For Taupō’s 24-year-old Smith, the IRONMAN World Championship in St. George will be only his second time racing the full IRONMAN distance.
Since finishing third at the 2021 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand Smith has been training in Europe, at first living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle before eventually settling in what he describes as the ‘triathlon mecca’ of Girona, Spain.
“Last year after IRONMAN New Zealand I had a fork in the road, it was kind of do I stay in New Zealand where there’s not going to be much racing during the winter or do I buy a ticket to Europe,” said Smith. “If I stayed in New Zealand it probably would’ve meant that I’d have to go back to full time working again, I was working as a bricklayer in 2020, and I thought no, you only get one spin at this barrel so I bought a one way ticket to Europe and basically came to Europe with literally a cardboard box with my bike in it and just a backpack with some clothes.
“It was really tough in those first couple of months, literally just living out of your backpack and trying to make it work with no money at all or just racing to try and get to the next race, I’ve felt like that my whole career, just one race to the next to the next,” he said.”
While travelling across Europe to find racing, Smith accidentally made his way to Girona after missing a flight in what turned out to be a huge stroke of luck. There in Girona he crossed paths with Jan Frodeno, one of the world’s best triathletes with three IRONMAN World Championships to his name. From that point on, Smith and Frodeno became good friends and began training together.
“We were only supposed to be in Girona for a bit before we went back to New Zealand and ended up bumping into Jan Frodeno and going out for a run. We ended up becoming really good mates and we had really good banter and just became really good friends. Then one thing led to another, and we were both qualified for the World Champs in Utah and so we decided that we’d go all in together and jump on the same programme,” said Smith.
Frodeno has since withdrawn from the IRONMAN World Championship through injury but for Smith, training with and learning from the German triathlete over the past few months has been invaluable.
“This has come around so fast, I can’t believe we’re in the fifth month of the year already. This year has just flown by, but I’m really excited to race this weekend. I’ve learnt so much from Jan and I’ve been training really well and hopefully we can put something together on race day,” he said.
“It’s super nice having someone like Jan who’s been to the mountain top and knows what it takes so for him to be in my corner, it’s kind of like having Muhammad Ali in your corner or something like that. He’s learnt all the mistakes, he has some absolutely priceless tips and just stuff to do so it’s really cool to have him in my corner and kind of have him as my sparring partner as well.”
With Sunday’s race being Smith’s IRONMAN World Championship debut the Kiwi has been able to fly under the radar in the lead up to the race – although Frodeno has publicly backed the young New Zealander as one to watch. Smith says the underdog status is something he revels in.
“I always like the underdog status, I guess. I think every athlete always finds something to take them into battle, whether it’s a comment or to prove something wrong or it’s being the underdog, there’s always something really strong in that. I’ve always done quite well when I’ve been the underdog and I quite enjoy exceeding my expectations I guess you could say,” said Smith.
“Jan putting his prediction on me is a funny one because in me and myself, I’ve obviously only ever done one IRONMAN and that was IRONMAN New Zealand and that was an ok race, definitely wasn’t anything I was stoked with, but I guess
he’s been seeing the training I’ve been doing day to day and he can compare that with his historical training and the sessions he’d do,” he said. “But even in myself I’m still the Kiwi bricklayer trying to make it and it’s quite hard for me to believe that
I can be competitive. I know that my numbers are really good, I know that I can be at the front if you look at it like that but it’s quite hard to put yourself in those shoes, which I have to do.”
Whatever happens during his IRONMAN World Championship race, Smith excited to represent New Zealand on the global stage alongside fellow triathlete Kiwi Braden Currie and hopes the people back home will be cheering him on.
“I’m just super, super proud to be wearing the fern and to represent New Zealand. Obviously, there’s me and Braden here flying the flag for the Kiwis. I’ve even got my wheel sponsor to engrave a fern into my hubs so I have a little
bit of home, and I have a flag on my tri suit too just to really wear that home pride,” said Smith.
“It’s been super nice, the support from the Kiwi fans is just unbelievable. The amount of messages I get, people just genuinely happy for what I’m doing and following the journey which is super humbling. New Zealanders kind of have
the small country syndrome where we almost feel a bit far removed from a world like this so I really hope that I can fly the flag and really motivate the next generation too to keep pursuing their dreams,” he said.