (ITU’s) 2018 Mooloolaba World Cup. He first made a name for himself after winning the 2017 ITU World Cup in Chengdu.
Trizone caught up with him to talk about his struggles leading up to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and his performance, training, behind the scenes stories, and his plans for the future. He also spoke about the Mooloolaba World Cup and other highlights of the 2018 season.
Injury & Uncertainty Leading Up to the Commonwealth Games
Last year, Hauser had a stress-related fibula injury that almost prevented him from competing in the Commonwealth Games. He told Trizone, “I was kind of panicked. It was just before selection. I wanted to get to a point where I would be selected, but then I was against the clock with this injury. It was a stressful lead up. I had the flu and this overhanging injury on my mind. I had a relapse as well. I was starting to get some run fitness back, and there was some stress in the bone just before Christmas.”
In the months before the Commonwealth Games, media outlets were asking Hauser for comments because he was a Gold Coast local. This occasionally made him nervous, because it reminded him that the pressure was on. “I felt like there was a spotlight on me, being a local athlete,” he said.
Good thing for Hauser, there came a point when he changed his perspective and training focus. He was also surrounded by a supportive crowd that included his coach and training partners. This helped alleviate his anxiety.
“I always had this belief in myself that my body would be alright on the day of. I just started focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and trying to climb that ladder to peak fitness. It was a slow journey. It felt like it took forever, but all that shifted my focus away from the pressure of the Games. At that point, it wasn’t about how I’d perform there, but about getting fit, and getting the body into shape again. That helped with the psychological side of things,” Hauser said.
Hauser’s performance manager, Justin Drew, told him that February’s Luke Harrop Memorial Games would decide whether he was ready for the Commonwealth Games. They both understood this was the race that would “get rid of all reasonable doubt that I was not ready for the Games.”
Renewed Hope at the Luke Harrop Memorial Games
The first race of the year can be a bit annoying and unpredictable. After building his run up to a mere 25-30km per week, Hauser was a little uncertain how the Luke Harrop Games would go. He was counting on a strong bike performance.
“I managed to lead for the first 5-10km or so, and then came back to the group,” Hauser said, referring to the bike leg.
Due to water quality concerns, the swim leg was canceled. That left only the bike and run. During the run, Hauser’s main goal was to stay as close as possible to fellow Australian triathlete Luke Willian.
“I could definitely feel those 25-30km weeks toward the latter half of the first run. I think one run would have done me fine. To have two in there was a bit of a struggle, but I managed to hold on. I got as close as I could to Luke in the end, but he was too strong,” Hauser said.
In the end, Willian claimed gold with a time of 49:16. Hauser won silver just six seconds behind him. This was when things started looking up for the Commonwealth Games.
It took one more race to seal his full confidence: The ITU Mooloolaba World Cup in March.
Mooloolaba Podium Finish Seals “a New Lease”
There were only a couple weeks between Luke Harrop and Mooloolaba, so Hauser was pretty confident leading into the latter. He also knew it would be a challenge. He was up against not only Willian, but also USA’s Matthew McElroy and South Africa’s Richard Murray.
The prep for Mooloolaba was centered around mindset.
“I just tried to emulate the mindset of successful races in the past, like Rotterdam. I think I really nailed that mindset leading into this race. I knew I had to recreate that mental state, in order to be prepared for the Commonwealth Games as well. Just focusing on staying in the moment, and creating opportunities for myself, and not letting others dictate the race. I think that was really important,” he said.
By this point, Hauser was feeling much better about his run.
Hauser reflected on the experience, “I knew I had the legs on the run. Richard Murray just flew off from the gun, and I had to pace myself with a few others behind me, like Sam Ward and Matt McElroy. Catching Richard toward the end was a big confidence boost of mine. I said to myself, ‘If I can get this close and I still have a few weeks left, then I can get a little more work in and see how it goes.’”
Murray, Hauser, and McElroy took gold, silver, and bronze, respectively, within a span of eight seconds. Murray finished in 53:09. Willian finished eighth in 53:44.
It was a near-perfect moment on the journey toward the Commonwealth Games.
“When Luke Harrop happened, and when Mooloolaba happened, it was like I had a new lease on life. All that stress released, and I thought ‘I’ve got nothing to lose now,’” he said.
Arrival at the Commonwealth Games
Up through Mooloolaba, Hauser successfully kept his anxiety in check by keeping his mind focused on the here and now. Apparently, it was a winning strategy. After Mooloolaba, he continued this mindset during his training sessions and performances in the Commonwealth Games.
The strategy worked well. “I went into the games quite relaxed. I was just trying to enjoy the experience. Just being there in the moment and not letting the mind waver or run to the finish line too early,” Hauser said. “It was critical to my prep. The nervousness and excitement turned into potential results.”
By the elite men’s triathlon, Hauser began to realize that this long mental and emotional journey, before such a high profile event, was just a normal part of the sport.
On the morning of the triathlon, Hauser got up and did what he calls a wake up jog. Afterward, he prepared for the day by going through notes he created in his iPhone. He, and other competitors, also had plenty of time to watch the elite women’s triathlon and see how the women did on the course.
When he arrived at the site of the men’s start line, he went into tunnel vision mode. “I just wanted to get on the start line,” he said. “[To] any volunteer who came to me, I said, ‘not now. I’m in the zone.’ I kept it relaxed until that two or three hour buffer, when I’m checking in and doing all this stuff before the race. When you keep it relaxed, you can really intensify the psychological side of things during the crunch time before the race.”
Muscling Through the Swim
Despite his successes with the previous races, Hauser didn’t have enough points for an ideal position on the start line. This handicap wasn’t a big deal to him. He said, “I had to reassure myself that, no matter where I was on the start line, it was all about the first 200-300m to the first buoy.”
The swim wasn’t easy. “For the first 100-200m, I just had to muscle through it.”
He was surrounded by the Brownlee Brothers, Tayler Reid, Mark Austin, and other big name athletes. “I was comfortable heading there in 5th or 6th behind those guys. I felt like I had the energy on reserve,” he said. Hauser exited the swim in a leading pack of six.
The leading pack kept a good buffer into the bike, but Hauser began with a struggle. “The first five minutes was a tough time for me, especially trying to assess the slickness of the surface with my tires, and getting a feel for the corners,” Hauser said.
Hauser looked to the Brownlees to lead for the first few minutes. He said, “When you got people as experienced and strong as the Brownlee Brothers, you have to let them lead you around the course for the first bit, because they’re probably the least likely to make mistakes out there.” He kept a close eye on Alistair Brownlee and watched how he turned corners.
Hauser quickly “got into a groove” and settled in with the group. The corners “became second nature by the end of the bike,” he said.
“They Just Lifted Me”: Deafening Audience Erases the Pain During Run
Hauser, along with Reid, was one of the first onto the run. Mark Austin and Jonny Brownlee followed. The first half of the first lap was rough. His legs were in pain. He could barely breathe, and he was waiting for the people behind him to run past him.
When he began the second half of the first lap, it was the crowd who helped him propel to his near-podium finish. “They just lifted me,” Hauser said. “I could no longer feel the pain. It just slowly went away. I was like ‘Now that I got through that, I can get on with the race.’ I knew I was a stronger runner.” It was game on for the rest of the run.
This is when he was able to give the crowd what they wanted. Hauser said, “I picked up the pace, and the crowd was so bloody deafening. It was crazy. It was almost like they took the pain away from my legs. I was running on excitement and energy.”
At one point he watched fellow Australian and mixed relay teammate, Jake Birtwhistle whiz right past him. Hauser felt happy for him, knowing that Birtwhistle put a lot of energy into this race. He knew that Ryan Scissons and Richard Murray would be right behind Birtwhistle. A quick glance in back of him confirmed this.
“Scissons came up behind me and sat on me for a bit, and tried to go around me, in that second lap. I held onto him and used the crowd to attack him with 400-500m to go. It’s funny that I was so concentrated on Scissons,” Hauser said.
In the final 400m, Hauser spotted Mark Austin ahead of him and decided to catch up with him. He said, “He looked up at the big screen and saw me closing in fast. I think he kind of sh#t himself there.”
Hauser came in fourth in 52:46, just behind Austin. It was both a joyful and painful moment. “I put that little bit extra in and crossed the finish two seconds off the podium in the end. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I was also super excited that I came back and recovered from my early minutes on the run and finished it off,” Hauser said.
Taking silver and gold were Birtwhistle (52:38) and South Africa’s Henri Schoeman (52:31). The first four finishes spanned a brief 15 seconds. The podium finishes spanned 13.
“Hungry for More” at the Mixed Team Relay
The mixed relay triathlon was two days later, on Saturday, 7thApril. The Australian team was announced on Friday morning and included Hauser, Birtwhistle, Ashleigh Gentle, and Gillian Backhouse.
After the elite men’s race, Hauser spent some time with family members who attended the events. The team got together on Friday evening. Hauser described the mood that night.
“We really revved ourselves up. We were kind of still hungry for more. We knew we had a point to prove after the world champs last year. We thought England would be tough to beat. They just came off the champs in Glasgow. Reflecting on all our individual performances, we were really excited to give that gold medal a crack,” Hauser said.
The team didn’t create much of a strategy other than deciding the order of participation in the relay. On Saturday, they looked at the board to see who they were up against. They all had a pretty good sense of what to do during the race. Hauser said, “In the end, it was a team thing, but it was individual performances stacked on top of each other. I think that’s how we went into the race.”
During the early stages of the race, Backhouse and Britain’s Vicky Holland lead the way. Five minutes before the changeover, Hauser and Jonny Brownlee had a brief strategy session. As Hauser describes it, “It’s just Australia and England now. We should work together on the swim and bike, and then really distance ourselves, and leave it to the run to see who changes over.”
Nullifying the Jonny Brownlee Threat
Hauser and Brownlee were tagged by their teammates roughly five seconds apart. Hauser recalls the swim. He said, “Brownlee had a buffer on me, but I think I caught up to him in the first few strokes of the swim. It was good to be on his heels then. We worked really well. I think we put in 10-15 seconds into the other guys, even though there were three of them. I tried to drop him with all my might and power, but he was too strong in the end.” He noted that he stayed close enough to Brownlee to nullify any threat.
UK’s Learmonth Stumbles After Bike, Securing Australian Win
The deciding factor in the race was an epic showdown between Gentle and Britain’s Jessica Learmonth. Learmonth left the water about 15 seconds before Gentle, but Gentle caught up with her on the bike. During the transition to the run, Learmonth stumbled while dismounting the bike, allowing Gentle to sprint ahead.
Gentle tagged Birtwhistle, who turned a 39 second lead over Alistair Brownlee into 52 seconds. Birtwhistle crossed the finish line. Australia won gold with a time of 01:17:36.
Once Birtwhistle entered the run, the Australian team knew they had already won. Gillian, Gentle, and Hauser greeted him at the finish line to a roaring crowd.
A Win for the Home Team & the Sport of Triathlon
Hauser recalled that moment. “It nourished our hunger. The gold was really good. Embracing him at the line was a pretty special moment with the crowd going off,” he said. “I think it was a bit of Australian pride, knowing we’d given something back to the Australian public and contributed to the medal tally for the Australian team. I think it was a special time for us because, obviously, triathlon isn’t the main event in the CWG.”
Hauser noted he felt that the victory lifted the status of the sport of triathlon within Australia, possibly inspiring future generations of Australian triathletes.
Hauser Gives Credit to a Supportive Community
Hauser had relatives, training partners, and others who shared his glory after the gold. Some fellow triathletes were also able to console him after his two-second deficit from the podium.
One such person was Australian para triathlete Nick Beveridge. Beveridge is one of his training partners, and he’s now his roommate. Hauser was able to watch him perform in the para triathlon on the same day as the mixed relay. Beveridge won a silver medal that day.
“He said he’d come fourth a lot of times, and that just really made him hungry to get to the podium the next time around,” Hauser said. “Reflecting with him on that was pretty cool, because I could definitely relate at that point in time. The hunger was definitely there to keep on keeping on. Knowing I was two seconds off the podium was a massive confidence boost. Looking to the future, it was kind of exciting to see that he went through the same thing, and it motivated him to go on to win seven world championships.”
Hauser credits his family for all their support through the years. About them he said, “They (parents) have been fantastic. They haven’t pushed me into anything. They’ve been there to support, and love. I come from a very Christian family. A lot of values and morals. We’re centered around that, so I’m very thankful for that and the upbringing. Having them there, and helping to keep me very grounded, it’s massively important.”
Hauser noted that people often not only congratulate him on his race performances, but also for having great parents. Both parents sacrificed a lot to help him and his sister pursue their careers. His sister is an actor in Brisbane.
Hauser’s mother also attends every single race, so her support is very visible to others.
“I can always hear a distinct voice in the crowd,” he said, referring to his mom. “I’ve heard it throughout my sporting career. Just having that reassurance that they’re there supporting me and loving me. It’s pretty fantastic.
Next Stop: Yokohama, Then Tokyo
After a week of celebrations following the Commonwealth Games, Hauser began training for ITU’s World Triathlon Yokohama, which is on the 21stof May.
Yokohama is a sprint distance triathlon. What’s motivating Hauser even more is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the prospect of which is allowing him to expand his horizons and train for longer races.
“That’s the next step,” he said. “Tokyo will be Olympic distance, so I can’t really shy away from it any longer. I’m just excited to push myself and train to get to that next level, and prove to myself whether I can really perform under those kinds of distances. And prove to the rest of the ITU circuit as well. I’m really looking forward to the challenge. And pushing my body to that kind of level.”
Tokyo will be the first Olympic Games to feature the mixed team relay triathlon format.