In 2008, when Emma Snowsill and Emma Moffatt won gold and bronze at the Beijing Olympics in the triathlon, Emma Jeffcoat was in surf lifesaving, a 14 year old with the goal of becoming a professional athlete.
She would pursue surf lifesaving until 2015, before making the jump across to triathlon. Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Jeffcoat explained her motivations for the switch.
“For me, it was the drawcard of the Olympics,” Jeffcoat said. “I always wanted to be a professional athlete and was lucky enough to be heading down that path with the ironwoman series, but I had a coach, and I said to him ‘I want to go to the Olympics one day’.”
Jeffcoat explained that the response put the wheels in motion for where she is today.
“He said to me ‘If you want to go to the Olympics, you’re in the wrong sport’ and he steered me towards triathlon.”
She recalled the moment when she found out that her dream was coming true.
“It was just so surreal, after you work so hard for it and want it so much, for it actually to become a reality gave me goosebumps.”
After that conversation with her coach, Jeffcoat made the jump, fell in love with the sport quickly, and all of a sudden found herself racing at the Oceania Triathlon Championships in March 2016. That day, Australia needed two to finish inside the top 10 in the event to secure three quota spots for the Rio Olympics.
Jeffcoat, racing alongside Moffatt and Tokyo teammate Jaz Hedgeland tried to make the dream come true. At the end of the swim leg, the Emmas had formed a breakaway at the front of the race.
While Moffatt would finish first, Jeffcoat’s second-place finish was key to sending a full team to Rio. It was a seminal moment for Australian triathlon, and would later be seen as the passing of the ‘Emma’ torch.
Moffatt and Snowsill were at the end of their careers as Jeffcoat was a rising 21-year-old at the time. Now, Jeffcoat has been selected, she is the fourth woman named Emma to represent Australia in an Olympic triathlon in six Olympiads.
“Following on, and now to be going into Tokyo and the next Olympics, I’ve made my dream come true,” Jeffcoat said. “It’s pretty cool, with the rich history of the sport, I think it’s pretty awesome.”
Jeffcoat has worked hard since making the switch. As a former Ironwoman, the swim leg has naturally been the 26-year-old’s strength in the triathlon. She has worked hard, despite a few issues, on improving her bike leg since she switched into the sport.
“It’s coming close to the swim leg in terms of the leg that I enjoy the most,” she explained. “I’ve just been working really hard over the last 18 months on my bike, and its been awesome to see the improvements.”
In the rush that was the first round of COVID-19 lockdowns last year, the 26-year-old left Melbourne in a rush and returned to her hometown in Sydney. It turned out to be even more impactful, as she was struck by a car while training, and fractured her collarbone.
Despite the challenges, Jeffcoat’s relentless positivity found a silver lining to improve her performance anyway.
“I got back into training and that kicked off a solid bike block for me, because we had to take some time out of the water,” she said.
“We could really focus on other gaps that we saw… and it’s actually kind of been a blessing in disguise, how the additional 12 months have helped me grow and improve across all three legs.”
Jeffcoat’s dash from Melbourne was not without a difficult moment, as she was there when the Games were postponed. Even that though, hasn’t been enough to disrupt Jeffcoat, and she’s been there through thick and thin.
“At the Victorian Institute of Sport, they’ve got a countdown clock on the wall, and I was there and I saw it reset and gain 365 days,” she explained. “To be in the gym and see it with nine days to go is pretty awesome.”
The Sydneysider has a nursing degree, and for some Australians, hearing her at press conferences during the games will sound a little bit familiar.
“I was getting back into the workforce until I broke my collarbone, but obviously you can’t do much with one arm in a sling,” she said.
“So I went on to being on the COVID hotline, so the number people call with symptoms, and they speak to a nurse and ultimately, get triaged.”
Jeffcoat’s plan had originally been to use her nursing degree to turn to healthcare after Tokyo, but was happy to be able to make a difference during that difficult time for so many Australians.
“What the nursing experience has probably give me, is perspective,” she explained.
“Going through uni, and getting my degree, while immersing myself in triathlon and trying to make it on that elite level gave me perspective, at the end of the day, that it makes you realise how lucky you are to be fit and healthy.”
“It’s something I carry with me, not drawing as a negative, but just as perspective you carry. I planned on going back to nursing and doing a bit more part time casual work after Tokyo.”
Jeffcoat is not content yet though, and she would like to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022, and has one eye on Paris 2024. For now, her focus is squarely on the Tokyo Olympics.
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Jeffcoat is hoping to help carry the strong legacy of triathlon for Australia, and isn’t at all fazed by the history attached to her name.
“I’ll be out there to do the absolute best job that I can on the day,” she explained.
“I think in the mixed team relay, I’d be lying if I said we weren’t aiming for a gold medal… and if I’m lucky enough to be on that relay team, hopefully that means Australia brings home a bit of extra luggage.”
It would be surreal if Emma Jeffcoat can be added to the list of women named Emma who have won Olympic gold for Australia in the triathlon. She’s just getting started, and knows that despite her path being different from the others, it won’t matter when we look at Emma in the end.
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