Kyle Smith: Background, career highlights, quotes

From world aquathlon champion to leading the 2021 Ironman World Champs, Kyle Smith is making a name for himself at the top of the sport. Let's meet him… 

Kyle Smith finishing the 2021 Ironman World Champs in St George, Utah

Having entered the long-distance ranks without any clear ambition, New Zealander Kyle Smith’s exploits in the world champs earlier this year marks him out as one to watch.

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Who is Kyle Smith?

Kyle Smith racing the 2022 PTO Canadian Open, in Edmonton, Canada. (Credit: PTO)

Born in Blackburn – where he lived until he was 12, at which point he and his parents emigrated to New Zealand’s North Island – has packed plenty into his 25 years.

A world champion at both aquathlon and cross tri in his teens, that early promise is increasingly being realised in elite racing, particularly in long-course competition.

After success in the Oceania Cup, Smith ventured further afield, competing on both the ETU and ITU circuits. It’s fair to say that he didn’t set the latter ablaze, his best position being an 11th-place finish in the U23 ITU world championships in Lausanne in August 2019.

Four months later, though, came a career-shifting event, a happy accident that redefined Kyle Smith as a triathlete.

Back living at home and undertaking temporary work, he entered the Ironman 70.3 race in his hometown of Taupo. Convenience seemed to be the motivating factor.

But, despite it being Smith’s first taste of long-course racing, he took an imperious victory and a new chapter was opened.

Several half-distance victories followed across his homeland, before he signed up for his country’s big one: Ironman New Zealand. Bronze in this first full-iron outing confirmed that this former sprint specialist had no issue stepping up into the endurance ranks.

Then came his most notable performance to date, leading the race coming out of T2 at the rescheduled 2021 Ironman world champs. Although the experience of his rivals would ultimately decide his fate (he finished outside the top 1o), Smith had done enough to get the world to sit up and take notice.

At 25, his future is very much whatever he wants it to be.

How old is Kyle Smith?

Kyle Smith was born on September 8 1997, making him 25 years of age.

Kyle Smith’s career highlights

Kyle Smith racing the men’s U23 World Champs at the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland. Smith would finish 11th. (Credit: Jörg Schüler/Getty Images)

September 2013: Sixteen with a bullet

Having turned 16 just five days earlier, Smith takes silver in the 16-19 men’s age-group world championship at the ITU Grand Final in London. The only athlete to beat him is some teenager called Gustav Iden? Whatever happened to him?

August 2014: A world title of his own

Kyle wins the 2014 Edmonton ITU Aquathlon World Championships. (Credit: Delly Carr/ITU Media)

A year later – and still only 16 – Smith becomes a world champion in his own right, winning the junior aquathlon title in Edmonton, in the process also coming sixth among the elite men.

May 2016: A first win as an elite racer

Still four months off his 19th birthday, Smith bags his first podium-topper with a win in the Fiji round of the OUT Sprint Oceania Cup.

August 2017: Another world championship – this one off-road

Proving his adeptness off the tarmac on both two wheels and two feet, Smith breaks the tape in Penticton in Canada to become the U23 champion at the ITU Cross Triathlon worlds. His time finds him also taking bronze in the elite men competition.

December 2019: A golden start to his long-course career

Four months after finishing 11th in the U23 ITU World Championships in Lausanne, he shifts focus.

“I stumbled into long-distance tri by accident. I only entered Ironman 70.3 Taupo because it was my hometown race.”

His appearance might not have been by design, but Smith’s first taste of middle-distance competition ends with a gold medal. His compatriot and great friend Hayden Wilde, an athlete with a much more impressive ITU record, also makes his 70.3 debut, coming third.

January 2020: Two wins but a ruined season

Confirmation that Smith is well-suited to middle-distance racing comes with victory in the Port of Tauranga Half before the season is decimated by COVID.

He returns to competition just before Christmas, claiming another half-distance triumph, this time at the Rotorua Suffer.

March 2021: A maiden Ironman attempt

Compatriot Hayden Wilde congratulates Kyle Smith after the latter won the 2021 Challenge Wanaka Half. (Credit: Joe Allison/Getty Images)

After further half-distance successes (retaining his Port of Tauranga Half title and winning the Challenge Wanaka Half), Smith makes his full-Iron debut on home turf at Ironman New Zealand.

It’s an impressive debut as he takes a comfortable bronze nearly 10 minutes ahead of the fourth-placed athlete.

August 2021: Selected for the first Collins Cup

Kyle Smith racing with one tri-bar at the inaugural 2021 Collins Cup. ( Credit: PTO)

After fifth place in his first European 70.3 – at Elsinore in Denmark – Smith is fast-tracked into the world elite with his selection as a wildcard for Team International at the inaugural Collins Cup, dropped into the cream of the world’s middle-distant talent.

It would prove an eventful race, though, as one of his tri-bars snapped off and his bike get stuck in a 58-11 gear so hard to pedal he likened it to riding a track bike.

May 2022: In contention at the Ironman Worlds

Kyle racing at the Ironman World Championship at St George in May 2022, which he led for the first 5km of the run. (Credit: Korupt Vision)

After taking silver at Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote, Smith heads to Utah for only his second-ever Ironman – the delayed 2021 world championships. The Kiwi makes the biggest impression of his career to date when, for the first 5km into the run, he finds himself in the lead.

However, he ultimately fades in the brutal heat of the desert, posting a marathon time in excess of three hours, which drops him down to 11th place.

Kyle Smith in quotes

On leading the Ironman world championships coming out of T2: “It was a massive honour. I was pushing harder than I wanted to, but not everybody gets to lead the world champs. It was goosebumpy. It’s a feeling I want again, but for another 35km on the marathon.”

On what he’s learnt from training with three-time Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno: “That I’m young, dumb and champ at the bit too much. Jan gives me advice from mistakes he made at my age.”

On how triathlon could improve: “We’d have a better sport if people could be supported through the tough 18-22-year-old bracket, when they come out of juniors and try to make money in a sport where it’s brutal to make money.”

What’s next for Kyle Smith?

His second Ironman World Champs in 2022 – and his first in Kona – saw a DNF for the young Kiwi, citing long Covid symptoms as a possible reason for his withdrawal in T2.

But 2023 could see a return to the short stuff: “I still have aspirations to make Paris,” he reveals, “and next year I’ll have another crack at ITU.”

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Top image credit: Korupt Vision