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Tyler Smith taking different route in search of Olympic qualification

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Tyler Smith is adopting a different approach in more ways than one as he attempts to maximise his chances of competing in the 2024 Olympic Games.

At the end of last season, Smith was handed a major lesson in the World Triathlon Series Bermuda in November, in which he pulled out of the event early on the second lap of the 1,500 metre swim after suffering with anxiety and trouble with his breathing.

That incident has made Smith reflect on his approach to the sport and culminated in a difficult decision to leave his base of six years in Leeds, England, and head to South Africa, where he has spent the past three months training alongside Dame Flora Duffy, the Olympic and four-time world champion, under the guidance of coach Nate Wilson.

“The WTCS event in Bermuda was definitely a bit of a wake-up call that I needed to change how I trained and approached everything, because I had not finished a race since the Commonwealth Games in August as a result of injury issues,” he said.

“Being based in South Africa and training alongside Flora has been fantastic. We now have the same coach and it’s been great to work and learn from her during her schedule as well have dedicated direction from Nate.

“I’ve now had a solid 12-week block of training without missing anything and it’s exciting to see that gradual build-up of improvement and progress.

“Leaving Leeds after six years was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but I feel like I needed to do it and so far the decision is paying off.

“Having that block of consistency is a massive confidence boost. For me it’s about whether I can do that now week on week, month on month and then ultimately year on year to get to that top level on a consistent basis. It’s only the beginning but I’m really encouraged.”

While many of his peers at elite level are preparing for the World Triathlon Championship Series opener in Abu Dhabi on Friday, with the series holding the highest weighting of Olympic ranking points, the 24-year-old kicked off his campaign with a fourth-place finish at the Africa Triathlon Cup Maselspoort in South Africa on Sunday.

The Bermudian crossed the line in a time of 56min 5sec, 37 seconds adrift of winner Ayan Beisenbayev, after exiting the 750-metre swim in 9:17 and clocking 28:55 on the 20-kilometre bike course before finishing with a time of 16:33 on the 5km run.

It is the first of a number of races Smith will contest in the series in essentially the third tier of elite-level racing.

While the series does not hold as much value towards Olympic rankings, Smith has made a conscious decision to get a consistent block of races under his belt early this season with a focus towards boosting his world ranking as an alternative qualification avenue for the Paris Olympics next year.

“Last year ended a little bit flat for me and so the idea was to get a series of races under my belt early this year and get back into the rhythm of racing again,” said Smith.

“The aim for me is to get as many world ranking points as possible in the early part of this year. If I can get some good points in the Africa Triathlon Cup series, then I can look at what races I might prefer to do later in the year.

“That means I really need to hit the ground running from now. I’m not worried about the prestige of the races but more on getting as many points as possible as soon as possible.”

The plan for Smith is clear with a qualification spot on offer to the highest ranked National Olympic Committee not qualified for the Games on May 27, 2024, in the priority order of Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania.

“Ideally, I need to be top of the overall world rankings from those athletes who are yet to qualify, which is a massive challenge but something I feel I can definitely do,” added Smith, who is ranked 261st in the World Triathlon rankings.

“That goal is in my own hands and so I know what I have to do. That’s why I’m focusing on World ranking point events rather than Olympic-ranking races because it suits my qualification process. I’m targeting as many points as possible as quickly as possible, which for me is massively important.

“It’s definitely a different approach for me than what I had been doing before. Rather than looking at the WTCS races, I’m building my form towards events like the Central American and Caribbean Games [El Salvador in June and July] and then really focus on the Pan American Games [Chile, in October and November] because that carries a lot of points towards Olympic qualification.

“My immediate goal is be consistent and get those points. I just need to keep things rolling and find a rhythm of racing that I haven’t had for a while.”

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Published March 03, 2023 at 10:43 am (Updated March 04, 2023 at 7:56 am)

Tyler Smith taking different route in search of Olympic qualification

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