One of the foremost Belgian triathletes of his generation, Jelle Geens has combined ITU victories with frequent appearances on race podiums. And an equally successful career in half-iron racing could be on the horizon.
Who is Jelle Geens?
On the back of a promising youth career as a track athlete, the Belgian Jelle Geens competed in his first triathlon at the age of 16, despite his self-confessed inadequacy in the water.
The swim remains his weakest discipline, but his bike skills and his running speed have more than compensated in a career that’s produced a steady stream of championship medals, gained while also studying for a master’s degree in industrial engineering (“I need to do this so I have something after triathlon”).
His first – a silver – came in the junior European Championships back in 2011, since when the Euros have been a happy hunting ground for him, bagging a series of medals at junior, U23 and elite level, and as both an individual and in a mixed relay squad.
Geens’ first podium in the World Triathlon Series took a little while coming; having made his WTS debut in 2014, the man from Flanders had to wait five years for the honour.
But when it came, it was as sweet as can be, taking gold in Montreal having resisted the challenge of three-time (and then reigning) world champion Mario Mola. A second WTS victory, in Abu Dhabi, followed in late 2021 after the sport’s Covid-enforced break.
Yet to challenge significantly for a series medal, or to make his mark at the Olympics, Geens – still in his 20s – can devote himself to Olympic-distance racing for a little longer.
But his bronze-winning Ironman 70.3 debut at Indian Wells last December hints that, when he properly makes the step up to middle-distance racing, an eye should very much be kept on Jelle Geens.
How old is Jelle Geens?
Jelle Geens was born on 26 March 1993, making him 29 years of age.
Jelle Geens’ career highlights
June 2011: European silver as a junior
At the ETU European Championships in Pontevedra in north-west Spain, Geens takes silver in the junior men’s event, second to Justis Nieschlag. Geens gets revenge a week later when he beats the German in a European Cup race in Düsseldorf to take his first international win.
A fortnight later, he notches another European Cup win, this time in Echternach in Luxembourg.
June 2013: First podium finish as an elite
Just a handful of months from the end of his teenage years, Geens shows he can mix it with the elite corps with third at the sprint European Cup in the Italian city of Cremona, where he finishes three places ahead of another promising youngster, some guy called Kristian Blummenfelt.
June 2013: Another European medal
Three weeks after his Cremona bronze, Geens beats Blummenfelt again, taking the U23 men’s silver at the European Championships in Holten in the Netherlands. Twelve months later, a third European medal comes in the form of an U23 mixed relay bronze in the Russian city of Penza.
June 2015: The Belgian king is crowned
Further proof that June is a fecund month for Geens arrives with his capture of the national Belgian elite title.
September 2015: Arrival among the cream of the WTS crop
Geens impressively records his first World Triathlon Series top-10 finish, taking eighth at this year’s Grand Final in Chicago. His A-class scalps include Australia’s Ryan Bailie and Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee.
May 2016: Second on the Pacific coast
Geens’ best placing yet as an elite comes in Huatulco as he takes silver in the Mexican resort’s edition of the ITU World Cup.
October 2017: Maiden international victory as an elite
In the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the North African coast, Geens claims his first elite win outside Belgium by leading the field home at the European Cup final.
June 2018: Sparkling showing in Antwerp
Geens takes victory on home turf when he breaks the tape at the ITU World Cup race in Antwerp. His diamond performance sees him pip New Zealand’s Tayler Reid by less than a second.
August 2018: Bronze at the Euros
Having finished fifth in the men’s race the day before, Geens takes European Championship bronze in Glasgow as part of Britain’s mixed relay quartet.
June 2019: Another European medal
In the village of Weert in the Netherlands, Geens steps onto a fifth European Championships podium when he pockets another bronze, this time in the men’s race where he finishes behind Alistair Brownlee and Portugal’s João Pereira.
June 2019: WTS gold in Canada
Four weeks later, Geens takes this fine form with him to Montreal where he records his maiden WTS race victory, holding off the great Mario Mola to win by a single second.
The following week, he takes third in Hamburg, notching up two WTS podiums in seven days, where his previous best was a sixth place in Montreal two years earlier.
May 2021: Mixed fortunes in Japan
After several post-pandemic podium finishes in the World Cup series, Geens takes silver in the Yokohama WTS race (behind his old junior adversary Blummenfelt), despite a directional error on the swim.
His good form translates into victory the following week as the Belgian mixed relay team win the Olympic qualifying event in Lisbon. The foursome can only manage fifth in Tokyo, though.
At least he managed to make the relay, though, after a positive Covid test just two days out from the individual race saw him having to announce his withdrawal.
November 2021: Victory in the desert
December 2021: A podium appearance at his first 70.3
In Indian Wells in California, Geens lines up for his half-Iron debut. Four hours later, he’s on the podium, having bagged a bronze at the first time of asking.
November 2022: Lies third in the world with one to go
The 2022 season hasn’t, as yet, seen any victories or podium finishes for Geens, but two fourths (Montreal and Bermuda) and two fifths (Hamburg and the Euro Champs in Munich) have helped him secure third place in the overall standings with just one race left… the Grand Final in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.
Jelle Geens in quotes
On his beginnings in the sport: “I started triathlon relatively late. I was 16. If triathlon didn’t exist, I would have probably have stated with athletics to see how far I’d have got.”
On his first WTS win: “My victory in Montreal in 2019 remains the race I’m most proud of. With this victory, I became the first – and still the only – Belgian to win a World Triathlon Series race. After this victory, I knew I could beat anyone in the world on a good day.”
On his race mentality: “I think it’s very important to learn how to fight and learn how to win. Every opportunity you have to fight for a victory, you learn stuff.”
What’s next for Jelle Geens?
At 29, Geens will probably continue at Olympic-distance racing for at least a couple more seasons in order to compete at the Paris Games in 2024.
But the bronze he won in his first Ironman 70.3 race bodes very well for a middle-distance future in his thirties, so expect him to participate in a few more half-Iron events in the near future in order make a seamless transition to longer races.
Top image credit: Eric Lalmand/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images