With British Triathlon announcing the athletes for the National Lottery Funded 2023 World Class Programme, Tom Bishop and Gordon Benson share their plans having both spent over ten years as part of the British Triathlon set up.
Having claimed third place on home soil at IRONMAN 70.3 Swansea last year on top of the mixed relay silver medal at AJ Bell 2022 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds, Bishop is pursuing a career in long course triathlon.
Speaking about the change in distance, he said: “I’m anticipating a couple of years of lessons to learn but feel like this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. The training definitely suits me more, my physiology is way more suited to long course racing now I think, because short course is more punchy and the change of pace.
“The freedom of planning a racing calendar definitely appeals to me and the different destinations. I can get to explore plenty more places in the world, so really excited about that.”
Speaking about what will look different in his day-to-day training, Bishop continued: “There’s a greater focus on muscular endurance. Being on my feet for longer running, so the long runs are a bit more of a focus with more of a concentrated pace.
“On the bike, instead of a long ride being three-and-a-half to four hours, it might be an extra hour on top of that. Working on the muscular strength rather than the speed so much.”
This year, Bishop is targeting Clash Miami in March and Challenge Championships in May, with a focus for the remainder of the year on building his PTO ranking to open up his race options moving forwards.
His message on moving on from the World Class Programme is one of thanks to the coaches and the support staff from British Triathlon, as well as encouragement to the athletes on programme to enjoy what they do.
“My advice would be make sure you’re still enjoying it. Don’t just keep doing it because you’re on programme, you have to enjoy it,” he said.
“When I moved to Leeds Jack Maitland was leading the programme and showed me what it’s like and introduced me to a full time training set up - him and Malcolm Brown together. Liam O’Neill, I had probably my best racing season under his guidance and help as well.
“Pretty much all the coaches I’ve had a relationship with because I think they’ve all been instrumental. Rhys [Davey] who’s helped me post-Olympic cycle and helped me to make the decision to move long as well. There’s been lots of great coaches on the programme who’ve helped, and I can mention my mum as well.”
Benson, meanwhile, who represented Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and was part of the mixed relay team that took gold in the Europe Triathlon Relay Championships in 2021, has decided to explore a career away from triathlon and in the public services.
Looking back on his time on the programme, he reflected: “My whole journey within triathlon and my first steps in triathlon were taken with British Triathlon. I progressed nicely through the different aspects and raced here, there, and everywhere, and all my progression was within British Triathlon itself.
“I’ll always be grateful to the coaches who have helped me out. Some more on the side lines and some day-in-day-out like Mark Buckingham and Ian Mitchell. They were on hand every day, day-in-day-out and they helped shape me as an athlete and as a person.
“Elite sport is a high pressure environment and it’s definitely got it’s challenges, but I embraced those for ten years and I gave it my best and I enjoyed myself ultimately. I try not to think of one-off wins and races, but when I try to sum it up, I’ve been successful because I’ve had good times, with good people, in good places.”
A career beyond triathlon was something that Benson always had in mind, with the decision to pursue a role in the public services being his way to help give back.
“I always wanted to have a career afterwards and the enjoyment [of triathlon] was going down for me, so it felt like a natural passing point for me to move on,” Benson continued.
“I’m 28, feel like now is a great time to start a career and I can get a career rolling before I’m 30. I always wanted to have a career after [being a professional athlete] and the last year has been about exploration.
“I’m really grateful for what elite sport did for me and now I’d like to pursue a career in public or emergency service in order to give something back and work within the community.”
Speaking about Benson and Bishop transitioning away from the programme, British Triathlon Performance Director, Mike Cavendish, said: “The World Class Programme is designed to support athletes in getting the most from their elite career, as well as support them in life afterwards.
“Time on programme cannot go on forever and I’m excited by the next steps that Tom and Gordon have chosen to explore. Both have seen a huge amount of change and have contributed greatly to the life of the programme for a long period of time, something for which I and so many are very grateful.
“The character and qualities they’ve shown as part of the programme set them up well as they move on in their careers, and it is testament to the individual personalities that is often forgotten about when discussing elite athletes that they are such different paths to take. I wish them both the best of luck.”
The 2023 National Lottery Funded World Class Programme was announced earlier in January. Find out who is included by reading the article here.