Australia’s Jake Birtwhistle has become only the second Australian in eight years to break onto the World Triathlon Series podium, wrapping up a hard fought bronze medal in choppy and blustery conditions on the Gold Coast today.
The 24-year-old Tasmanian has emulated the feat of 2008 Olympian and Under 23 world champion Brad Kahlefeldt who was third in the first Series in 2010.
And he has vowed to come back in 2019 determined to be fighting for the gold and not the bronze.
Birtwhistle went into today’s ITU Grand Final in second place overall after his best ever season, finishing in seventh place, enough to claim third place overall, and admitting he “didn’t quite have the legs on the run” to go on with the job.
“That was a little bit disappointing but I guess coming into today the number one goal was to remain on that podium for the Series and I kept fighting for every position I could, and thankfully I was able to manage that,” said Birtwhistle, the Commonwealth Games silver medallist here in April.
And fighting for every position was on the money, with the talented, exciting former Youth Olympic representative running away from former World Champion and two-time Olympic medallist Jonathan Brownlee in the straight to claim third place by just 92 points from South African Richard Murray, who was third today.
The Grand Final honours were divided between the three Joel Filliol coached training partners – Mario Mola, who won his third straight WTS – equaling legendary fellow Spanish countryman Javier Gomez – after finishing second today behind Frenchman Vincent Luis who leap-frogged Birtwhistle for second in the Series.
In the end it was Mola on 6081 who won the day from Luis (5060) and Birtwhistle (4884), with Murray breathing down the Australian’s neck on 4792.
Australia’s Rio Olympian Aaron Royle finished in 22nd place, wrapping up a top 20 world ranking finishing in 17th overall followed by Commonwealth Games young gun Luke Willian (20th and 25th overall) and Royle’s Rio team mate Ryan Fisher (27th for 55th overall) after working, as he so often does, to pull the chase group through and maintain position on the bike.
WA’s Rio Olympian Ryan Bailie, who has struggled with on-going calf injuries for the backend of the season, battled on for as long as he could before being forced out but was still Australia’s third best for the season, finishing 22nd.
“This was all part of a three year plan for me, the Commonwealth Games for this year was the number one goal and to jump on to the podium is a massive bonus,” said Birtwhistle.
“It’s been a pretty good year and I’m super happy to be where I am and to be able to finish off here in Australia with the home support was amazing and thanks to all the cheers out there.
“Third in the world is pretty special I’ll be using that as a kind of platform for 2019…next year I’ll be fighting for gold not bronze.”
Reflecting on the race Birtwhistle admitted, “the swim and the bike took it out of him but saying: “It was one of my better swims if not my best ever.
“The bike was tough. It was on and off quite a bit, just with the wind it made it 10 times harder.
“I didn’t quite have the legs on the run but I guess it was enough for the big picture anyway.”
He also paid tribute to Filliol saying: “Credit to Joel I guess, I-2-3 in the Series shows he’s an amazing coach. I’m super happy to share the podium with my training partners.”
And on his future and the future of the Australian men’s team?
“Triathlon in Australia is in a pretty good position at the moment with the guys you saw out there today; there’s plenty of others that can mix it with the best as well,” said Birtwhistle.
“We’re in a great position at the moment and I’m glad to be at the head of that.”
And the lessons learnt?
“The last couple of weeks have been kind of building and the pressure I put on myself and certainly it was starting to get to me a little bit.
“It’s the biggest event I’ve had after the Commonwealth Games this year and to be honest the pressure and the nerves that were building up over the past week or so would have topped that for me.
“It just shows you how important this event is for the Series overall. It’s another step forward towards Tokyo in another couple of years.”
Earlier in the day, Australia finished fifth in the Under 23/Junior Mixed Relay with the team of Sophie Linn, Luke Burns, Jaz Hedgeland and Brandon Copeland.
The young Aussies were very much in the hunt for the majority of what was another exciting inclusion on the World Championship program.
There was a thrilling photo finish between France and New Zealand but it finished in disappointment for the Kiwis, who were disqualified for an earlier indiscretion in the changeover zone.
France were awarded the gold, Germany the silver and Great Britain the bronze.
Officials ruled that their final runner, Hayden Wilde had stepped outside the course.