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Kyle Smith says Olympic Games triathlon dream still alive but focus now turns to Taupo glory bid

In a wide ranging interview with Kyle Smith, the PTO World #14 discusses his Olympic ambitions, why his bid to make the team in Paris didn't work out, and the importance of fully committing to his dream of winning the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship title in Taupo.

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Kyle Smith has been on a tear so far this season. The 26-year-old Kiwi, who only finished three middle-distance races in 2023, has already surpassed that number this year, with three podiums to boot.

Following an ultimately unsuccessful last-gasp bid to make the New Zealand Olympic team last season, the Taupo native has returned to middle-distance racing with great success in 2024, and his sights are now set on the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship.

Sitting down with TRI247 after his victory at The Championship in Slovakia last month, Smith told the story of his origins in his sport, revealed his plan for the world championship on home turf and explained why his Olympic dream is not dead yet.

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Kyle Smith on triathlon journey

Having made his first short course start in three years at the Wanaka Oceania Triathlon Cup in March 2023, Smith quickly started to gather momentum, and was being talked about as a possible domestique for Hayden Wilde in Paris.

Underlining his motivation to return to short-course racing after such a long hiatus, the PTO World #14 said he had never really left, with qualifying for an Olympic team always one of his biggest goals in the sport.

“I never stepped away from short course when I went to long distance, I just moved up to give it a try and it’s gone well, but it was always a personal goal of mine to go to a Games.

“I’m not a good enough athlete to walk in and walk across, and I always knew that, I came in after Kona and said I had always wanted to make the Olympic team, because that had always been my goal.

“I still think that I am good enough to go to a Games, but I came in with 12 months left of the selection window and I just didn’t have enough points. It started well, with a podium in New Zealand and then in Super League at the Arena Games.

Kyle Smith
Photo Credit: Super League Triathlon

“I had a pretty good result in Abu Dhabi where I was gaining momentum, but with the constant travel, when every race had to hit in that time period, I just got sick in that window and missed the opportunities.” 

After a DNF at the World Triathlon Cup in Karlovy Vary and IRONMAN 70.3 Knokke-Heist in September, Smith called time on his season and ultimately his Paris dream. Resetting over the winter, sponsorship obligations also had to be taken into account when planning 2024.

“My sponsors don’t pay me to race short-course, they pay me to race long-course which I wasn’t doing. I raced a couple, I did Ibiza and IRONMAN 70.3 Cork and then went well, but the reality is that if I want to secure my financial future in the sport then I have to fulfil my obligations with sponsors.” 

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“I’d have packed my flip flops if I had to”

Delving deeper into his Olympic ambitions, Smith revealed that in addition to wanting to achieve his own personal goal, aiding his fellow countryman Wilde had played a big part in his motivation to race in Paris.

Kyle Smith
Photo Credit: Super League Triathlon

“The one reason that I was trying to qualify for the Olympics, I said it before the Commonwealth Games in 2022, is that Hayden could have done with a domestique there, but it kind of fell on deaf ears and so I said the same thing for Paris.

“There’s no doubting that Hayden is one of the best runners in the race, especially with Kristian [Blummenfelt] underperforming, so it’s really now between him and Alex [Yee] for the gold medal and winning gold is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“Hayden is one of my best mates and I wanted to be there to be his right hand lieutenant, I’d have packed my flip flops if I had to and just swim and bike for him if I had to.”

Smith said that a gold medal for Wilde in Paris is also a gold medal for New Zealand, with the impact that could have on the next generation not lost on The Championship winner, who remembers being inspired by New Zealand greats such as Bevan Docherty and Hamish Carter in his youth.

Hayden Wilde WTCS Cagliari 2024 finish
Photo Credit: Tommy Zaferes / World Triathlon

“I got into triathlon in 2010 when Bevan Docherty was the bronze medalist from Beijing and I was massively influenced by that. I was obviously inspired by Bevan, and then Hamish Carter was so successful in that era as well.

“The current crop of professionals have been riding on their coattails, so I think looking at the bigger picture, if Hayden is helped to get a medal, it will help our sport in New Zealand as a whole.

“Unfortunately, the way our policy was written meant that I had to do it on my own back and I wasn’t good enough to do that, so I won’t be there, but I hope whoever is selected realizes that a gold medal is not just a good thing for Hayden, but also for triathlon back home.” 

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“The reason I got into triathlon was because of Taupo”

On the topic of Taupo, Smith’s love for his hometown quickly becomes apparent, and he credits the incredible triathlon community there for getting him started in the sport.

Kyle Smith and Kurt McDonald battle it out at IRONMAN 70.3 Taupo.
[Photo Credit – Graeme Murray]

“It’s a beautiful community, with 25,000 people and a massive triathlon influence. The reason I got into triathlon was because of Taupo. We’ve got a huge community in Taupo and one of the reasons I got into long distance racing is because the World Champs was announced in Taupo for 2020.

“I raced my debut 70.3 in Taupo in 2019 and I won there, so my big goal was to go on and compete at the world championship there but world events happened [Covid Pandemic] and now we have it this year.”

Despite the delay caused by the pandemic, Smith thinks he stands to benefit from it, with the extra four years of experience only serving to help him grow as an athlete.

“I think it’s probably the best thing that’s happened. Once in a lifetime you’ll get the opportunity to race a world championship in your home town and being four years more experienced, being more mature, is going to help me.” 

Despite recently finishing second at the San Francisco T100 after also finishing fifth at the Singapore T100, the New Zealander intends to turn down any late season wildcard spots to focus on taking the title in December.

T100 San Francisco 2024 Men sprint finish - Marten Van Riel, Kyle Smith, Rico Bogen
[Photo Credit – PTO]

“I am going to put everything into that race, I’m going to skip Kona, skip the back end of the T100 races and go to New Zealand early to execute and win that race.

“Everything happens for a reason, I don’t think I deserved a contract this year for the T100 tour, it has to be black and white and I wasn’t good enough last year for a contract.

“But it’s a silver lining that I can pick and choose my year and focus my season on this one race that will mean so much. If I had to travel to Dubai or the Middle East two weeks before my home race in New Zealand and missed out on a once in a lifetime opportunity to perform, I would have to live with that.” 

Tomos Land
Written by
Tomos Land
Tomos Land is a triathlon & running journalist whose expertise lies in the professional world of short course & long distance triathlon, though he also boasts an extensive knowledge of ultra-running.
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