Gold Coast WCS Triathlon and Triathlon Australia Rising Stars Youth Triathlon Program. Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. 9-11 April 2016.
Both personally (as a parent of two girls) and professionally (as Director of Sports and Activities at CIS) I have a very strong interest in successful Youth development in sport, not only Long Term Athlete Development, but in providing exciting and motivational memory-making experiences that fuel a life long love of participation in sport.
This weekend Gold Coast Triathlon in partnership with Triathlon Australia launched the Rising Stars Youth Development Program; an initiative designed to provide a platform for the emerging young guns of the sport, from across Australia, to compete against each other on the same weekend as their idols – triathlon superstars from around the world.
In my opinion, Triathlon Queensland and Triathlon Australia put on a near perfect 3 day experience for the 45 young Rising Stars of Triathlon aged 13 – 15 who were accepted into the program based on race results and recommendation from their coach, club or school.
My daughter Imogen was fortunate enough to gain a place.
The 3 day event was held in conjunction with the Gold Coast World Series triathlon and the Rising stars were given VIP status at the event to take a look behind the scenes, meet the heroes of the sports and learn from some of the best coaches in Australia - Dan Atkins, Triathlon Australia Head Coach for the National Performance Centre and Craig Johns, Executive Director, Triathlon ACT. The finale was a special wave start for the Rising Stars in the Luke Harrop Memorial Triathlon, which provided a chance for the young athletes to race against each other and the highlight for Imogen.
I hope you enjoy reading about our experiences at what I think was a really superb experience for young triathletes and their parents.
Day One - Friday 8th April
Kellie’s view - The 45 Rising Stars from all over Australia, UK and Hong Kong met at the race site for check in and welcome. They heard from Coaches Dan Atkins and Craig Johns and were treated to a meet and greet with two of Australia’s best triathletes, Aaron Royle and Ashleigh Gentle.
Everyone was really excited but I could tell that the kids were all sizing each other up and really nervous.
Imogen’s view – We put our bikes together on Thursday night and rode hard for an hour on Friday morning so that we could check out the course but also to get some last minute training in. Riding on the Gold Coast felt really great, as there are bike paths everywhere and you can ride really fast. We just had to watch out for people crossing to the beach and for car doors opening on our left. Unfortunately I have had a problem with the new brakes on my bike rubbing so we were recommended a really great bike shop where they were able to fix my bike in the afternoon.
When we checked in to the Rising Stars program I was really nervous because all the other kids looked so big, but it was really great to meet the Australian athletes and get our race packs earlier than everyone else, with our special t-shirts, hats and lanyards.
Day Two - Saturday 9th April – Professional Race
Kellie’s view – We were up early again this morning to ride to the race venue. The Rising Stars were given the opportunity to rack their bikes in transition ahead of the other 2000 competitors for the Luke Harrop memorial triathlon.
Transition opened at 6:30am especially for the kids and they were all lined up by 6am ready to get the best spots on the unnumbered racks. Imogen was a bit shocked by the bike kit that some of the kids had, including some impressive wheel sets, but when racking her bike, we were happy to see that perhaps she was a bit more familiar with her machine anyway.
Watching the professional race was exciting for me. It must have been phenomenal for the kids. Coach Craig was with the kids all day and giving them tips about what the pros were doing. Olympic selection was up for grabs for many countries and there was only one place available in each of the male and female events for the Australians with the criteria being that they had to finish as the top Australian and in the top 10.
Racing highlights and learning experiences for me were watching Ashleigh Gentle lead the chase pack on the bike with no assistance from any of the other girls to take the lead, which must have been very frustrating for her. Also, getting to meet some of the athletes after the race – they were so nice to their fans, taking photos, signing autographs and chatting on their way to the cool down pool, even after very hot racing conditions.
Watching Jonathan Brownlee get the wobbles in the home straight and collapse over the line right in front of us, put my heart in my throat, but made us all realize that even pros push themselves really hard and struggle in hot conditions. There was no shame in collapsing over the finish line. It was amazing to see Mario Mola hang around to meet the Rising Stars kids many hours afterwards and then hang out in a nearby café. He is one fit guy!
After the race, the Rising Stars hit the pool for a 90-minute session and another 90 minute run session with the two top Australian Coaches and the top Australian Juniors - the Hedgeland sisters and Matt Hauser
I didn’t watch the session, but Imogen said that all the kids were really eager to race and all sizing each other up. Nice healthy competition!
The elite race organization was superb and the way the Rising Stars were treated on the day was amazing. Imogen went home feeling really inspired and pumped to race. We were organized for the race very early and in bed by 7pm ready for a 4am start.
Watching the race was really amazing. I was cheering for Ashleigh Gentle who we had met the day before and Ryan Bailie. Both of them were trying to get selected for the Rio Olympics. Emma Moffat and Ryan Bailie were the athletes that were selected. Emma was the only Aussie girl to finish in the top 10 but 3 Aussie guys finished in the top 9. It must be pretty devastating to make part of the selection criteria (top 10) but have someone beat you. It’s amazing to see that since there are only 3 Olympic spots, getting to the Olympics for triathlon is really, really hard even for those, like Ashleigh Gentle, who are really at the top of their game. While watching the race, our coach Craig Johns, sat with us and gave us tips. I learnt about how the pros do such fast transitions and also what they get penalties for. One of the Aussie guys got a 15 second penalty after his bike fell over when he left transition.
At the bike racking and check in I realized what good coaching I have had in Hong Kong. Some kids didn’t know how to let air out of the tyres. (We had to let the air out because our bikes would be sitting in the hot sun all day so we wanted to make sure they wouldn’t burst before the race.) I also knew how to set everything up and had already learnt most of what the coaches taught us about open water starts, sighting, transitions, and the order to do things in transition.
The best part of the day was making friends. Some of the kids knew each other prior so hung out together but many of the girls and their parents were so nice and easy to make friends with. I ended up spending the day with two girls from Tasmania, Zia and Ava, who were close to my age. I think that I have made two really nice friends who I can stay in touch with in the future and maybe race with again one day. I’d love to have them come and visit Hong Kong and maybe race here.
The other highlight of the day was meeting Mario Mola who was cooling down in the pool where we went to train after winning his race. He was really nice and took a photo with us.
Day 3: Sunday 10th April - Race day
Kellie’s view: Imogen had been waiting for race day since the start of the program and I kept telling her to make the most of the initial days despite her eagerness to race. She was determined to get to bed early again and lights were out by 7pm (5pm Hong Kong time) so I was awake by 2:30am on race day! I was slightly disappointed not to be racing myslef, but I was keen to be team manager at this event so was doing the checklists in the wee hours, including how to drive to the race venue during the road closure. All went well with great planning and we were safely parked at the race venue by 5:30am, 90 minutes prior to race start as instructed by the Australian Head coach. Imogen had time to set up transition, including pumping her tyres back up and do a really good course preview of the run course, transition and have a good swim warm up.
In the race there were three incredibly talented girls who led the field by quite a bit from the very start but it was really impressive to watch such talented kids overall race against each other. They’d obviously chosen the participants really well because of all the female Rising stars, 10 of them including Imogen, finished in the top 20 of 344 racing that distance in various age group wave starts.
Of the 24 male Rising Stars, 12 of the top 14 of 328 who raced super sprint (enticer) were Rising Stars.
We went back to our hotel after the race and ended up side-by-side at tables with Richard Murray (South Africa) and his girlfriend Rachel Klamer (Netherlands). Richard had crashed his bike in the men’s pro race the day before and had been hospitalized. Rachel came 5th in her race and was really happy with her results.
There were two really amazing things about meeting Richard. The first was that he had a very positive attitude despite having a broken collar bone needing surgery and two broken bones in his hand and some tendon damage in his foot. His hometown, Cape Town, will host the next in the WTS so of course he is disappointed about not being able to race in front of his home crowd but he is keen to do some media.
Richard had a chat to Imogen about race strategy and told her that the day before his race, he had spoken to the lifeguards at the race site and asked about the current. He felt that local knowledge had really helped him with his swim. He told Imogen that she could have asked the lifeguard on race morning about depth and current. It felt like great advice from a really experienced and talented guy.
Imogen's view: My race start was less than perfect with some local girls gaining about 8 body lengths on the rest by dolphin diving their way out to the first buoy in a shallow section. I swam very well to make up some positions but still came out of the water in 8th or 9th position despite thinking that perhaps I might be the best swimmer in the group. I had a great transition and a very good bike leg but, in a no drafting race, the girls were very spread out and I didn’t have much pack support. My run was OK and although I was able to make some gains on the two girls ahead of me, I didn’t gain any extra places. I felt great over the course of the race and was pretty happy with my effort. I was hoping to break 40 minutes for the course and did a 40:08, still a PB by 3 minutes for the super sprint. I came 11th of 18 girls in the Rising Stars program.
One thing that I noticed was that most of the kids in the Rising Stars program really wanted to win. I think that most of the kids thought they could win and were probably used to winning or, at very least, getting a podium. I placed 11th, it was my very first race, so racing against such talented girls was a really great experience and, since I might go to university in Australia in about 4 or 5 years, it was really great to see what talent there is in Australia and how competitive they are.
It has been really motivating for me because it has been a challenging year for me being away in Hangzhou and I haven’t had very much opportunity for bike training. The Aussie kids have also just finished their season and this was my first race since the Hong Kong ITU in October, so I am really happy with how I did. Overall the experience was really positive.
I loved meeting Richard Murray. He was really nice to speak to us for so long and really friendly. It was interesting to hear him speak about the heat of the day and how it affected Johnny Brownlee.
Summary of the program
Kellie’s view: The scope and caliber of the program was superb enough to warrant spending the money to travel to Australia and take time off from work and school. It was a memory making experience and learning opportunity.
It was also a chance for a reality check and to see the Australian talent that is out there. Overall I think it was really well done and worth attending. This is the first year that they have run the program and Ironman and Triathlon Australia have plans to make some positive additions during the coming years. There is even talk of allowing the kids to race on the elite course which could be a really great experience. I would highly recommend a program like this and I am thrilled that Imogen was blessed with this opportunity. I am hugely thankful to Andrew Wright, Kate Rutherford and Henry Wright for recommending Imogen to this program and to her schoolteachers who recognized this opportunity as being worth time away from school.
Imogen’s view: I love racing and the highlight was doing just that. Racing against such a strong field made it really great, as it was eye opening as to how good the Aussie kids are. The weekend really solidified the fact that I love this sport and want to develop my skills and ability over the coming years. Soon after the race, there was some media attention on Ryan Bailie who gained the Aussie spot for the Olympics. He came to triathlon having to work on lots of aspects of the sport, but has been a really hard worker over 8 years and trained hard with complete commitment and it’s paid off. I think I’m a hard worker and I have great coaches so I’m motivated to continue to work hard on the YDP when I return from Hangzhou and especially commit to getting more experience on the bike, which will definitely make me a better triathlete. I can’t wait to go to Subic Bay next weekend to see what I can do and then I am really keen to train hard over the summer.