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Olympics on the line in Yokohama this weekend

Saturday's race in Japan could make or break many athletes' chances for a spot in Paris

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

The World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) finally gets rolling this weekend in Yokohama, Japan, after the cancellation of the season opener in Abu Dhabi. With Olympic qualifying concluding at the end of the month, things are getting tight for Olympic selection, and Saturday’s racing in Japan truly highlights the drama as athletes look for a spot at the Games in Paris.

Olympic qualifying isn’t the only thing to watch for this weekend, though. Saturday’s race marks the return to racing for the reigning gold medalist, Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, who is racing for the first time since she defended her world title at the Championship Finals in Abu Dhabi in 2022. It’s also the first time that Duffy will be racing against the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, Gwen Jorgensen (pictured above), since the 2016 Grand Final in Cozumel. That’s not likely to be top of mind for the American, though, as she looks for a podium finish that would guarantee her a spot for the Games in Paris this summer.

The one thing that will be missing from Saturday’s racing is a chance to see how everyone will stack up against the two women most likely to be gunning after

American team drama

We reported on the start list change for the next event in the WTCS series in Cagliari last week – Jorgensen was taken off that start list by USA Triathlon, presumably to give Katie Zaferes a shot at a WTCS event in the likely event that the remaining spots for the US team will be picked by a committee. The race in Yokohama serves as an automatic qualifier – the first American on the podium will receive an automatic berth on the team for Paris, joining Taylor Knibb, who confirmed her spot with a sixth-place finish at the Paris Test Event last summer.

Taylor Knibb nails her Olympic spot – Paris Test Event recap in words and spectacular photos

The reason Zaferes couldn’t get a spot to race in Yokohama is because she’s currently the sixth American in the World Triathlon rankings – the Americans can send a maximum of five athletes. Jorgensen is fifth in the rankings, making her one of four in the field in Japan with a shot at that podium finish and a chance to join Knibb on the Olympic team. The others include Taylor Spivey, who is currently the highest ranked American in the Olympic ranking, Tokyo Olympian Summer Rappaport and Kirsten Kasper.

A podium finish is obviously the first goal for all four of the American contenders, and it’s certainly not a stretch for any of them – they’ve all done that during their careers. While Jorgensen had an amazing run of World Cup victories last year, she wasn’t nearly as successful at the WTCS level of racing, getting lapped out of the race in Cagliari, finishing 24th in Sunderland and 43rd at the Championship Finals in Pontevedra. At all those events Jorgensen struggled to get into a decent pack on the bike – she’ll need to change that dynamic this weekend if she is going to achieve her Paris goal.

If none of those four are able to make the podium on Saturday, the American selection committee is in for a tough decision. They nailed their choice in 2021 when they put Zaferes on the team – she would take bronze in the individual race and help the American team take silver in the mixed relay. Zaferes was picked for the team over Spivey, who had an impressively consistent year in 2022 and 2023, finishing third in the WTCS series in 2022 and fourth in 2023. Spivey will likely need a couple of big results in Yokohama and Cagliari if she’s going to garner the attention of the selection committee. The same goes for Kasper, who is another remarkably consistent competitor, but ended up 15th at both the Test Event and the Championship Finals last year. Rappaport nailed her Olympic spot with a fifth-place finish at the Tokyo Test Event in 2019, then followed that up with a runner-up finish behind Knibb in Yokohama in 2021. Another big day in Japan is likely her best bet for a return trip to the Olympics.

Other contenders

Without Potter and Beaugrand in the field, Frenchwoman Emma Lombardi will wear race #1. Lombardi seems likely to be a shoe in for the French team for Paris, but countrywoman Leonie Periault is looking for a big day after an injury-filled 2023.

Another woman looking for a big day to impress selectors will be Great Britain’s Kate Waugh, who put herself in the Olympic mix with an impressive silver medal (ahead of Beaugrand) at the Championship Finals last year.

The Australian quartet of Natalie Van Coevorden, Sophie Linn, Jaz Hedgeland and Charlotte McShane are all looking for a top-eight finish – that would net them an automatic spot for Paris. Otherwise the team will be picked based on rankings at the end of May, which makes Yokohama critical.

Germany has already named Laura Lindemann, Lisa Tertsch and Nina Eim to the team for Paris, so they’ll likely be looking for a good day, but won’t need to peak too much for any of these early season races, so it’s hard to say if they’ll be in the mix for the medals on Saturday.

For most of the other athletes, including Canadians Emy Legault and Dominika Jamnicky, WTCS Yokohama offers the opportunity for valuable points to nail down both their country’s spots for the Games and their own spots on their respective teams. (Each country’s national governing body selects its team members.)

How to watch

The races will be covered on TriathlonLive.tv

Women’s Race – Saturday, May 11, 10.15 local time (9:15 pm Friday, EST)

Men’s Race – Saturday, May 11, 13.00h local time (12 am Saturday, EST)