High performance guru sees plenty of potential with youth coming through ranks.

He has been a week on the job and Mark Elliott is buzzing. But the sporting high performance guru is doing something slightly unusual.

In the sporting and business world, those who occupy senior positions tend to move on after a few years, forward that is, not back.

Elliott's doing it differently. Having overseen Cycling New Zealand's high performance programme for nine years, he stepped down after the Rio Olympics last year, "cooked" as he put it.

He took time out, looked about and then put his hand up for the same role with Triathlon New Zealand. This is old ground for the man who was in the chair in the halcyon days of Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty, gold-silver success at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and all that.


So why return to familiar territory?

Put it down to affection for the sport.

"That's probably hit it to be fair," Elliott said. "I needed some down time after Rio. I'm still incredibly passionate about high performance. An opportunity came up with tri. I never lost the passion for the sport. I was still coaching kids from a running perspective in Cambridge."

But if you're expecting Elliott to wave a wand and things will return to those fabulous days of the early 2000s, hang on a moment.

"It's been sad to see the sport not progress to the level and potential it's got. I'm not here to say what we did in 2001 to 2005 is repeatable but there's no doubt there's potential there and there's nothing better than to be part of that journey."

New Zealand have four women in the world series top 40, headed by No1-ranked Andrea Hewitt; five men in the top 45, so the basis is there.

Elliott recently attended the New Zealand secondary schools championships in Wanganui.

"Seeing the kids racing in Wanganui, the sport is in a great state and that's a credit to so many regional coaches who are starting to understand what it takes to be a very good triathlete. There's a good cluster there. If you've got that, then it's an opportunity for the future."

Elliott has fond memories of his times with the likes of two-time Olympic medallist Docherty. The Carter-Docherty 1-2 finish in Greece remains for anyone present, one of the all-time great New Zealand Olympic moments when you knew 800m from the finish that New Zealand would occupy the top two places on the podium.

It has only happened once before - at Atlanta in 1996 when Blyth Tait and Sally Clark took first and second in the individual eventing.

"For sure, I feel absolutely privileged to have been part of it. It was a combination of a lot of good people coming together and being aligned on a clear journey, and to be fair I see no difference to the collection of people I've come across in the last five days [since starting his new role].

"It's about 'are they all heading in the right direction' and what's it going to take to understand that. Eight years ago in cycling, it was quite a fragmented environment as well.

"Something I felt we did relatively well [was] getting clarity for regional coaches that they had a significant part to play. There are really important people in the communities who do it for love and passion and do it for nothing.

"We need to recognise there's a really strong group of those people in Tri New Zealand and we need to connect them to the high performance environment."

One thing you learn quickly about Elliott, 50, is if he's into a task he's full on. There's no room for ifs and maybes. You're either on board or not. After all, his philosophy is: "Together you learn more."

"As a coach with Bevan in 2004, I had no idea what it took to win a world title. I had concepts but never tested them on anyone.

"It was the same with Chris Pilone [Carter's coach]. He had experience of what Hamish had gone through in Sydney [when he had a poor Games race in 2000] but hadn't coached an athlete to win an Olympic medal.

"It accelerated your learning. That's the journey I want to take with people at Tri NZ."