NZOC (June 24, 2024) – Dylan McCullough is poised for his Olympic Games debut after being named in a four-strong New Zealand team for triathlon’s mixed relay and individual races at the XXXIII Olympiad in Paris.

The 23-year-old Aucklander will line up alongside Hayden Wilde in the individual men’s race on July 30. Nicole van der Kaay and Ainsley Thorpe get their chance to dive into the Seine the following morning for the women’s individual, likewise over triathlon’s standard distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run).

The quartet will then combine for the Mixed Relay (male, female, male, female over 300m swim, 5.8km bike, 1.8km run legs) on August 5 hoping to eclipse New Zealand’s 12th place finish at the Tokyo Olympics.

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Tayler Reid and Brea Roderick have been named as reserves and will train with the team on the outskirts of Paris right up to the Mixed Relay. The triathlon is headquartered on the Pont Alexandre III Bridge under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, with the swim in the River Seine before the bike and run on tight and technical central Paris street circuits including the iconic Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Tokyo bronze medalist Wilde spearheads the Tri NZ team. The Whakatane 26-year-old has been training at altitude in Andorra, his European base, ahead of a widely anticipated gold medal showdown with Brit Alex Yee.

Yee claimed the silver medal in Tokyo and has narrowly edged their numerous head-to-heads since, including pipping Wilde for gold at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Yee also won last August’s Paris Olympic Test Event when Wilde was forced to withdraw early on the run with injury but the Kiwi dominated the bike that day and knows he has the measure of his friendly foe on any given day.

“If it all comes down to a footrace, I don’t think there’s many people that can stay with us,” Wilde said of his rivalry with Yee.

“And yeah, I was pretty stoked with how everything kind of happened there [in Cagliari] and I feel like I know what I need to do to crack Alex if we do come off the bike with each other.”

The current World Triathlon No.2 behind Frenchman Léo Bergere, Wilde describes qualifying for his second Olympic Games as an “absolute privilege”.

“I’ve always wanted to get to this Olympics and perform in this Olympics. So, I can kind of take that and just, yeah, learn from my experiences in Tokyo and grab it by the horns and and go for it.”

For McCullough, an Olympic debut comes after his steady progression during the qualification period. It featured a maiden World Cup podium in Miyazaki, Japan last October, a series of impressive WTCS results and a rare solo bike-run breakaway to claim the Oceania Sprint Championships in Devonport, Tasmania in March.

“It’s pretty special,” McCullough said of his selection.

“I’ve been kind of targeting the Olympics for a while now, especially after the Youth Olympics in 2018 [where McCullough won gold in Buenos Aires]. The kind of next goal I wanted to step up to was, obviously, the Olympics. And, yeah, to get there is a pretty big achievement.”

McCullough paid tribute to his family and coach John Hellemans for getting him to Paris.

“I mean, this is kind of just as much for me as it is for them, really. I would not be in this position if it wasn’t for, you know, my mum, dad, my brother. They’ve kind of keep me going through all the hard times.

“Also my coach, John Hellemans, who picked me up in 2019 after glandular fever and got me going again. I probably wouldn’t be this athlete I am now if it wasn’t for John and my family.”

Van der Kaay, meanwhile, is determined to better her 29th place in Tokyo. The Taupo 28-year-old began 2024 by temporarily relocating to Portugal to train under Estonian coach Paulo Sousa.

The new year, new coach, new approach has van der Kaay fizzing for Paris.

“I am incredibly honoured and proud to have been chosen to represent New Zealand at my second Olympic Games,” van der Kaay said from her altitude training base in Font Romeu, a Pyrénées ski resort in Southern France.

“I’ve been training tirelessly, focusing on every detail of my preparation, and pushing myself to new limits, all in pursuit of excellence. I am determined to make New Zealand, my friends, my family, and myself proud.”

Thorpe unfortunately crashed out of the women’s individual race on the greasy, rain-soaked roads that confronted the women in Tokyo three years ago.  She’s hoping for more luck in Paris and is buoyed by a series of encouraging results at WTCS level, notably a Kiwi best 17th at last year’s Paris test event.

“I’m honoured to be selected to represent New Zealand at my second Olympics and with no [COVID-19] restrictions this time, I can have the lead up needed to perform at my best,” Thorpe said.

“I had my experience in Tokyo haunt me for a long time, but after racing at the Paris test event last year and finishing 17th individual, I realised how much stronger I have become as an athlete both physically and mentally in those two years. I loved the course and the city, and I can’t wait to race in Paris again.”

NZOC CEO Nicki Nicol extended her congratulations to the athletes.

“We’re really pleased to have an exciting and experienced triathlon team named for the Olympic Games,” said Nicol.

“New Zealand has a proud history in Olympic triathlon and wish these athletes all the best as they strive to add to that legacy in Paris.”

The men’s, women’s and Mixed Relay races in Paris are all scheduled for 8am starts Paris time, which translates to a convenient 6pm NZ time for fans watching from New Zealand.

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