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Medals and milestones

With a year of highlights behind him and the tantalising possibility of the Olympic Games ahead, triathlete Tayler Reid is poised to hit the ground running for potentially his biggest season yet. He talks to Grant Miller.

Tayler Reid has been on a three-week break but the triathlete has not exactly been doing nothing.

Back home in Gisborne after a long season on the international triathlon circuit, he put his feet up, watched movies and did some reading.

But he also got out on his mountain bike, with either his father Andrew Reid or his stepfather Shane Clapperton. They gave the new tracks in Fox Street a try.

There were no stopwatches, no GPS and it was not for fitness so, as far as Tayler Reid is concerned, cruising on downhill tracks and trying not to crash counted as relaxation. He couldn’t just do nothing.

The ideal middle ground for him was to rest up but also to get into some activity away from triathlon — such as surfing.

Reid’s break is due to end about now.

“By the end of two-and-a-half weeks, I’ll be champing at the bit to start training again,” he forecast to The Gisborne Herald when he had been back in the region for just over a week. The break allowed him to rest, recover and re-focus.

“We thrash our bodies through the year,” he said.

“But the mental side is just as important.

“In elite sport, there’s a great level of commitment and focus.”

Reid said that, by the end of the Northern Hemisphere triathlon season, he had been looking forward to having a break.

In a European-based sport, the athletes from Down Under spend a long time away from home, and travelling from event to event can take a toll.

Reid, 22, has a season of highlights and one significant lowlight behind him and, hopefully, the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan ahead of him.

He has wanted to go to the Olympics since he was 5.

“It makes me excited and nervous.

“I’ve been infatuated with the Olympics for so long.

“It’s close to potentially becoming a reality.”

Yet he’s conscious the selectors may choose some of his friends instead.

Triathlon New Zealand has been focusing its triathlon programme on the mixed team relay, for which Reid has been a consistently top-class performer. But, as things stand, four men could be fighting for two spots in the Tokyo Games team. Relay members — two men, two women — also compete in the individual men’s and women’s races and the selectors will take into account athletes’ form in those events. Reid has been sharp in the sprint-based relay event but his ticket to the Olympics is no certainty.

“I’m in no way guaranteed to go yet.”

Reid is a former pupil of Mangapapa School, Gisborne Intermediate and Gisborne Boys’ High School. He said his family and schools had always encouraged him to pursue his goals.

One of the best moments of his 2019 season came in Antwerp, Belgium, in June.

He finished second there last year, losing out in a sprint finish. Ahead of this year’s event, all he could see in the race briefing and promotional material were images of him coming second.

The race again came down to a sprint finish and, this time, Reid powered to a win.

Another highlight was at Edmonton, Canada, in July.

The New Zealand mixed relay team had come third there last year but this year, they took it out.

“Everyone in the team raced out of their skins,” Reid said.

“We had our best individual performances all on the same day.”

Reid was the under-23 world champion heading into the world championships at Lausanne, Switzerland, but he had to give up his title there at the end of last month.

“I was devastated with my race,” he said. “It was a hard one for me and my coach to explain.”

Aiming to defend his u23 world title, he finished well down the field.

“I performed well through parts of the race,” Reid said.

“I was first out of the swim and thought I was efficient on the bike and taking on fuel.

“Out on the run, within a lap, I thought I’d hit a bad patch but as the race went along I was suffering a lot.”

Reid finished the race but it hurt that he was not in the mix for a medal.

“It was heartbreaking for me.”

Becoming the u23 world champion on the Gold Coast in Australia last year had been “the biggest thing in my life”.

“I was lucky to be a world champion last year and wanted to defend it.”

Reid had to pick himself up quickly in Lausanne for the u23 mixed team relay. It turned out to be another moment of redemption.

The team had been in a photo finish for first on the Gold Coast last year but were disqualified for what Triathlon New Zealand called a technical error — not taking the correct course. Three of the same four team members lined up in Lausanne this year — Reid, Ainsley Thorpe, Hayden Wilde and Hannah Knighton (subbing in for Nicole van der Kaay) — and they won gold.

That came two days after the disappointment of the men’s u23 individual race.

“I didn’t have much time to process the defeat and couldn’t dwell on it. I had teammates counting on me.”

Each individual race remains important to Reid but the relay sometimes “feels bigger”, because more people are invested in the result. He described a personal win as “great” and a team win as “super-satisfying”.

Reflecting on his season, Reid said he would “take the good, more than the bad”. Looking ahead, his running is still the main thing he is looking to improve.

He made some strides with it this year but hopes to make bigger gains.

Reid has experienced success at the Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal in the mixed team relay on the Gold Coast last year. That gives him some idea of what the Olympics are like.

The team also experienced a pre-Olympics test event last month in Tokyo, and it was hot and humid.

“It was even hot in the swim,” Reid said.

The team are refining their strategies for keeping cool.

The Olympic Games don’t start until July next year but they loom large on the calendar. Reid is driven to be a part of the action, his training is resuming and competing in the Games is in his sights.

“I’ve had that goal for as long as I can remember.”

Tayler Reid