Tyler Mislawchuk etched his name into the history books as the first Canadian male ever to win a World Triathlon Series race after taking down the best names in the sport with a golden performance at the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo, Japan on Friday.
The 23-year-old took a major step forward in his progression towards achieving his ultimate dream of standing on the Olympic podium after topping Norway’s Casper Stornes in a thrilling sprint finish. The Oak Bluff, Man. resident clocked a time of 1:49:51 in the Olympic distance race.
“I can’t believe it,” said Mislawchuk. “This is the biggest race outside of the Olympics for me, so it is just unbelievable.”
“This is a great win for Tyler and Coach Jono Hall. The team perfected our game plan and delivered a golden moment for Canada,” said Eugene Liang, who was given the nod in 2016 to serve as Triathlon Canada’s high-performance director with the goal of rebuilding the nation’s triathlon program from the grassroots to elite level. “This result validates our continued push to be successful in Tokyo 2020, but also with an eye on 2024. We are continuing to maximize our potential, and it is positive to see a shift towards a culture of excellence that is being established.”
Earlier this summer, Mislawchuk became the first Canadian male ever to reach the World Triathlon Series podium when he won the bronze on home turf in Montreal. Joanna Brown also won a bronze medal earlier this year on the elite triathlon series in Bermuda.
Two other Canadian women have also reached the world’s most elite triathlon podium. Paula Findlay is the only other Canadian to have stood on top of the podium in the 10-year history of the World Triathlon Series. The Edmontonian won five World Triathlon Series races between the 2010 and 2011 season. Kirsten Sweetland won a bronze in 2014 in Hamburg, Germany.
“I just thought (coming down the finishing stretch) I may never have the chance to win a big race again, so I’ve got to take it now. I wanted it more than anything today.”
Mislawchuk and his Canadian mate, Matt Sharpe, came out of the water of the two-lap, 1.5-kilometre swim in ninth and 11th spot respectively to set themselves up perfectly to control the pack for the 40-kilometre bike ride.
With Mislawchuk quickly jumping to the front of the pack of 65 athletes who were strung out along the first of eight laps on the bike course, the Canadians tactically bounced around the lead group – controlling the pace and saving their legs for the 10-kilometre run in the high heat and windy conditions.
In lock-step with fellow-Canuck Matt Sharpe (Victoria), who was stellar in the swim and bike, the Canadian duo ran into second transition in eighth spot.
“I had good legs on the day and need to thank the boys out there for helping me out. We worked well as a team and I couldn’t have done it without them,” said Mislawchuk.
Mislawchuk unclipped his bike helmet, hopped into his running shoes and was the second man off the blue carpet, storming onto the first of three laps on the run course.
The Triathlon Manitoba product was in complete control while running with a lead group of seven after the first of three laps. The pack dwindled to five during the second lap, but in the final loop it was a three-man race to determine the colour of the medals as Mislawhuk matched stride-for-stride with Norway’s Caper Stornes and New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde.
Mislawchuk and Stornes dropped Wilde with two kilometres to go where they ran shoulder-to-shoulder until the final stretch when the Canadian surged ahead and was first to punch the finishing tape.
“We prepared specifically for this. Hayden (Wilde) and I supported each other the whole way. We knew we were in it for the medals if we worked together,” added Mislawchuk. “It came down to a sprint and I had the legs.”
Stornes finished four seconds behind Mislawchuk with a time of 1:49:55. Wilde celebrated a strong third-place effort with a time of 1:50:03.
Matt Sharpe and Alexis Lepage (Gatineau, Que.) did not finish the race.
It has been a long road back to the top of the international standings for Mislawchuk 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, he struggled to find his way into the top-10 while battling through a leg injury.
With just 11 months remaining until he hopes to back on the Olympic start line, Mislawchuk has been enjoying a dream season thanks to patience and a move to Triathlon Canada’s National Performance Centre last year to work under head coach, Jono Hall.
Staying committed to the process, earlier this summer 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 in early June in Huatulco, Mexico, before his first WTS triumph at the end of the month.
“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.”
Triathlon Canada took full advantage of the Tokyo Test Event to simulate their preparations for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games. Surrounding the team with a strong support group from the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific, the Canucks staged this week – as they will do next summer prior to the Games – in Miyazaki City which allowed them to acclimatize and finalize their race preparations in ideal training conditions.
“If you want to do it on one course this year, it is this course,” said Mislawchuk. “Now we know how to prepare for next year as well. I need to thank all of my supporters who have been around me through this entire journey, and the people who believe in me. This is a big moment for everyone in my circle.”
The Tokyo Test Event continues on Saturday with the Para-triathlon races.