Much of the Commonwealth Games attention this week will be focused on Flora Duffy and whether she can bring home the gold medal for Bermuda, but hopefully that will not detract too much attention from the other three members of our team, Tyler Butterfield, Tyler Smith and Erica Hawley.
The Commonwealth Games has always been known as the friendly, inclusive games where the standard required to compete at the games is far lower than in other major games or even world championship events.
It is therefore very pleasing to see that our triathlon team to these 2018 Commonwealth Games have truly earned their place on the start line by showing that they are infact world class triathletes who, whilst not necessarily contending for medals, certainly belong at this level of competition and are not there to make up the numbers. The fact that Bermuda is represented by four world class triathletes at such a major games is extraordinary and has not been lost on the triathlon world.
Tyler Butterfield needs no introduction having won a bronze medal at the 2002 Junior World Championships, regional gold and other medals and numerous Ironman and Half Ironman professional race wins (as well as top ten finishes at the Ironman and Half Ironman World Championships). He has also represented Bermuda well at Olympic and Commonwealth Games level. This will likely be his last appearance at a major games (Tyler finished 14th as a teenager in Manchester at his first Commonwealth Games – the first Commonwealth Games Triathlon) but after flying the flag for Bermuda for many years on the international triathlon circuit, it is fitting that he should join Flora and two of our bright triathlon prospects at these games. At 36, and with his focus for many years now on the longer distances better suited to his endurance and experience, Tyler knows that he will not have the speed required to medal against many of the world’s leading specialists over this distance such as Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee (England), Henri Shoeman and Richard Murray (South Africa) , Ryan Sissons (NZ) and Jacob Birtshistle (Australia). He will however acquit himself well and will certainly be hoping for a top 20 finish.
Having just joined the senior triathlon ranks this year, Tyler Smith and Erica Hawley will be thrilled to line up against many of the world’s leading triathletes at a major games and hopefully they will use the adrenaline they feel at the start line to push them to solid performances. With no pressure on them they can enjoy what will hopefully be the start of many more major games to come. They have been involved in the sport from a very young age and have years of experience lining up at world level junior races so that experience has prepared them well for this new challenge. In addition, they have both raced at at world senior level this year and they were certainly not out of their depth and will know that going into these games.
Tyler Smith produced a world class performance to finish 11th overall at the Junior Triathlon World Championships in 2017, establishing himself as one of the world’s leading junior triathletes. He has now made the step up to the senior ranks but as he himself pointed out in an interview with the Royal Gazette this week, the gap now between the leading juniors in the world and the professionals has narrowed considerably. Matthew Hauser of Australia, The 2017 junior triathlon world champion, who will be on the start line with Tyler at these games, just recently took second place in the Mooloolaba World Cup Triathlon in March finishing just 4 seconds behind Richard Murray, currently ranked number 4 in the world. He will certainly be in contention for a medal in these games. Tyler will no doubt take inspiration from Hauser’s performance and with his own performance at the recent European Cup circuit race where he finished 18th amongst a strong professional field.
As is the norm now in these fast ITU races, so much will depend on Tyler’s position out of the swim with the likes of the Brownlee brothers setting a blistering pace to try and break up the field and drop the likes of Richard Murray before the run. Tyler though has had exceptional swims this year and if he can reproduce his best times over 750m in this race he could find himself in either the leading group or a second chase group. His next challenge will be to consolidate his position in the field as gaps will appear and the higher up the field he is going into T2 the better will be his chance going into the run. Although no slouch on the run, and with better times over 5km recently, Tyler knows that even if he finds himself towards the front half of the field, he will likely still be caught by some very fast runners and his final position will depend on where he is in relation to the field going out of T2 and whether he can set a personal best, or close to a best, on the run.
At a world junior elite level Erica Hawley has not enjoyed the success of Tyler but at both the past junior world championships, whilst performing creditably, she has not produced the results she has shown she is capable of when competing at a regional level against some leading world juniors. Her 40th place at the Junior World Championships last year was disappointing but she also produced some outstanding results, including winning the US collegiate championships. In 2018 she has had 8th and 13th place finishes at CAMTRI America Cup events and just recently was 31st at the New Plymouth Triathlon World Cup in a strong professional field that was her biggest challenge yet. I don’t think her result reflects her current level of fitness which is a good sign going into these games as Erica is the kind of athlete who sets herself high standards. Competing with her idol Flora for just the 2nd time, but in a much bigger setting, will also undoubtedly give her inspiration. With the quality of the field, Erica will be very hard pressed to come out of the swim at the front but will need to get out with a strong group of professionals near the front half of the field as, like with the men’s race, the wide diversity of ability will mean that there will be significant gaps opening up between the various groups. By T2, if Erica is able to get in with one of these leading groups then she will have a realistic chance of holding on to a respectable finish. Her run in New Plymouth of 19:45 for 5km was well short of her best so she will need to improve on that in order not to slip down the field.
No matter what the outcome of both the men and women races, the fact that Bermuda has put four world class athletes on the start line is an extraordinary achievement and testament to these athletes dedication and hard work and testament to the support they have received from their family, the tireless volunteers in the Bermuda triathlon family and the wonderful support of the Bermuda Government, sponsors and the International Triathlon Union who have worked so hard to promote talented athletes from smaller nations.
RACING GETS UNDERWAY WITH THE WOMEN’S RACE AT 8.30PM BERMUDA TIME TOMORROW, WEDNESDAY 4TH APRIL, WHICH IS OFCOURSE THURSDAY IN AUSTRALIA.