Hayden Wilde, the rising Olympic star bringing back the glory days for New Zealand triathlon, chats to Chris Rattue.
What are your aims for the year?
My main priority is to bring home another major medal for New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games. I also wanted to run the 5000m in Birmingham but I ran out of time to qualify overseas because of Covid. I'll still try to do that at the next Olympics.
Where do the Commonwealth Games rank for triathlons?
A few key athletes are missing but most of the top 10 will be there which is awesome.
Will the course suit you?
I'm told it is undulating with quite a steep climb, a power-strength course which suits me for the bike and run. It's not all about flat speed.
How has the Olympic medal changed your life?
I don't have a massive ego — I let my performances do the talking but it has given me a lot more confidence in racing.
People standing on the side of the road do recognise me now. I wish it helped financially but as a New Zealander, it doesn't much.
It has changed some life opportunities, like signing with Red Bull this year and extending my partnerships. I have shown those big companies that I'm here to stay and can represent them well.
Your pilot father Andrew died in a top-dressing plane accident in 2007 — can you talk about that terrible day?
I was about 10 years old, at a mate's house. A friend's mum got the call, and told me I had to go home. That's how I found out.
It was obviously pretty traumatic as a young fella at primary school. It's a crappy position to be in but you just have to live with it and try to move on, carry the flag and hopefully become a decent person at the end of it.
Has it influenced how you live your life?
Of course. I try to live every day to the fullest. I just love racing with my heart on my sleeve. I want to get out there and win as many things as I possibly can.
Having your father pass away at such a young age, you look back and I definitely think it makes you stronger.
With two brothers by my side and having a strong mum and awesome stepdad made it a lot easier to get through. Everywhere I go the old fella is looking down. It makes me stronger and helps me keep digging. You never know when your last day is. It makes me race even harder.
What else motivates you?
I haven't grown up with money. I never asked my parents for a helping hand — it's my career and I don't expect them to help me at all. They really wanted to help financially, but we just weren't in a position to do that.
I had to do it all by myself and that is what I'm most proud of. It keeps me fighting and fighting in every single race.
It was pretty damn tough at times and the only way I was going to survive and get to the next race was if I performed.
When I was coming up the rankings we had zero to little funding from Triathlon New Zealand, which was fair enough.
I worked five or six months in the year then risked it all to go to Asia, to see how I went for two months. I stayed on a friend's couch, had some good results, then couch surfed with friends in Europe.
I had met them at my high school when they were exchange students — I had friends in Germany, Switzerland and all sorts. It opened up that path of people all around the world.
I was racing every single week to try to get some money into the bank so I could get to a better position.
What job did you do?
I was a landscaper, building retaining walls, fences, all sorts. My body was pretty tired but I really enjoyed my time with that crew. I did that as my gym training, but looking back, trying to balance that with how I train now would be extremely hard.
I was doing massive swimming hours at the time, 30-plus kilometres a week. Those were the hardest three or four years of my life.
You had a lot of swimming to catch up on?
Coming from a multi-sport I only had the fundamentals. Those triathlon guys are swimming extremely fast and to get close to that level needed two years of getting drilled by my swim coach Liz van Welie.
Where are you at with the three disciplines?
My running is one of the best on the circuit, same with cycling. I'm really happy with where they are at. Not coming from a swimming background, there is always room for improvement there.
Are you constantly on the move?
I'm mostly in Belgium with my partner (triathlete Hanne De Vet) or in Girona in Spain, where I do a lot of my training.
How tricky is it to work on things when you are travelling and competing?
Pretty hard. I'm in Austria at the Red Bull HQ, doing some high-intensity testing.
There's a lot of treadmill testing, wired up, looking at how my body tracks, how efficient it is, where I can be more efficient in my run strides, what my VO2 maxes are, how my blood levels are going, strength tests for upper and lower limbs, core testing, a whole range of stuff.
I've never gone through testing like this before. At High Performance New Zealand, we get a certain amount of money but these guys from Red Bull have an endless cash flow of money so they can really help with whatever to make you the best version of yourself.
I'm looking forward to seeing the results — if anything can be improved I'll take it on board, and put the unnecessary things to the side.
Do you get much of a chance to look around Europe?
I've seen things you can only dream of, from Paris to Jersey to Malta to Barcelona. It's quite surprising the time I get, whereas when I'm in New Zealand I see as many people as I can, do a lot of admin, catch up with people who have helped me throughout my career and a lot of media.
There was a lull in Kiwi triathlon success — what's the key to avoiding that again?
I'm new to the sport — I've only been there four or five years — so I'm still working that out.
The depth is definitely better than it was six or seven years ago — we've got a 20-strong team coming over to Europe, from the lowest to highest tier. For a while we struggled to field a mixed relay team but we've got a great group of ladies coming through now. We're in safe hands — we've just got to keep the momentum going.
The way to keep any sport going is by showing the passion you have for it. If you stay quiet on the sideline people won't think about it and give it a go.
Alex Yee is your great mate on the tour — do you train together as well?
No, I do most of my training alone. But we are extremely good mates. We want to beat each other but off the course we have great laughs. That's how sport should be. We are all good mates on the circuit, there's no bad blood or massive rivalries. You aren't going to make millions in triathlons — everyone does the sport because they love it which is why I enjoy it so much.
What are your ultimate goals?
Even if I retired now I'd be pretty happy with my career. But I'd like to be ranked the world No 1 and come back with an Olympic gold medal.
Am I on track? It's hard to know. It's an extremely tough task. There are so many variables in triathlon. I want to be extremely aggressive and strong, not tactically hiding behind people on the bike.
We'll see what happens in the next 10 years — they say you peak around the age of 28 to 30.
And I'd like to leave the sport in a better place especially in New Zealand, to have good quality athletes and depth.