The script could hardly have been written with any more poignancy as Russell White prepares for his 100th triathlon on the Olympic stage in Tokyo on July 26.
White, 29, is determined to make a moment to remember and says he has to emulate the approach of 2016 champion and triathlon legend Alistair Brownlee — who won’t have the chance to defend his title as Team GB selected his brother Jonny and Alex Yee.
Two-time Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games representative White has had an up close and personal view of Alistair and Jonny — learning just what it takes to be on the podium.
“I was alongside Alistair and Jonny at a World Series event in Leeds when we broke away from the pack on the bike and I could see in Jonny why he has been so successful and has changed the sport really.
“Jonny has this racing mentality that he doesn’t give an inch but also the ability to hurt — he can take pain more than anybody else,” said White, speaking exclusively to Sunday Life Sport.
“He is so aggressive, you see it on his face and it’s that mindset that has allowed him to race on the limit and keep going with that intensity. I know that I need to be more aggressive. In the past I’ve been focused a little too much on other people and been racing a bit defensively. I have to attack this now, I have to be red lining. With my 100th triathlon coming in the Olympics it just makes it even more special.”
Banbridge man White’s Olympic dreams started when sitting on the sofa as an eight-year-old with sister Rebecca as they witnessed the Sydney Games of 2000. Both would go on to be top national swimmers, competing for Lisburn, before Russell turned to triathlon when Olympian Aileen Reid came to train at their club.
“I was about 16 when Aileen came and that probably triggered me into thinking that maybe it’s a sport that I could do.
“I saw her competing on the world stage and that got me interested and then when I went to Stirling University Gavin Noble, who competed in the triathlon for Ireland at the London Games, was my landlord in my third year. He holds the highest finish by an Irishman, 23rd, and now in Tokyo he’s the Deputy Chef de Mission for Ireland. So, it will be special to have Gavin there as I compete,” added White.
“For me success here will be performing more aggressively. I would love to have the highest-placed finish by an Irishman and I know that’s in me.
“I feel quite fortunate to be here because I broke my collarbone on St Patrick’s Day 2020 but then the pandemic struck and all the races got cancelled so that actually gave me the time to recover so I could have the chance to qualify for the Games.
“Covid has been a horrible time for everyone but it did actually help me a lot to heal and recover.
“I’ve finished 11th at a World Series event in Leeds and 15th overall in the Grand Final of the World Championships and I’m now a better athlete.
“I’ve been working with Martin McGann, the former coach at Lisburn, on my swimming. He’s based in Dubai now but gave me a very good programme.
“For me these Olympics have never been the end goal. I’m excited about how I can push on from here. But, of course, this will be a childhood dream come true.”