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Showdown at WTCS Leeds as Olympic qualifying hits final frenzy

Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee faces off against Alex Yee, while Katie Zaferes and Taylor Spivey will race for their chance to compete in Tokyo

Photo by: Janos Schmidt/ World Triathlon

Tomorrow’s World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) Leeds could end up being one of the biggest races of 2021 as athletes clamour for a final opportunity to earn themselves a chance to race at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. You can watch all the action on TriathlonLive.TV – the women start at 8:08 EST, while the men’s race goes at 10:54 EST.

While we’ve already seen some exciting racing over the past few weeks since Olympic qualifying began, tomorrow’s race in Leeds promises to be really interesting. Here are a few of the things we’ll be keeping an eye on this weekend:

  1. Can Amelie Kretz earn Canada a second qualifying spot for Tokyo? We reported on Kretz’s frustration that Canada appeared to give up on the chance to race in the Mixed Team Relay in Tokyo, but the Ste-Therese native has raced her way to a spot in the top-55 in the World Triathlon Olympic standings (she’s currently 53rd). If she can stay there that means Canada would have two women’s spots for Tokyo. While it hasn’t been formally announced, Joanna Brown has met the qualifying criteria to take one of those spots. One would hope that Kretz would be given the other thanks to her efforts to secure the spot, but that’s not a given. A top finish in Leeds, though, would certainly help her case.
  2. Can Alistair Brownlee make it to a fourth Olympics? The two-time gold medalist might have been racing over longer-distances over the last few years, but he wants to give the Olympics one more crack. An ankle injury has sidelined him for a while, putting British Triathlon in a tough bind – right now the country has only qualified two men for Tokyo, so after naming Jonathan Brownlee to one of those spots, they’ve now got to pick between a two-time gold medalist and up-and-coming star Alex Yee. They’ve said that tomorrow’s race will play heavily in the decision process, setting up a “winner-gets-to-go-to-Tokyo” scenario. There’s another fun possible twist, though – Tom Bishop currently sits at 35 in the Olympic ranking. If he can get into the top 30, then Great Britain would have three men’s spots for Tokyo. That’ll make for some fun times for the crew who has to make that call – Bishop could earn the country the spot, then not get to go if they pick Brownlee and Yee.
  3. How’s this for even more fun – the US has somehow managed to get itself in the position where they have to choose between the top-ranked athlete in the Olympic standings and the women who sits in third – Katie Zaferes and Taylor Spivey. At the country’s first qualifying opportunity, the Tokyo Test Event in 2019, Zaferes crashed and Spivey had stomach issues, opening the door for Summer Rappaport to nail her trip to Tokyo with a sixth-place finish. At the second qualifying event at WTCS Yokohama, Taylor Knibb had the race of her life to nail the second American spot on the team, with Rappaport proving her race in Tokyo was hardly a fluke with a solid runner-up finish. Spivey ended up fourth. The third spot on the team is “discretionary,” but one has to imagine that this weekend’s race will be an important one.
  4. How will Lucy Charles do in a short-distance, draft-legal race? Will she lead the women out of the water? She has the fastest 1,500 m swim time of all the competitors in the race, can certainly ride a bike and is a very tough competitor. This will be fun, for sure!
  5. Is Flora Duffy ready? Tomorrow’s race marks the return to racing for the two-time World Triathlon world champ, who is reportedly coming back from an injury. When she’s on, Duffy can control a race thanks to her lead-pack swim, dominating cycling prowess and solid running skills. Will tomorrow be the beginning of her drive towards an Olympic finish that has eluded her so far?
  6. Can Kristian Blummenfelt win a third World Triathlon Olympic-distance race in 2021? It’s hard to believe the guy is still going – since Olympic qualifying began, the Norwegian has won WTCS Yokohama, ripped through an amazing leg at the Olympic Mixed Relay qualifying event in Lisbon, won the Olympic-distance race in Lisbon the next day, then finished seventh at last weekend’s World Triathlon Cup Arzachena.

There’s lots to keep an eye on tomorrow morning – we’ll be here with updates on our Twitter feed (@TriMagCan) and will post a recap of each of the races shortly after the finish.