Kapiti-born triathlete Matt Backler takes gold at World Cross Tri Championships
After six years of steady improvement, a former Paekakariki surf life saver has comprehensively won his first world cross triathlon title.
On November 19, Matt Backler took out the 35-39 male race at the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships in the Snowy Mountains, in New South Wales, Australia.
Backler finished the 1.5 kilometre swim, 30km mountain bike and 10km trail run in 2hr 38min 01sec, six minutes and 14 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger.
He added to his gold with fourth in the mixed relay event, while his wife Sarah's team finished second.
Backler been competing in off-road triathlons for six years, and this was his seventh world championship event. In his first attempt he finished 13th. His previous best finish was fourth.
With the age group races starting in waves, he was not entirely sure he had won straight after finishing.
Nevertheless, he enjoyed the moment.
"I've spent years chasing it," he said. "It was pretty enjoyable running up the nice carpet to the finish line."
Born in Paraparaumu, Backler was a member of the Paekakariki surf club for 13 years, competitively and as a lifeguard. He was also an orienteer.
His background attracted him to cross triathlons, which involve trail running and sometimes ocean swimming.
However, it was the mountain bike leg which had the biggest impact on the race - Backler finished it more than five minutes quicker than any of the 34 other competitors in his category.
During the race his motivation came from fellow Bay of Plenty athletes Hayden Wilde and Lewis Ryan, who secured a one-two finish for New Zealand in the overall age-group race and the male 18-19 age group.
"[They] were in the group in front of me, and the motivation was to narrow the gap."
Backler began preparing for the race in May, working on strength endurance and riding smoothly with Chris Willett from Perimeter Coaching. The bike leg was a fast-paced, flat, undulating course with no descents.
The group training environment was crucial in his success.
"You get the opportunity to train harder with people of a similar ability, but it also takes your mind off the hurt, and the feeling of pain.
"A lot of the time you're feeling down and tired. Anything to lift the spirits."