An on-form Paula Finley has proven on a few occasions that if she’s with the lead pack with 1 km to go she unleash an incredible kick that can devastate the rest of her competition. There’s a mammoth list of athletes, though, who will do their best to either make sure she’s not in that lead group or simply too tired to outkick them.
Defending Olympic champion Emma Snowsill is certainly one of those athletes. A 12-time world cup winner, she’s hoping to become the first athlete to successfully defend an Olympic crown. The Australian depth chart is incredible, so figuring out who will actually represent the country in London is a challenge. An impressive win at Mooloolaba put Erin Densham, a 2008 Olympican, in the picture, while bronze medalist from Beijing, Emma Moffatt, is another likely contender.
It’s no secret that the UK would dearly love to see a home-country champion in both triathlon events and Helen Jenkins is certainly looking like answer her country’s prayers, especially after her impressive win on the London course last year. America should be ably represented by Sarah Groff, presently third in the ITU rankings and Laura Bennett. New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt sits a close second in the ITU standings as we go to press.
The level of competition is so strong in the ITU series that there’s a long list of potential contenders, but we’ll wrap things up by including Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz.
Even though, at press time, Alistair Brownlee’s foot remains in a walking cast as he overcomes an Achilles tendon injury, he’s considered the outright favourite to win the gold medal in London this summer. Brownlee has become so dominant on the circuit that he can virtually win a race using virtually any strategy. It’s hard to imagine how his competition felt at last year’s WCS event in London that saw him break away during the bike – normally the fastest runner in a field is content to stay with the pack during the second leg of the race.
“We know he can handle the pressure,” says Simon Whitfield, who is the most decorated Olympic triathlete to date with his gold and silver medals. “He’s so determined and confident right now that he wants to win races from every direction. His only weakness might be that he tries to over dictate.”
Whitfield and another two-medal Olympian, New Zealand’s Bevan Docherty, will likely have to figure out how to get Brownlee off his game if they’re going to be able to claim the gold medal in London. If Alistair Brownlee truly can dictate the day’s strategy, he’ll no-doubt try to figure out how he can ensure his brother Jonathan ends up on the podium with him.
While two-time Ironman world champ Chris McCormack is desperately trying to get himself on the Olympic team, Australia’s more realistic Olympic men’s hopes will rest on the shoulders of Brad Kahlefeldt. After managing to outkick Whitfield for the gold in Beijing, Germany’s Jan Frodeno certainly can’t be left out of the mix. Spain’s Javier Gomez currently sits in third in the ITU standings and has always been a tiny bit of acceleration away from being one of the greatest Olympic distance athletes in history. Switzerland’s Sven Riederer sits right behind Gomez in the ITU standings right now, closely followed by Russia’s Alexander Bryukhankov.
Whitfield also warns that the athletes from France shouldn’t be discounted, either. David Jauss, Laurent Vidal and Vincen Luis are all sitting solidly in the top-11 of the standings, which leaves France with the strongest three-some in the race.
Canadian Olympic Contenders
Triathlon Canada has already pre-selected Simon Whitfield for the men’s team, which leaves two main contenders on the men’s side to join the 2000 gold- and 2008 silver-medalist on the start line in London: Kyle Jones and 2004 Olympian Brent McMahon. Either one could have guaranteed Canada three spots at the Olympics in August with a win at the Pan Am Games last fall, but their impressive bronze-medal (McMahon) and fourth place (Jones) finishes weren’t enough to guarantee those three qualifying spots.
McMahon’s performance capped off an incredible comeback year for the 30-year-old after an 18-month layoff because of a career-threatening knee injury. His 2011 season began with three bronze medals at Asian ITU world cup events (Jones won all three) and then saw him win his first world cup event in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary and eventually finish ninth at the WCS event in Yokohama, Japan.
Since Whitfield has already qualified for the team, his focus will be on being best prepared on August 7, but he’ll no-doubt be racing alongside McMahon and Jones after a top-eight finish at one of the early season WCS events that serve as Olympic qualifiers.
The question of who will join Paula Finley on the start line in London on August 4 is an interesting one. Two former Olympians – Lauren Campbell and Kathy Tremblay appear to be the most logical women to join Finley on the team, but the chances of them both being there are slim. After a disappointing 2011 season, Tremblay is fighting her way back to top form thanks to a fifth place finish at the Pan Ams last season.
Campbell is making a comeback to racing, finishing 12th at the first world cup event this year, after a layoff that lasted more than a year as she recovered from a series of injuries that included a collarbone fracture.
“I will be competing in every World Cup and World Triathlon Series race before the end of qualifying in June,” Campbell said after her race in Mooloolaba. “I haven’t earned the luxury to peak at just one race this year. Every race and every point counts at this stage so every time I step on the start line that is the forefront of my thoughts. This is what it will take to get me to London.”
As we go to print, Tremblay is the next-highest ranked Canadian in the Olympic standings at 72nd, with Campbell a few spots eind at 78th. ChantellWidney is another two spots down in 80th, with Kirsten Sweetland sitting in 104th. That means that right now Canada is only guaranteed one spot in London, which means the chances of us qualifying another two athletes are slim.-KM