Bermudan triathlete Tyler Smith (Sports Science and Physiology 2020) goes up against Leeds teammates as he aims to help his nation to Commonwealth Games gold in Birmingham.
“Bermuda came fifth in the triathlon mixed relay at the last Commonwealth Games,” says Tyler. “We were within touching distance. We believe we can medal this time.”
No small feat, for a nation of 70,000 people – roughly eight times smaller than the population of Leeds. But with four athletes per relay team, Tyler lets us in on Bermuda’s not-so-secret weapon: “We have the best female triathlete of all time on our team to finish things off,” he says. “That’s Flora Duffy. So we always have a chance.”
Tyler is uniquely positioned. Racing for Bermuda, he can learn from an athlete of Flora Duffy’s calibre. In lockdown, when swimming pools were closed in the UK, he was able to train in the sea back home. Yet, having stayed in Leeds after graduation, he has the advantage of being based in the triathlon haven of Yorkshire. “There aren’t many places in the world with that combination of expertise, top athletes and top facilities,” says Tyler. “Leeds has it.”
It’s why he decided to study at the University in the first place. Leeds Triathlon Centre is a partnership between British Triathlon, Leeds Beckett University, the University of Leeds and Leeds City Council. Alongside Tyler, the training group consists of many GB athletes, and is led by world class coaches. “I visited Leeds and saw the close-knit triathlon group. There was that combination of a great city, a great university, amazing countryside, and top level facilities – including The Edge and The Brownlee Centre.”
Tyler is not the only one of his generation at the Centre to toe the start line in Birmingham. Alex Yee, Tyler’s friend from his time at Leeds, is one of the favourites for gold in the individual men’s race. Sam Dickinson (Sports Science 2019), a fellow Leeds alum, will fill the shoes of injured alum Jonny Brownlee (History 2013). Georgia Taylor-Brown, one of Tyler’s training partners, is joint favourite for the women’s title, and her showdown with Flora Duffy is one of the most hotly anticipated events of the Games.
As for his own prospects, Tyler will compete in both the individual event and the mixed team relay, and he hopes to build on his experience at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast: “That was one of my first senior racing experiences, and it was a real eye opener to see the professionalism at that level. It was also a motivator, because I knew I could compete.
“I was a student at the time. I remember we were doing a module on Environmental Physiology. It was all about heat acclimation and preparing for jet lag, which was perfect as we were heading to Australia. I volunteered for every single practical – so I’d do 90 minutes in a heat chamber taking measurements throughout,” Tyler laughs. “They must have been wondering why I was going so hard.”
This time around, Tyler has four years more experience under his belt. Since graduating, race successes, sponsorship, and support from the Bermudan Olympic Association have allowed him to train full time across the three disciplines. Although a broken wrist hampered preparations earlier in the year, Tyler is confident he is on track to perform in both the individual and team event.
“It feels like a home Games for me which is really exciting. It’s a small field, so there’s a greater chance of a breakaway forming and you get more separation, which gives everyone a chance. It’s going to be a really good race. As for the relay, that’s where we might get a medal.
“Truthfully, I’m just enjoying the process of being a professional athlete. There’s something about the disciplined lifestyle, the competitiveness and improving every day. It’s addictive.”
When Tyler arrives on the start line in Birmingham, he’ll be doing so with the support of not just Leeds, but the entire Bermudan nation. “When I go back home, people are really excited about it. It’s funny, people walk up to me in the street there, but here, I’m one of many – there are a number of Olympic medals in our training group alone!”
So longer term, can he see himself vying for one of his own? “My goal is to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024, which means building qualifying points. Otherwise, I just want to keep enjoying it and chasing that dream of being a professional athlete.”
The individual triathlon events will take place on the 29 July. The para triathlon and triathlon mixed relay events take place on 31 July.