Two days before the nation celebrates its 152nd birthday, Tyler Mislawchuk got an early start to the celebrations by winning his first career World Triathlon Series bronze medal in front of a boisterous Canadian crowd in Montreal on Saturday.
The 23-year-old Olympian took on the heavyweights of the sport in Canada’s cultural capital and stormed into the history books as the first Canadian male ever to win a medal in the 10-year history of the prestigious World Triathlon Series.
The Oak Bluff, Man., native clocked a third-place time of 53:53 in an action-packed race that will be remembered for high speeds, extreme heat and intense rain that hammered down on the 55 athletes who were sprinting to the finish.
“It is crazy, and a dream come true. Every corner there were Tyler chants so to do this at home is more special than any moment I have had in the sport,” said an emotional Mislawchuk, who broke down emotionally after stepping off the podium in front of the cheering hometown crowd.
“I thought I could win this event. I trained in Winnipeg the last three weeks and my training partners made me believe I could do this and I’m so grateful for them. When you have people around you that believe in you it is so positive. Training is not easy. This sport is hard. To have guys there day in and out that get you up and push every day is critical.”
Three Canadian women have reached the World Triathlon Series podium. Joanna Brown won a bronze medal earlier this year in Bermuda. Kirsten Sweetland won a bronze in 2014 in Hamburg, Germany. Paula Findlay won five World Triathlon Series races between the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Mislawhuk credits his podium success to a move last year to train at Triathlon Canada’s National Performance Centre under head coach Jono Hall.
“I told Jono after the race I couldn’t have done this without him. He’s so positive to have around, is such a big supporter and is pivotal to all of this,” added Mislawchuk. “I am absolutely over the moon. I’m going to have a beer tonight to celebrate.”
The talented Canuck took advantage of a solid swim where he came out of Montreal’s Alexandra Bassin on the heels of the fastest swimmers on the planet in 13th place.
Hopping onto the bike for five trips around the four-kilometre loop through the tight downtown streets that featured 16 turns, Mislawchuk masterfully worked his way to the front of a large pack of 30 athletes who were brought together for the 20-kilometre ride.
Coming off the bike in ninth spot, Mislawchuk charged onto the run course with six of the greatest names in the sport for a 5,000-metre heavyweight title in one of Canada’s oldest cities.
Racing stride-for-stride with the group of seven for the first 2.5-kilometre run, the pack dropped Spain’s legendary triathlete Javier Gomez.
“I knew I was there running with the best in the world. What’s pretty crazy is at the 2.5 kilometre mark I was feeling great and thought I had the race won,” added Mislawchuk. “I knew I had to stay with Mario (Mola) and if I did I’d be on the podium. He is a frontrunner and he always surges so I knew others were going to drop off and it would be one less person to worry about.”
With thunderclaps piercing over the venue and rain hammering down on the top triathletes in the world, Mislawhuk responded to a surge by Spain’s three-time World Triathlon Series World Champion, Mario Mola, and Belgium’s Jelle Geens with 1.3-kilometres, dropping two more World Triathlon Series winners in Richard Murray and Kristian Blummenfelt.
“It started pouring and I said to myself ‘this is awesome.’ I was thinking I hope these guys are hating this rain and I knew it was going to be an epic finish,” he said. “My goal was just to keep hanging in.”
With the trio running away, all that was left was to determine who was going to get what colour of medal.
Powering through the intense rain, Mola and Geens sprinted onto the blue carpet where the Belgian went on to celebrate his first career victory on the elite series with a time of 53:49. Mola held on for the silver at 53:50, with Mislawhcuk four seconds behind the leading mark.
“My legs came off a bit and they popped me off around one of the final corners, but I knew I was going to be on the podium. I can’t believe it,” beamed Mislawchuk.
Alexis Lepage, of Gatineau, Que., finished 36th at 56:39. Victoria’s Matt Sharpe was 37th (56:40), and Mike Lori, of Tecumseh, Ont., placed 44th with a time of 57:54.
Earlier this year, Mislawchuk became the first Canadian in six years to hear the Canadian anthem played at a World Cup triathlon race when he won in Mooloolaba, Australia. He added another World Cup victory to his resume two weeks ago in Huatulco, Mexico.
It has been a long road back to the top of the international standings for the young Canuck following a 15th-place result at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games – a race that capped off a year where he racked up four, top-10 finishes.
In the season following the Olympics, Mislawchuk struggled to find his way into the top-10 while battling through a leg injury. Now healthy, fit and with a renewed commitment to stay focused on the process, he is back on track.
“The tough years make you double-check yourself. I wouldn’t be here today without that tough year,” he said. “It makes you realize how much you love the sport. These moments make it all worth it. I have no doubt that I’ll have poor races and great ones in the future, but you have to enjoy these moments because they don’t come around all the time.”
Joanna Brown Battles to 12th in Women’s Race
Coming off back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the first two World Triathlon Series stops in Montreal, Canada’s Joanna Brown had podium hopes in her first sprint race of the season earlier on Saturday afternoon.
But the 26-year-old couldn’t match the fast pace on the flat course situated around Montreal’s Grand Quai, and finished 12th in a field that included 36 of the world’s best women’s triathletes. The Carp, Ont. native chalked up a time of 1:00:05.
“That one was super hot, super fast and a super painful race,” said Brown, who has been staying with her mom while preparing for the race while trying to shake the fatigue from a busy early-season travel schedule. “I was really aiming for another strong performance here in Montreal. I can’t speak highliy enough of the people cheering out on the course. Merci Montreal.”
Brown, who won her first career World Triathlon Series medal earlier this year in Bermuda, climbed onto Montreal’s waterfront in 14th spot following one of her strongest 750-metre swims of the season. Taking the long run uphill to find her bike in first transition, the scrappy Canuck hopped on her bike for the technical bike course.
With a trio breaking away, followed by four more athletes pressing hard to form a pack of seven up front early in the bike, Brown took control of the second chase pack for the 20-kilometre ride.
The lead group was trimmed to six while readying themselves for the second transition. Brown came off the bike just over one minute behind the leaders in eighth spot.
“The bike course was definitely challenging with some super technical corners, and a nice little kicker of a hill,” added Brown, who now sits sixth overall on the World Triathlon Series women’s standings. “My run legs were nowhere to be found once I got out on the simmering pavement. I’ll find them for Hamburg.”
Katie Zaferes was a monster on the swim, bike and run on Saturday afternoon en route to winning her fourth World Triathlon Series title in five starts this year. The American topped Great Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown following a hard-fought battle that saw the two triathlon stars exchanging jabs throughout the five-kilometre run course.
Matching strides, Zaferes attempted to break away four times in the final half of the run without any luck. The number-one ranked women’s triathlete in the world finally delivered a knockout punch with 300 metres to go, and ran away to the top step of the podium with a winning time of 58:15.
Taylor-Brown settled for second spot at 58:26, while Jessica Learmonth battled to the bronze with a time of 58:49.
Canadian Charles Paquet and Aiden Longcroft-Harris Win Gold and Bronze in CAMTRI Race
It was the nation’s next generation of elite athletes who blazed a trail to the podium for the Canada’s triathlon squad earlier in the day with a double-medal morning on Saturday in the men’s CAMTRI Sprint Triathlon American Cup race.
Charles Paquet (Port Cartier, Que.) captured his first ever CAMTRI victory, while Aiden Longcroft-Harris (Victoria) celebrated the second bronze medal of his season, and career.
Two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, Paquet was strong throughout all three legs. Coming out of the 750-metre in fourth spot, the Quebecer was a force on the bike and run where he duked it out with American Tommy Zaferes.
In the end it was the hard-nosed Canuck who surged into the lead, edging Zaferes by three seconds to take the gold with a time of 54:00. Zaferes claimed the silver at 54:03.
Longcroft-Harris, who captured his first career CAMTRI podium last month in Ixtapa, Mexico, also flexed his muscles in a field of 67 development athletes from around the world. Putting together the second-fastest swim, just two seconds behind the leader Zaferes, the Canadian stayed in the medal scrap until the end where he clocked a combined time of 54:18.
Two other Canadians also finished in the top-five in the men’s race. Jeremy Briand, of Sainte-Julie, Que., finished just off the podium in fourth place at 54:18. Brock Hoel grabbed the final spot in the top-five. The West Kelowna, B.C. resident, who won his first career CAMTRI race in May, stopped the clock at 54:50.
Two Canucks also finished in the top-five of the women’s CAMTRI race. Karol Ann Roy, of Laval, Que., posted a fourth-place time of 1:01:56. Victoria’s Colette Reimer placed fifth at 1:02:04.
Japan’s Hiraku Fukuoka won the women’s event with a time of 1:01:32.