Beth Cook has been one of the up-and-coming stars of the British Triathlon Super Series, becoming Youth A, Youth B and Junior champion as she progressed through the age groups, along with international success.
Now in her final year as a junior, Cook, who studies at Queens University in the USA, has made the next step in her progression, finishing eighth in her first elite triathlon cup race at Americas Triathlon Cup St. Peters Missouri, where Sam McInnes placed 12th.
It was the first time the British Elite Junior Triathlon champion had raced at this level of competition, but Cook took it all in her stride as she raced against Rio 2016 Olympic champion Gwen Jorgensen and multiple Olympic medallist Katie Zaferes, both of the USA.
“Katie [Zaferes] was gone from the start, she led the swim out and just went away,” Cook said. “We got out of the swim and I saw Gwen [Jorgensen] down the road and I didn’t know where I was because I was not expecting to be anywhere near the front in that kind of field.
“Then I saw that I was actually in sort of the front pack, which was quite cool. There was 6-7 of us and we just started working, sometimes having to nag people to work as you do in bike groups. I got into the run, I think I ran with Gwen for about 400 metres and that was as long as I could hold on.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting to come in the top ten at all. I haven’t had the best winter / start to the season. I have had a lot of niggles with running and I had Covid at the start of the year, so it’s just been a very slow progression back to where things should be. I’ve got Italy [Europe Triathlon Junior Cup Caorle] in a few weeks so the whole idea behind this race was to just try and get a practice race in before.
“I wasn’t quite expecting to have the race that I did, but I’m very happy with the race I had, it’s a nice feeling.”
Cook is no stranger to racing against seniors, with the Super Series often combining races with juniors and seniors to aid athlete development and create competitive racing opportunities. But telling an Olympic champion to do her fair share of work was something new.
“I’m always that person who wants to race older and go to that next jump really, really quickly,” Cook said. “I remember watching Gwen [Jorgensen] on the TV when I was 12, watching the Olympics and thinking, ‘this woman’s insane’.
“Then [in the race] I looked over in my bike group and it was actually really embarrassing because I didn’t realise it was her and no one was working in the group. So I shouted back for someone to pull through and I turn around and there was Gwen.
“I apologised and at the end of the race, she was like ‘oh, it’s fine. I’m used to being bossed around by the Brits!’, but it was so embarrassing. I remember watching this person at the Olympics and now I’m here telling her what to do, but it’s the same thing with all of them.”
With both of her parents having international success in the sport before going into coaching, Cook has grown up around triathlon and would often go to Super Series events as a child whilst her parents were there as coaches.
Cook has gone on to become a Super Series regular and multiple series champion, and believes the competitive domestic racing and development opportunities have put her in good stead when it comes to international races.
“You do learn a lot from the Super Series,” Cook said. “I think the first thing is the conduct of the racing. You learn the rules, you learn the way it is going to be at a championship race which is important because I think when you go to a big championship race, a lot of people get caught up in it.
“We’re also very lucky with the depth we have in our fields. I think a lot of people don’t necessarily get that level of competition in their country. I think the fact that we do allows us to be able to develop more as athletes and practise the basic skills of riding in a bike group and learning what it’s like to come off the swim to a hard bike and nail the transitions and things like that.
“Also, I know I definitely did when I was younger, you look up to the athletes that are racing where you want to be and so I think it also keeps it in a space where the younger ones can look up to the older athletes and think ‘right that’s where I want to be’ and you can watch it. Even from the IRC [Inter Regional Championships] age when they get to come to the British Champs and see us race and I think those stages of development definitely help.”
Last year, Cook finished in the top-10 in every international race she competed at, including World U23-Junior Mixed Relay silver and European bronze in the junior mixed relay. This year’s World Triathlon Junior Championships in Hamburg is Cook’s main focus.
“I’ve got Italy in a few weeks and then the main goal this year is worlds,” Cook said. “I would like to leave my mark on junior worlds before I leave junior, I think that would be nice and the same with Europeans. I’d like to be able to actually perform there and then the British Super Series I want to try and do them as much as I can, but my main goal is definitely worlds.”