by Doug Gray on 15 Jul, 2022 10:30
Born in Port Elizabeth at the turn of the millennium, Jamie Riddle was brought up on a diet of long distance triathlon thanks to his dad, an IronMan Age Grouper who encouraged his son to join him for runs and was a homegrown hero to the young South African.
Now, the 22-year-old is reaping the rewards of that upbringing. The positive mental attitude he has developed, coupled with raw talent and a dash of good old-fashioned serendipity, means he has now hit successive WTCS start lists, finally mixing it with the athletes he has idolised for the past decade.
Far from taking time to find his feet at the top level, it was most recently in Hamburg that he was out there influencing the race, pulling away during the bike and giving the podium favourites behind plenty to think about before ultimately crossing for a career-best 15th place.
Hear all about the mantras at the heart of Jamie’s racing, his bid for Commonwealth Games success and the grind that got him here in the new episode of the World Triathlon Podcast, available on Spotify, Apple, Google and all major platforms.
“If you take it back a while and you rewind the clock a bit, you’d definitely see a youngster that was a delusional optimist. I always had these dreams and I always had these aspirations and, and I truly believed in them and still to this day that the possibilities are endless. It was kind of this weird scenario that I was always thrown into the deep end and… I was always in this awkward position of being out of my depth, but I felt like I was meant to be there.”
The confidence to not have been intimidated on those big starts is what was on display in Hamburg, where he first raced as an Age-Grouper back in 2018. Those situations he says accelerated his career progression, realising sooner than some just what was going to be required to cut it with the best. And it is a test that he has revelled in.
“I love the challenge. I start each week and it’s almost like you don’t know if you’re gonna make it to the end. That’s how I try to live my life. I’m not here to play it safe. To me, if you’re not juggling that line and juggling between do or be damned… I enjoy walking that line.”
After moving to Stellenbosch to take his training up another gear, it was a chance poolside meeting with Swiss coach Nico Montavon, who offered help with his swim technique and is still Jamie’s coach today, that saw him develop the stroke that has made him one of the best out there.
“Nico suggested three weeks of open water-specific stroke correction and I think in three weeks I was already swimming front pack in the junior races and World Cups. So that kind of allows me now, when I stand on a start line, to have this urgency in the swim and then it filters down. I was a very, very average runner and if I didn’t have that breaker in the swim and bike, I would be coming at the back end of the fields in the junior races.”
“So I learned that aggressive racing style, because I was such an average runner. And now that my run has come up a level, I still have that urgency in the swim-bike and that’s why you sometimes maybe see me racing super aggressive.”
Coming through at a time when there are others of a similar age and mindset making waves has clearly helped, too. Suddenly athletes born in the 2000s are breaking down what may have been a psychological barrier for some in terms of being able to compete shoulder to shoulder with the more experienced athletes.
“When I was in Leeds, we missed Vincent Luis and Leo Bergere‘s breakaway, but if you look at the guys that were working in that group – and obviously I’m in the group and know exactly what’s going on – the strongest workers were the youngest guys. Miguel Hidalgo from, from Brazil, he never races scared, he’s always pushing to the front, Batista as well. All these guys are 2000 athletes, about 21-22 years-old. We are that generation that watched Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee and were inspired by them.”
“I feel like we are coming up and wanting to bring that back. If you look at the running now, it’s just on another level. I mean, these guys are running on the track sub 13m30s and there’s only one way I’m ever gonna beat them and that’s if I race and try to produce some lactate in people’s legs, because I feel like I’m a bike-runner, not a pure runner.”