Still only in his early 20s, the Portuguese triathlete Vasco Vilaça has already made a sizeable impact on short-course racing, no more so than the unexpected silver medal he won at the single-race world championships in 2020. A lengthy and well-decorated racing career beckons…
Who is Vasco Vilaça?
Born in the Lisbon suburb of Amadora in the last days of the 20th century, Vasco Vilaça knew very early on what career he wanted for himself.
At the age of six, he competed in his first duathlon (“I only raced duathlon as I didn’t like the idea of swimming in dirty water!”), whereupon he duly announced that his life goal was to become a professional triathlete.
This ambition didn’t falter after the Vilaça family moved to Sweden in 2013 due to his professor father’s work and a national multisport title in his adopted home would follow.
In 2017, Vilaça – whose sister was also competing at a high level – took his first international title, crowned European junior champion in Kitzbühel.
He took this form to Rotterdam three months later where he earned himself silver in the junior worlds. Vilaça had arrived.
His move into the elite ranks showed great promise, in particular a second-place finish in a European Cup race in Malmö. However, nothing prepared the triathlon world for the version of Vilaça who emerged after the enforced hibernation of the pandemic.
As the sport found its feet again, the first major race was a one-off sprint-distance race in Hamburg to decide the 2020 world champion, and in the German port city, at the age of 20 Vilaça took a highly unexpected silver behind reigning champion Vincent Luis.
It was a trick he repeated the following weekend when he again finished second to Luis over the Olympic distance in a World Cup race in the Czech Republic.
Although the last two seasons haven’t hit those same heights, Vilaça has consolidated his position in the vanguard of elite triathlon with both a string of World Triathlon Series top 10s and sharp displays in Super League. His time is truly yet to come.
How old is Vasco Vilaça?
Vasco Vilaça was born on December 21 1999, making him 22 years of age.
Vasco Vilaça’s career highlights
April 2016: A first international victory
At 16, Vilaça wins the junior European Cup race in Quarteira in his native Portugal. The victory represents his extraordinary ascent and acceleration through the sport over the past 12 months.
The previous season in the same race, he’d trailed home almost last in 61st place, finishing five minutes slower than his race-winning 2016 time.
May 2016: A first national title
Vilaça leads home the field in the national junior duathlon championships in his adopted homeland of Sweden, his family having emigrated there three years earlier.
Later this month, back in his native Lisbon, he comes fourth in the European junior championships.
June 2017: European glory crowns the continental king
A year later, Vilaça converts his promising European junior champs performance into a golden one in Kitzbühel.
He posts the fastest run of the day, holding off Spain’s Javer Lluch Perez and Hungary’s Csingor Lehmann by a single second.
A fortnight later, Vilaça becomes Portugal’s junior national champion in the seaside resort of Esposende.
September 2017: Silver is the colour at the world champs
In the Rotterdam rain and gloom, Vilaça announces himself as the second-best junior on the planet by taking silver at the world champs, beaten only by the Australian Matt Hauser.
August 2019: Impressive elite second in Malmö
After finishing comfortably within the top 20 two weeks earlier in Edmonton in his first World Triathlon Series race, Vilaça travels back to Sweden where he records his best elite performance to date: finishing second in the European Cup sprint race in Malmö.
September 2020: Silver at the elite world champs
After the pandemic decimates the racing calendar, the WTS series is reduced to a single sprint-distance race in Hamburg to decide this season’s world champion.
Vilaça has clearly spent the hiatus wisely and comes to Germany in fine physical condition, ready to make a significant breakthrough.
And he does just that, registering his finest elite performance to date by finishing just behind defending champion Vincent Luis to take a brilliant silver. He is still only 20.
To prove it’s no fluke, eight days later he again finishes second to Luis, this time over Olympic distance in the World Cup race in Karlovy in the Czech Republic.
The following month, Vilaça adds gold in the Mediterranean Championships.
July 2022: A significant WTS top-10 finish
Vilaça’s seventh place in Hamburg isn’t the greatest result on his CV (indeed, it’s far from his greatest result in that actual city), but it’s a notable one nonetheless.
It’s his fourth top-10 finish of the WTS season (after two other sevenths in Abu Dhabi and Yokohama, and a fourth in Leeds), helping to crystallise his reputation as a serious series competitor for many years to come.
September-October 2022: Fourth in Super League
Vasco Vilaça in quotes
On competing against his heroes: “I look up to a lot of them – Vincent Luis, the Brownlees and Mario Mola. However, the mentality you must possess when racing them is to let go of that feeling. Too much respect for them in a race is bad.”
On racing Super League: “For a young athlete, it’s the best way to get used to racing the elite. It’s a great step-up.”
On taking world championship silver in 2020 at the one-off Hamburg race: “If you look at the photos after the race, you can see I didn’t know how to react. It was something I had worked towards, but I never thought I would achieve it this early.
“After I finished, I was trying to understand. ‘Is this real? Have I done something wrong? Have I run one lap too short?’”
What’s next for Vasco Vilaça?
Unlike many of his WTS rivals, at still only 22, the world of long-course racing is a long way off for the man from Portugal. Vilaça has many seasons ahead of him to prove that his world champs silver in 2020 was no mistake.
Plus, he’s yet to experience the Olympics and, given his proven prowess in one-off races, it would be a brave person who would bet against Vilaça making the podium at Paris in 2024.
Top image credit: Petko Beier/World Triathlon