Back in 2010, Jake Birtwhistle earmarked the Tokyo Olympics as his year. The Australian was 15 years old at the time and hadn’t yet fully committed to triathlon.
A decade on and the now 25-year-old heads into the Olympic year as one of the World’s best triathletes. He counts the likes of Mario Mola and Vincent Luis amongst his training partners and in 2019 he picked up his first victory on the WTS circuit, with a win in Leeds. You wouldn’t want Jake chasing you down off the bike in Tokyo - this star comes from a strong running background and was crowned Australian junior champion 11 times over middle-long distance events.
*How he progressed naturally into triathlon from running
*Why it’s so important to find the perfect training environment in order to be a successful athlete
*The possibility of long distance triathlon star Cam Wurf going to the Olympics as a domestique for Australia
*About his passion for photography…but not for baggage charges
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INTERVIEW TIME LINE* (not the whole episode)
00:00 coming from Tasmania and working on Joel Filliol to bring the squad over the Tassie!
00:00 – his background in running and doing bits of athletics and progressed naturally through a school cross country race, then the regionals and then the Australian championships, which he did from the age of 10. “It was like on no training, I was pretty fit, just from running around all of the time.
My coach was setting me swimming and biking as cross training as he didn’t want me to do too much running and that progressed really naturally to get me into triathlons just for fun. When I was 18 I decided I was going to commit to triathlon, and stop proper running training. I still enjoyed running, but I would have had to really step it up and do a lot more miles and drop off with the biking and swimming, but I enjoyed it too much to stop and I was optimistic that I could be quite good at triathlon as well.
03:30 My running coach would still say I could have been a really great runner, but looking back I know I made the right choice for me. It’s strange because you have so many people who have been there since day 1, when I was super young, but just doing it and not really having a clue and you don’t really think about it but it’s so nice to have people supporting you and giving you advice when you need it.
05:00 How did you join the Joel Filliol squad?
I was training with a squad in Australia for a while but I didn’t really like the environment and wasn’t 100% confident that it was right for me and once I had that negative mentality towards it, there is only so far you can go. But Triathlon Australia were really supportive of me moving away. I met up with Joel in 2017 and didn’t look back. It was a big move and it was relief to be somewhere where I was enjoying the environment and the training a lot more. But I don’t want to bad mouth the group too much because I was there for 4 years and it took me from a junior athlete to a competitive athlete and I learnt a lot, but I guess the time had come for something new.
07:30 It’s amazing to be a part of a group that dominated the World Series on the men’s and women’s side. It’s amazing to be in a really positive environment and put in the work alongside your toughest competitors and you can take confidence that you are doing the right things, because you are training with the world’s best.
08:30 we will train with each other until the day before a big race and even in the warm up, but once the gun goes off, you are racing for yourself and not for them. But sometimes you are relying on their help, like off the bike, I was able to rely on Mario Mola and Jelle Geens to work together and get back into the race. So you have the rivalry, but there is the camaraderie that cancels it out.
11:00 Talks about the selection policy for Australia for Tokyo 2020. “We had to be in the top 3 at the 2019 Tokyo test event, but nobody ticked that box, so now it’s 100% at the selectors discretion. So we have to prepare for Tokyo and almost hope for the best and we will find out if we are on the team 4 or 5 weeks ahead of the Olympic Games. With the Commonwealth Games I was selected 12 months out, so it’s the complete opposite and now it’s going down to the wire, which is tough, but that’s the position we are in. If worst case comes, then you deal with it at the time.
13:00 I know I am doing the right things to put my hand up and get myself on the team. But I didn’t perform as I would have liked at the Tokyo test event, so I only have myself to blame.
14:00 Even back in 2010, we sat down and set out a long, long term plan and we said all the way back then that Tokyo would be the Olympics for me. It’s been a long time coming I guess!
15:00 I don’t think about the ten year goal too often and at the time you don’t reflect on it too much as it all flies by.
15:40 I didn’t really have much to do with Cam Wurf growing up in Tasmania as he is older than me, but I would join him and Richie Porte when they were back home. I went on their recovery days of 130km! It’s a different world what some of those guys do.
17.00 Cam told me a while ago that he was planning to do a World Cup race and kudos to him for having a go. He has put his hands up for the domestique role at Tokyo 2020. He has definitely got a strong biking pedigree, so if he was around and out of the water in a good position, he would definitely be a good wheel to follow.
19.00 If I was off the bike with Alex Yee in Tokyo, I would be hoping it was a very tough bike, because he is an incredible runner! We have similar backgrounds, but he kept going in running a little bit longer, where as I stopped. I wouldn’t want to be running side by side with him in Tokyo unless it was a hard bike.
20:00 I definitely miss running and I remember watching the 5,000m at the Commonwealth Games and I did have a 'what if?' moment, but I’m pretty content doing triathlon. I’m not sure it’s really possible to focus on the two and the demands for running a 10km off the bike is definitely different to running 10k on the track.
21:00 On mixed relay and how the relay medal compares to an individual medal.
23:00 On his 2019 season “there were some shockers, where we didn’t get things right and I got to a race too overcooked or too over fatigued or not prepared and there is no real opportunity to go there if you’re not 100% ready, because you’re going to get shown up.”
24:00 on his WTS wins in Leeds and Hamburg.
27:00 What three things?
27:30 on his reputation for being unable to pack lightly. “I haven’t quite learnt the art of packing the necessities” I feel like when I am packing I am a bit OCD with it and I have it laid out and I’m always really optimistic that I can get it all in. I guess I like to be prepared! It just all adds up and once you have what you need, you end up with a lot.
31:00 on his passion for photography