Oliver Shaw just turned 23-years-old, but he’s already a seasoned XTERRA veteran.
“I started XTERRA eight years ago at the New Zealand Champs which are held at Rotorua every year. I’m from Rotorua and always wanted to do the race and my Dad thought I could do quite well if I trained for it,” explained Shaw, who was just 15 when he did his first race.
Turned out Dad was right, as the young Kiwi has been a force back home and in Maui through the years. In the height of his amateur career in 2012 Shaw finished 25th overall, second amateur, and first in the 20-24 division to win the XTERRA World Championship.
Now entering his third year racing as an elite Shaw has his sights set a little bit higher, and rightly so as he could just be the favorite to win Saturday’s iconic XTERRA Motatapu off-road triathlon on the South Island of New Zealand.
“I'm not too sure if I am the favorite even with Braden sitting this weekend out,” said Shaw, referring to fellow Kiwi all-star Braden Currie who won XTERRA Motatapu three years running but will sit-out Saturday to give his body a rest after a grueling slate of races that included a big win at Speight's Coast-to-Coast adventure race a few weeks ago.
“Dougal Allan is also racing and he is fresh off a 2nd place at Challenge Wanaka just over a week ago so he will be in very good form and looking for the top step as well,” said Shaw. “It's great to know that I am capable of challenging for the race though and I am looking forward to getting out there and giving it my best!”
Last year Shaw had an impressive season racing across the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Region, placing 2nd at XTERRA Motatapu, 3rd at XTERRA Guam, 4th at XTERRA Saipan, 3rd at XTERRA New Zealand, and 7th against a stacked field at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship.
With a refreshed training routine courtesy of Kiwi legend Richard Ussher, this could be the year Shaw really breaks out.
“I've been pretty fortunate to link up with Richard Ussher who is guiding me through this season. It has been an exciting change from what I have been doing in the past and I'm hoping it help me progress to the next level as an athlete,” said Shaw. “Training has been going really well lately and I have been building nicely for the upcoming XTERRA season.”
The young-gun did have a bit of a set-back last weekend, however, at the Oceania Cross Tri Champs in Australia.
“Right in the middle of having a great race I broke my chain in the worst place possible and ended up having a pretty spectacular crash on concrete,” said Shaw. “It left me with a few bumps and bruises but more concerning, a lot less skin then I started with. I'm sure I will recover in time for Motatapu this weekend, but I'll have to be careful this week.”
Asked if he considered sitting out Motatapu, Shaw said “no way.”
“XTERRA Motatapu is an absolutely awesome race! Both scenic and challenging it has everything you could ask for in an XTERRA. Even though I'm not the strongest swimmer, I love the swim in Lake Wanaka with clear cool water in the middle of the mountains. Out onto the ride and my favorite part is no doubt the huge amount of river crossings you have to take...the best part being that all the crossings get bigger and more challenging as you go! The best part of the race though has to be the run. Only 15km in length, it is more like a half-marathon in time, with the biggest climb I have ever had to do in an XTERRA. It's worth it though as the view at the top and on the way down are simply breath taking. You can't lose focus though as the descent is one of the most technical out on the circuit, and then finishing with a few river crossings just finishes you off,” said Shaw.
Indeed Motatapu is longer than your typical XTERRA, combining a 2km swim in Glendhu Bay, Lake Wanaka, 47km Mountain Bike and a 15km mountain run over the historic Miners Trail course. While this is just the fourth year XTERRA Motatapu has been part of the World Tour and offered up 14 qualifying spots into the XTERRA World Championship, it’s the 11th anniversary for the weekend of events that attracts thousands of competitors with races in mountain biking, an off-road marathon, adventure runs and triathlons.
“I think it is an achievement in itself just to finish this race. It's probably the longest XTERRA on the circuit and leaves everyone who finishes struggling to walk for the next few days (just ask Renata Bucher...) but every time I finish I always think I have to come back and do it again. I was second last year so I'm looking forward to having a great race again and hopefully challenging for the win!”
New Zealand has a long and strong history with XTERRA. It’s hosted the XTERRA New Zealand Championship since 2003 and is home to a pair of XTERRA World Champs - Hamish Carter (2006) and Nicky Samuels (2013). Maybe with the help of Richard Ussher, Olly Shaw will “usher-in” the next generation of Kiwi greats.
Here’s some excerpts from our interview with Shaw this week:
XTERRA: What did you make of your experience in Saipan and Guam last year?
Oliver Shaw: Guam and Saipan were awesome races to go to. I haven't had that much experience in racing in the heat (other than in Hawaii) so it was great to get a few more races under my belt in brutal conditions. The races themselves were both on really tough courses, especially Saipan, and it was great to race some top guys with the likes of Ben Allen, Dan Hugo and Brad Weiss competing. I also got to travel with Mark Leishman who has been around the triathlon/multisport/mountain bike scene for a long time so it was a great experience for me. I really enjoyed my time there and am pretty gutted that I'm not going to be racing there this year. XTERRA New Zealand is on in my home town of Rotorua on the same day as Guam and whilst I enjoyed Guam, Xterra NZ is my favorite race of the year!
XT: Are you still living in Rotorua?
OS: I am still lucky enough to be calling Rotorua home. It has everything you need for training (great lakes, pools, mountain bike trails, road riding and trail running) and there is always an event on if you need a hard training session, including my favorite XTERRA, XTERRA New Zealand.
XT: What races are on your schedule this year?
OS: After XTERRA Motatapu I am racing XTERRA New Zealand, then the Asia-Pacific Champs and then head to the U.S. for the first three rounds of the US series (Las Vegas, Pelham and Richmond). After that I will head back home and look towards the rest of the year but I think it will include racing XTERRA in the Asia region, hopefully the U.S. Champs and then finish it off again at XTERRA Worlds.
XT: You got your college degree in "sport" from the University of Waikato, are you doing anything with that now?
OS: In between training and racing I am working part time at the Waiariki Recreation Centre in Rotorua where I do a little bit of personal training. I have also used my degree and training experience to start coaching a few athletes which I am really enjoying as it makes you really think and evaluate why you do particular sessions and what you are getting out of them! It is also nice as it makes you think about and focus on other people rather than just yourself because being an athlete can be quite selfish at times so it's always good to be taken out of your own 'bubble'.
XT: What kind of stuff does Richard having you doing ... think you're getting faster?
OS: Rich brings many, many years of experience racing in all sorts of racing. He has been at the top and has had a very successful career in sport. It's awesome to have his guidance and experience as I work my way towards my dream of being an elite World Champion. We've only been working together for a short time period but I have definitely noticed really positive improvement in training. It's also been refreshing to have a change of training patterns and different sessions as things can get quite repetitive after a while. With the season fast approaching I can't wait to see my improvement in the racing scene!
XT: What is it about XTERRA that keeps you going?
OS: I race XTERRA because I love the events and the training. You get to see so many awesome places when you are travelling and every course is a change from the others. Different soil, different track types and different conditions, which makes every race unique and challenging in its own right! That's always refreshing and it keeps you looking to improve as an athlete as one course may suit you but another might not. I also find that whenever you are at an XTERRA event there is always a fun, enjoyable, and happy atmosphere which always keeps you excited about the races!
XT: What did you like about the XTERRA Asia-Pacific race and course?
OS: The most enjoyable part of the Asia-Pacific race for me was the second half of the mountain bike. There were some awesome purpose built mountain bike tracks that were fast and flowed really well and meant you always had a smile on your face even when you were hurting! The race itself was well organized and set in an awesome spot in Callala Bay. I can't wait to go back this April!