The Gold Coaster behind Australia’s best triathletes

Triathlete about to swim at the Commonwealth Games

Jess Bowen | July 22, 2022

Joel Filliol is internationally recognised as one of triathlon’s best coaches. From the Olympic Games to Elite World Championships, Joel has guided triathletes to world-class success at the highest levels.

Originally from Canada, Joel has had quite the international career. He has previously coached for Triathlon Canada, British Triathlon, and Federazione Italiana Triathlon.

Joel now lives with his family on the Gold Coast and serves as Olympic Program Head Coach at Triathlon Australia.

We caught up with Joel ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games to get an insight into the man behind the champions.

What is involved in your role as Olympic Program Head Coach?

I oversee the whole Olympic Program. I work with the most senior and elite athletes – they are normally over 23 years old and competing full time. I personally coach some of the athletes on the Gold Coast, and I also coordinate where athletes and coaches in other locations around Australia can train.

How did you become a triathlon coach?

I was a triathlete myself. I started competing when I was about 11 years old and went on to represent Canada in the junior division at the World Championships. After that, I started to realise the limits of my own athletic performance and decided to move into coaching.

I was originally inspired to transition into coaching after Canadian athlete Simon Whitfield won the first ever Olympic triathlon event in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. I moved out to where he was training in Victoria, British Columbia and took up an ‘apprentice’ coaching role. It all started to grow from there as more coaching opportunities became available. I’ve now been doing it for more than 20 years

What is your favourite part of being a coach?

I really enjoy the partnership that I have with the athletes. We share the goals and process together and there’s always ups and downs. But I love the connection that we build as I help them to achieve their hopes and dreams.

Do you ever miss being a competitor yourself?

No, I get so much of the competitive outlet through the athletes, so I don’t feel competitive myself in that way. I haven’t had any desire to compete in a long time.

What do you think makes a great triathlete?

When we’re talking about triathletes who are at an Olympic level, it’s patience and the persistence that sets the best apart. It’s an endurance sport – the journey to achieving an athlete’s potential takes many years. It’s also never a completely smooth journey, there are often setbacks that need to be overcome so it’s important to keep a big-picture perspective.

While the ‘10,000 hours’ saying is a bit of a cliché, this sport really is a slow burn which is why most top-level triathletes are in their late twenties or early thirties – often older than athletes in other sports.

Joel was a triathlete himself before becoming Head Coach.

I really enjoy the partnership that I have with the athletes. I love the connection that we build as I help them to achieve their hopes and dreams.

Where do you train your Gold Coast triathletes?

We do most of our training at our performance hub at Somerset College in Mudgeeraba. It was recommended as an ideal training ground for us as the college has a great pool that we can use and it’s close to some nice cycling roads.

Do you find the Gold Coast a good training ground?

I’d been coming to the Gold Coast for many years before I officially moved here in August 2021, but it’s been great having the time to properly explore the place. The Gold Coast is full of hidden gems that I keep discovering that are great for triathlon training – from the interesting roads, to the hills at Springbrook, the river valleys, or dipping down into New South Wales on the bike.

The outdoor lifestyle is really evident when you live here, and there’s lots of emphasis on physical activity and sports in general. We’re blessed with a lot of excellent facilities as well. After coming from living and coaching in the UK, I’m pretty sure we have more 50-metre pools on the Gold Coast than the whole of England!

How are you feeling ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games?

The upcoming Commonwealth Games is a good opportunity for Triathlon Australia. We had a tough time at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as most of the athletes hadn’t been able to compete in the two years leading up to the event, due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions that were in place at the time.

We really rely on international competitions to tune up the athletes to be ready to compete as they are so different to our domestic races.

Since then, we’ve been focused on rebuilding the experience of the athletes and the majority are back overseas competing. We’re going into the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games with the opportunity to be competitive again and know that we’re also taking steps towards the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The athletes are all excited to be back competing and racing against the best in the world.

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Triathlon and Para Triathlon events will take place on 29 and 31 July.

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