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Which Canadian triathletes will be on the Rio start line?

Men's ITU WTS Huatulco Mexico 2015 ©2015 Rich Cruse | ITU Media
Men’s ITU WTS Huatulco Mexico 2015
©2015 Rich Cruse | ITU Media

Guest blogger Alexandre Saint-jalm breaks down the current situation regarding Canadian triathletes qualifying for Rio this summer. 

Only 55 male and female triathletes get to be on the start line of the triathlon at the Olympic Games. To earn their spot, they must meet three criteria.

  1. Earn a spot for their nation
  2. Rank among the top 140 on the ITU ranking list
  3. Be selected by their nation.

To distribute the Olympic spots, the ITU has developed a sophistocated system.

Spots were allocated at championship races such as the Pan American Games and the Rio test event. Unfortunately, no Canadians earned spots during these races.

The host nation, Brazil, gets one additional spot and two spots will be assigned by invitation.

That leaves about 40 spots to be assigned during the Olympic qualification period, effective from May 15th 2014 to May 15th 2016. Only eight countries can have three spots per sex. This can be frustrating for some nations that have many talented athletes. For example, Jodie Stimpson who is a two-time Commonwealth Games champion and won the 2016 WTS Abu Dhabi, won’t race at Rio  because the British federation chose three other athletes. It’s obvious that Stimpson had legitimite chances of winning the gold in Rio.

It is important to note that even if an athlete earns a spot for their nation, they will not automatically qualify for the Games.

National federations can give the spot to another athlete who also fulfills the requirements. In total, based on two periods, only the best 14 results will count. The amount of points awarded to athletes depend on the level of competition. For instance, 1000 points are awarded to the winner at a Grand Final, 900 points for a World Triathlon Series race (WTS) and 500 points for a world cup. Only the top 50 athletes may earn points on these events. The points decrease by 7.5 % for each position, so for example if the winner of the Grand Final gets 1000 points, the second place will be awarded 925, the third, 855.62 etc.

Team Canada, a race between a tortoise and a hare?

Unfortunately for Canada, most Olympic contenders have dealt with injuries during the qualification period. Furthermore, the emerging talents — Amelie Kretz and Tyler Mislawchuk — started racing on the WTS circuit later than most, so they didn’t start to accumulate points at the beginning of the Olympic qualification process (May 15th, 2014).

Even though Canada had the potential to get three spots for each sex, there are many scenarios that are mathematically possible. For both men and women, we could see one athlete or three athletes on the Copacabanna beach start line this August.

This poses difficulty. Contrary to previous Olympic Games, this time nobody automatically earned their spot during the first phase by finishing in the top eight at the Rio test event or of the Grand Final of the 2015 season. That brings us now to the dreaded second phase of the qualification process.

Canada’s former high performance director, Libby Burrell, wanted to choose athletes who met the requirements based on three races of the 2016 World Triathlon Series: Abu Dhabi, Gold Coast and Yokohama.

To meet the requirements, an athlete must make the top eight in one of these events and must have previously made the top eight in a WTS race between May 2th 2014 and May 15th 2016.

The only event left on the WTS circuit is Yokohama. Only Andrew Yorke, Kirsten Sweetland and Paula Findlay can still meet these requirements to automatically qualify because they each earned a top eight at a previous WTS race in the qualification period.

For the other athletes, Yokohama WTS is the last opportunity to make points and the final opportunity to impress the selectors.

In consequence, it’s hardly possible that Canada will have to select at least one athlete using the discretional process.

For the men, in an ideal scenario, Canada will get three bibs.

Kyle Jones (who raced in at the London Olympics in 2012), Andrew Yorke and Tyler Mislawchuk are the athletes we’d expect to see awarded bibs in this scenario.

If the Canadian men only keep one or two bibs after Yokohama on Sunday, the selectors have the difficult task of choosing between them. This is a difficult and controversial choice to make.

Right now, Andrew Yorke has bib 44 with 2757 points and Kyle Jones has the last bib 52, with 2567 points. With 2334 points, Tyler Mislawchuk does not currently have an Olympic bib.

Our Canadians can’t make any mistakes if they want to maximize their chances. Kyle Jones need a solid performance in Yokohama to keep the bib he’s already earned and Tyler Mislawchuk needs at least a top eight performance to make a considerable jump in the overall rankings. We can estimate that he will need to accumulate more than 500 points to earn Canada a third bib. Mexico with Rodrigo Gonzales at 2662 at points and Portugal with Miguel Arraiolos 2634 points and are the last two nations with 3 bibs. Tyler needs to beat an athlete from one of these nations to earn a third spot.

Remember that up to 900 points can be made in a WTS race, so major changes could occur in the Olympic ranking after Yokohama. The points differences between the athletes is so small that anything can happen.

The male athletes to watch in Yokohama are Miguel Arraiolos (POR), Bryan Keane (IRL), Tomas Toth (HUN), Jason Wilson (BAR), Wian Sullwald (RSA), Thomas Springer, Luka Hollaus and Alois Knabl (AUT).

Men’s current standings are available here.

Mike Lori will also race in Yokohama so he still has chances to impress the selectors at Triathlon Canada.

For the women, the situation is similar. Even though some athletes like Kristen Sweetland and Paula Findlay have top three WTS finishes under their belt, their long absences due to illness negatively affect their overall ranking.

Sweetland (3069 points) and Sarah-Anne Brault (2719 points) have the 42th and 47th bib respectively right now. Brault is also the last athlete who is making the cut on the bib list right now so like the men, the women can’t make any mistakes this weekend.

Paula Findlay, with 2347 points, and Amelie Kretz with 2003 points are the last chances for Canada to get the third spot. Canada need a major performance from Findlay or Kretz in Yokohama to earn the third spot. In Yokohama, they need to beat Mariya Shorets from Russia who is the last athlete with a third bib (with 2497 points).

The athletes to watch are Claire Michel and Katrien Verstuyft (BEL), Simone Ackermann (NZ), Mariya Shorets (RUS), Lisa Norden (SWE), Cecillia Perez (MEX), Julia Hauser (AUT) and Maria Czesnik (POL).

 Women’s current standings are available here.

Findlay is the only one who could automatically get selected by Triathlon Canada by making the top eight in Yokohama. Otherwise, the selectors would have to make their selection on previous results.

Considering the athletes on the start line at the WTS Yokohama, the selectors would have to choose between Sarah-Anne Brault, Paula Findlay, Dominika Jamnicky, Amelie Kretz and Kristen Sweetland.

In conclusion, we would like to remind you that things evolve rapidly in triathlon. Even though this process is complex, Canada has athletes with the potential to achieve great performances in Rio.

As many people say, the hardest thing is to get on the start line healthy. The road to Rio is not a quiet river. Let’s not forget it.

Translated from French.