“Instant goosebumps”: YOG champion McCullough relives triathlon triumph
New Zealand’s Dylan McCullough relives his victory in the men’s triathlon at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018 and reveals how he hopes his YOG experiences will help him achieve his dream of competing at the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
Two years on from Buenos Aires 2018, how do you look back on your time there?
“It was a pretty special experience for me and, I'm sure, everyone else who went there. Just getting to experience the whole thing of living in an Olympic Village, simulating what the Games are actually like, and getting a little taste of it at such a young age. It was pretty special, and it was also great to be involved with all the other countries and watch all the other sports. That's something we don't normally get to do, so that was pretty cool as well.”
How important was it for you to qualify for the YOG and get that experience?
“That was massive for me. I had had that goal in my head for about four or five years before that, and so to qualify was just really, really special. As soon as I qualified, I set some goals in place and I knew I wanted to train as hard as I could and do everything I could to get on the podium. And then to come away with the win was just amazing.”
How were you feeling before the race and what was it like to cross the line and be the Youth Olympic champion?
“Going into the race, I was probably a lot more nervous than I had been going into any other race. I was the only guy from New Zealand there, so I didn't want to let my country down. I had high expectations on myself to perform well, and obviously you only get one chance at the Youth Olympic Games and that's it. You'll never get to go to these Games again, so that added some big pressure for me too. But the race morning was all good; I just did my usual pre-race routine. And then as soon as I dived into the water, that was it; my mind just completely focused on the race and the nerves were kind of gone. I just went for it and managed to come away with the win. Everything that came after the race was completely different from anything I'd had before, like the post-race media, having multiple different interviews, seeing myself all over the news back home; it was all pretty cool as well. And then also the number of messages from family and friends was like never before.”
And you were greeted back in the Village by the rest of the New Zealand team performing the haka for you?
“That was an instant goosebumps kind of feeling. I actually didn't know they were going to be doing that. I got off the bus, came through security, and I was just walking with my coach when I saw the whole New Zealand team lined up there. I just got full body goosebumps and it was so special. That's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing and it really just topped the day off for me.”
Did competing at the YOG make you more determined to compete in the Olympic Games one day?
“Definitely. It's certainly made me a lot hungrier to go to the Olympic Games one day, and I think it was really good for me as well to know what it's going to be like at the Games if I ever get to go in the future. I now know what it will be like training-wise and race-wise, because that all took a lot of energy out of me pre-race. So just knowing what it's going to be like at the Games was a really good learning experience, and I'm pretty happy I got to experience that.”
Are the Olympic Games Paris 2024 your long-term target?
“Paris 2024 is definitely in my sights at the moment. That's still a good three or so years away, so I think my body can develop a lot in that time. I can get naturally stronger along with the training, and that'll be the main focus of the next couple of years to try and get myself there.”
What do the Olympic Games mean to you?
“Every kid growing up in sport wants to go there and, especially after experiencing the Youth Olympic Games, I know how cool it is; and the Olympic Games would be even more cool. I'd love to go there and represent New Zealand. It’s a pretty special opportunity, getting to experience the Olympic Games, and it's not something that many people get to do. So being part of that small group to compete in the Olympic Games would be awesome. Hopefully I'll get there one day.”