Blindfolded backflip carries Gentle to triathlon title
BLINDFOLDED and standing on top of a 3m platform at the Surfing Australia High Performance Centre, triathlete Ashleigh Gentle was ready to let go of her fears.
Triathlon Australia international performance centre head coach Jamie Turner has revealed the left-field experiment conducted last week with AIS sports psychologist Jason Patchell that he believes helped propel Gentle to the greatest win of her career at the ITU World Triathlon Series grand final on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
"Ashleigh was diving backwards blindfolded into a foam pit," Turner said.
"To stand on top of almost 3m platform, put a blindfold on and get at one with your fears, learn to be comfortable and see a positive result in the spite of fear.
"To fall backwards into a foam pit is something that certainly helped her (on Saturday)."
Gentle said the mind strengthening exercise put her in the right mental space to seal a stunning win following a sprint finish with series winner Vicky Holland of Great Britain.
"This year I have been tested," Gentle said.
"To focus on not just the physical aspect of triathlon but also the psychological aspect as well and to make sure my head was in the right place before the race so I wasn't going into races already defeated.
"They are a few little things to challenge me in other ways. I think it's something I'll keep working on and it's helped me a lot."
The woman considered the best female bike-runner in the WTS has often had her hopes of victory dashed by the end of the swim legs that have left her with margins too big to overcome.
Gentle exited the water just 27sec down on the leaders after the 1.5km swim and by 17km left of the 40km bike ride she had caught the lead pack.
"Even though the Brits were on the front and had Vicky in the front group and Katie Zaferes there, they were still s--- scared of Ashleigh," Turner said.
"That's why they drove the front (bike) group. The two girls who were going for the (world title) win only needed to race each other but because Ashleigh was in that group, her competitors are certainly respectful and don't want to go toe-to-toe with her."
Gentle's position allowed the 27-year-old to save energy in the final stages of the bike leg before unleashing on the 10km run as Holland and American Katie Zaferes battled to decide who would win the series.
"It's definitely the best performance of my career," The Rio Olympian said.
"I think my best result in a grand final performance was last year which was sixth place.
"Vicky and Katie were only points behind each other so I knew it was going to be an aggressive race. To come out on top under those circumstances, I'm thrilled."
Gentle finished the race with blood in her shoe and a smile on her face.
"I just had a bit of difficulty getting (my shoe) on (in transition)," Gentle said.
"The tongue was stuck right at the front the whole time. I have got a lot of blood in my shoe and quite a big cut. It kind of distracted me from the pain in the rest of my body so maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
Gentle, who also had to dodge a flying cone on lap three of the bike, said it affected her running technique at times.
"I tried to change my foot around a bit within the shoe because it was hurting quite a lot," Gentle said.
"At the end of the day it's just one little blister but you can overcome that with a grand final win. I just tried to stay focused."
As Gentle raced around the Southport Broadwater, Turner delivered one message to the Gold Coaster, "keep it pinned".
"We use an analogy called pin it. It's based on motocross where if you hold the throttle open you don't know what you can achieve," Turner said.
"We continue to work really hard to get Ashleigh to see her opportunities and to stick her neck out.
"One of our themes was about being fierce and bold and it was about pinning it. We set some objectives that were perhaps a bit crude.
"It was perhaps the first time we set some parameters that were quite simple around Ashleigh and certainly her swim performance and she was able to do that.
"She stuck her neck out in terms of wanting to achieve some things that perhaps she had been a bit reserved about in the past."