Debutant credits coach for success

New Zealand triathlete Dylan McCullough (left) battles for the lead from Alessio Crociani, of...
New Zealand triathlete Dylan McCullough (left) battles for the lead from Alessio Crociani, of Italy, during the Ocenia triathlon elite men's competition in Wanaka earlier this year. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON
Dylan McCullough is poised for his Olympic debut after being named in a four-strong New Zealand team for triathlon’s mixed relay and individual races in Paris.

The 23-year-old Aucklander will line up alongside Hayden Wilde in the individual men’s race, and Nicole van der Kaay and Ainsley Thorpe get their chance to dive into the Seine the following morning for the women’s individual event.

The quartet will then combine for the mixed relay, hoping to better New Zealand’s 12th placing at the Tokyo Olympics.

For McCullough, an Olympic debut comes after a maiden world cup podium in Japan last year and victory at the Oceania sprint championships, six years after winning gold at the Youth Olympics.

"It’s pretty special," McCullough said.

"I’ve been kind of targeting the Olympics for a while now, especially after the Youth Olympics in 2018. And, yeah, to get there is a pretty big achievement."

McCullough paid tribute to his family and coach John Hellemans, formerly of Otago, for getting him to Paris.

"John ... 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."

Tokyo bronze medallist and world No 2 Wilde spearheads the 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 edged their numerous head-to-heads since, including pipping Wilde for gold at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games after the Kiwi received a time penalty.

Yee also won last August’s Paris Olympic test event when Wilde was forced to withdraw early on the run with injury, but Wilde dominated the bike that day.

Van der Kaay 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.

Thorpe crashed out of the women’s individual race on the greasy, rain-soaked roads that confronted the women in Tokyo three years ago.

She is hoping for more luck in Paris and is buoyed by a series of encouraging results at world series level, notably a Kiwi-best 17th at last year’s Paris test event.