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EDITION 19 - JULY 2008
Talent tracker
How Jack Maitland became the UK's top triathlon coach, with a few adventures along the way...

Jack Maitland is in the business of winning. During his spell in the limelight he became accustomed to competing at world-class level in a handful of sports.

Nowadays he spends his time in the background, searching for talented young athletes, passing on his winning ways and moulding athletes into possible Olympic champions.

Speaking to In The Winning Zone from his current base of the Triathlon High Performance Centre at Leeds Metropolitan University, the 46-year-old from Aboyne in Aberdeenshire, reveals his drive which saw him compete at the highest level in sport.

A self-professed dab hand at all sports, Maitland participated in as many sports as daylight would allow during his childhood. It wasn’t until he was in his teens that he found his forte in athletics.

“At school I did every sport going and then I started doing orienteering beyond Aberdeenshire Schools. My PE teacher at the time got me started and I began going to competitions all around Scotland. I got onto the Scottish Junior and then the Great Britain junior squads at 17 years old.”

Maitland continued orienteering and achieved a Great Britain vest at under-21 level before altering his primary sport and picking up hill running at university. After easily acclimatizing to the slopes, and missing out on qualilifying for the senior orienteering world championships in 1985, Maitland placed all his focus on running the hills. Within a year he was already reaping the rewards.

One of his greatest successes in hill running came early in his competitive career in the sport. “It could be the London Marathon of hill running”, he comments, “I went out to Switzerland and won the Sierre-Zinal in my first year of serious hill running in 1985”

A year later, Maitland was back competing at his best, finishing in first place overall in the British fell-running championships. Racing over 100 times a year, Maitland travelled the country, improving as an athlete and competing against the best in the business.
Not content with his successes in both orienteering and hill running, seeking greater competition, Maitland rejuvenated his multi-sport background to combine swimming, cycling and running in the endurance sport of triathlon.

“I used to swim at school and I’ve always used cycling as a mode of transport so I was kind of familiar with the two. Triathlon just appealed to me really.”

There was, however, another reason for converting to the energy-sapping sport: the desire to a reach higher plain of achievement: “In triathlon, there was an opportunity to compete at Great Britain Level whereas hill running was split by the countries. In itself it didn’t bother me because I would rather race for Scotland but it was the higher level of competition I was looking for.”

Once again, Maitland jumped in at the deep end. In the early stages of his triathlon career he participated in the sport’s demonstration event at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990, completing the race as the highest placed Scot. 

During his triathlon career, Maitland gained 12 Great Britain caps in various world and European Championships. He also gained a significant foothold in domestic competition, winning the Scottish triathlon championships on 7 occasions and the British Duathlon championships once.

Throughout his time competing at the top level in sport, Maitland was self-driven, not receiving any proper triathlon coaching until the end of competitive career. It was however this late introduction of a coach which has paved the path for his current role in sport.

“It was late in my triathlon career when a Scottish coach was appointed, Darren Smith. I learned so much from him in a very short period that I should have learned a long time before. My eyes were opened to what a difference a coach can make to an athlete.”

Situated at the Triathlon High Performance Centre at Leeds Metropolitan University, Maitland coaches elite athletes who are aiming for international success in the sport. He works with a team of advisors, striving to improve their charges. Currently working towards Beijing with Olympic hopeful Alistair Brownlee, Maitland is responsible for ensuring Brownlee competes in the Games in the best possible condition.

“I will video athletes and review them with the physiotherapist who will asses the athletes and underline areas of the body to work on to technically improve in the pool. I will then go to the strength and conditioning coach who will work out how to strengthen particular muscles to improve the athlete’s performance.”

Maitland has also recently been involved with Scottish teenager Kirsty McWilliam’s success at the triathlon junior world championships in Vancouver, Canada, last month. Coaching the Great Britain junior team, Maitland witnessed McWilliam’s performance and believes she has the ability to go all the way at senior level in the years to come.

“It was fantastic for Kirsty to win, she came second at the Europeans and she was disappointed on the day, as she felt she could have won that race. She then raced very well at the worlds and is now one of our best prospects for 2012 and she’s training in Scotland with her personal coach John Dargie, which is great!”

Although not competing in the Beijing this year, McWilliam will be involved in the Games through a British Olympic Association program – Britain’s Olympic Ambition 2012. Through this programme, Britain’s most promising athletes who are preparing for the London Olympics in 2012 will gain a feel for the intensity and atmosphere of an Olympic Games. Maitland will be there with her – “It’s a chance for the athletes to experience what they might be part of in four years time.”

Jack Maitland is a man who understands the importance of coaching and guidance on the often-hazy path to success. He now has the responsibility to encourage, guide and support athletes towards their chosen goals. However, he does not underestimate the importance of self-drive and attention to detail in separating a successful athlete and a champion.

“At the end of the day, I think the motivation is intrinsic. That goes beyond being ruthlessly competitive on the day, it goes to the point where the athlete takes ownership of their own improvement, they are always looking out for the detail, always looking for ways to improve.”

He believes that, along with the ability and determination to win, the best athletes require an immense amount of mental strength to ensure they cross the line before the opposition.

“It’s consistency and attention to detail over a period of time. It’s not just going out on the track or getting in the pool and going through the motions but trying to improve in training every day. That takes a lot of mental energy.”

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