Age / DOB
Jan 03 1991
If Mike Phillips had any doubts that he’d made the right decision to quit his job in 2017 and focus on triathlon full-time, he didn’t have to wait long for them to be banished.
After finishing university, he had been working as a structural engineer in Christchurch on the Canterbury Earthquake rebuild. But balancing a busy job with his training was a challenge.
Deciding he could come back to engineering in the future, Phillips swapped New Zealand for three months of solid training in Girona ahead of his first IRONMAN at Barcelona.
As debuts go, his was one which made the long-distance world sit up and take notice as he clocked a then world-best time for a rookie of 7:52:50. That was good enough for second place, three minutes behind French winner Antony Costes.
The move to full distance had been suggested by Mike’s coach John Hellemans, who had been a significant influence throughout his transition from amateur to pro.
The first attempt in February, when Mike was still working, had seen him claim the runner-up spot at Challenge Wanaka. And his speed hadn’t been blunted as he then collected his maiden 70.3 win at Bintan in August to tee up that Barcelona breakthrough.
There was no looking back as he collected 70.3 and Challenge wins over the next 12 months as well as heading to Kona for a first appearance at the World Championship, where an excellent run took him up from 28th to 16th.
A first full-distance success came early in 2019 in front of a home crowd at IRONMAN New Zealand, and it arrived in dramatic fashion.
Mike had been in dominant form going into the race (winning 70.3 Taupo for a second time and the National Championship). Still, his chances of another victory looked severely compromised, first by a mechanical issue with his arm rests on the bike and then by a crash.
It all left him with a 17-minute deficit to make up on Andrew Starykowicz in the marathon, but he powered to a run course-record of 2:40:04 to make the catch with 2km remaining.
Reflecting on that decision to go all in on triathlon, he said: “I had to quit my job so that I could put a bit more energy into it. And I’m still improving which is the key thing, that’s my measure of whether it was a success”.