The XVI Pan American Games officially opened in Guadalajara, Mexico this past Friday while triathlon makes its fifth appearance at the Pan American Games this Sunday, in Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta. Across the other four Games there have been four different countries garnering the gold medals on offer in both men’s and women’s competitions: the U.S., Brazil, Canada and Venezuela. But with a host of emerging talent from Latin and South America, there is every chance a new country could top the podium this time. There is also extra incentive, each winning athlete wins a spot at the London 2012 Olympic Games for their country.
Puerto Vallarta has hosted two ITU events before, a Pan American Cup in 2009 and then the 2010 Pan American Championships, that was won by American Matt Chrabot and Brazil’s Carla Moreno. The course is flat starting with an ocean swim, followed by a fast and technical bike leg, and then flat and fast 10km run.
Elite Women’s Preview
Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz and the USA’s Gwen Jorgensen both had career-defining races and results in 2011, and therefore it’s not surprising that those two are favourites in Puerto Vallarta. Riveros Diaz had an excellent year right up until the Beijing Grand Final, where she dropped out of the medals after struggling with illness. But before that, she finished second in Sydney, fifth in Madrid, Kitzbühel and Hamburg, before taking out the 2011 ITU Elite Sprint Triathlon World Championship in Lausanne, the first ITU world title won by a Chilean athlete.
Jorgensen provided one of the biggest surprises of the year, when she unleashed a killer run at the Olympic test event. Jorgensen ran a split of 33 minutes, 43 seconds to finish second behind Helen Jenkins, and booked her place on the U.S. Olympic team for the London 2012 Olympic Games. She then did it again in Tiszaujvaros a week later for her debut World Cup win, and if she is near the lead coming out of T2, she will be hard to beat.
Veterans Sarah Haskins and Carla Moreno can’t be discounted though. Moreno is not only the current Pan American champion, she won on this course last year where she beat Jorgensen – and she is already a Pan Am Games medallist having won silver back in 1999 in Winnipeg, Canada. Haskins meanwhile is a powerful swim-biker who used that combination to secure her first World Cup title in Mexico earlier this year. And with just one spot left for American women at next year’s London 2012 Games, Sarah Groff and Jorgensen already have the others, Haskins will be looking to impress.
Also watch for Canadian Kathy Tremblay, who finished fourth at the 2009 Pan Am Games and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, who backed up her role in the bike breakaway with an excellent run to finish ninth at the Beijing Grand Final. Duffy also finished sixth at the recent Huatulco World Cup.
Elite Men’s Preview
Canadian Brent McMahon claimed Pan Am silver behind Andy Potts four years ago in Rio, and is a strong chance he could become the first Pan American men’s champion from Canada this time around. This year he’s won his first World Cup title, in Tiszaujvaros, finished ninth in Yokohama and 10th in Huatulco.
But when it comes to overall favourites though, Chrabot may have it just over McMahon. While both have won World Cups and finished in the top-10 at Dextro Energy Triathlon Series races this year, Chrabot has just edged McMahon in the last month. While McMahon finished ninth in Yokohama, Chrabot finished fifth. In Huatulco two weeks ago McMahon finished 10th – while Chrabot launched a thrilling comeback on the run to win. Chrabot is also the current Pan American champion, claiming that title in Puerto Vallarta last year, and it would seem he’s in the driver’s seat to claim the third consecutive men’s gold medal for the USA.
Others to watch include the triathletes who finished fourth and fifth at the 2007 Rio Pan American Games, McMahon’s Canadian teammate Kyle Jones and Costa Rica’s Leonardo Chacon. In the four years since then, both have built up invaluable World Cup and World Championship experience and have both posted top-10 World Cup results this year. Brazil won the first men’s Pan Am gold medal back in 1995, and Reinaldo Colucci is a chance to bring home another medal this time. There is also a strong Mexican team at home, with Crisanto Grajales, Francisco Serrano and Arturo Garza.
Former Pan American Games champion and three-time Olympian Hunter Kemper will not compete, after he suffered broken elbow in last weekend’s Pan American Cup event in Myrtle Beach. He has been replaced in the USA team by Manuel Huerta.
The 16th Pan American Games Triathlon event gets underway when the elite women’s race starts at 8 am (local time) on Sunday October 23, followed by the men’s race from 11am.
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