5 Things we learned from WTCS Yokohama
The second race of the WTCS season showed just how competitive it's going to be to get to (and win) the Olympics next yearPhoto by: World Triathlon/ Tommy Zaferes
While last weekend’s World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) event in Yokohama, Japan was missing a few notable stars (Alex Yee and Vincent Luis for the men, Flora Duffy and Abu Dhabi winner Beth Potter for the women), the event had more than enough fire power to provide some interesting insights into how Olympic qualifying will go over the next year and a bit. The day featured lots of rain, making for challenging conditions on the bike, too, which added to the fun for the athletes at the second WTCS event of 2023.
Here are a few insights from the racing:
Moving back from long-distance racing is … a challenge?
Two of the biggest names in the sport these days are Norwegians Gustav Iden and Kristian Blummenfelt. In case you’ve been under a rock for the last two years, between the two of them they’ve won Olympic gold (Blummenfelt), the Ironman World Championships (Blummenfelt in St. George, Iden in Kona), the Ironman 70.3 World Championships (Iden in 2021, Blummenfelt in 2022), the Sub7 project (Blummenfelt), the 2022 Collins Cup (Blummenfelt) and the PTO Canadian Open (Iden). Both have their sights set on another Olympics in Paris next year, so are back to draft-legal racing with that in mind.
While it’s not much of a stretch to see them qualify, it sure looks like the pair have some work to do to get themselves into medal contention. Iden was second-last out of the water in Yokohama and never got into the mix – he would end up 39th. Blummenfelt fared much better, despite being 42 seconds down out of the water he was able to ride up to the front group and be in the mix starting the run. Blummenfelt would end up eighth.
Which leads us to another interesting insight about running…
Run for dough (and the Olympics)
Yeah, you all know the saying, “bike for show, run for dough.” When it comes to WTCS racing, that gets taken to a completely new level, and you can add swimming to that mix, too. As mentioned earlier, Gustav Iden was over a minute behind at the end of the swim and was never in the picture. Race winner Hayden Wilde was 15 seconds back after the swim, then blasted through a 29:30 run split to take the win. Blummenfelt ran a more than respectable 30:02, but all seven of the men ahead of him ran faster.
A better example of just how competitive things are on the run is Tyler Mislawchuk’s race. The Canadian is not a fan of rain and colder temperatures, so had to be happy with his 15th-place finish, but a top-12 would have been a critical step for his Canadian qualification for Paris. Mislawchuk found himself sprinting against six others to the line – and finished fourth in that race to the line. If he’d been the first of that group in, he’d have nailed an oh-so-valuable 12th. (Luckily enough there will be lots more hot, dry races for the Canadian to show his talent!)
The depth chart for Great Britain and the US is just silly
After a runner-up finish to countrywoman Beth Potter in Abu Dhabi, Sophie Coldwell (pictured above) took her first WTCS win in Yokohama. She’s now the series leader, but much more importantly has set herself up as one of the three women Great Britain can send to Paris. Olympic silver medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown had a better day than she did in Abu Dhabi, managing to run her way up to seventh, but missed the lead group in the water, so had to make up a lot of spots during the run. Another Brit, Kate Waugh, was part of the breakaway group and ended up fifth. If Great Britain decides that four athletes in the top-20 of Olympic qualification isn’t enough, they can always pull in Lucy Charles-Barclay, who took fifth in her WTCS debut in 2021 and 12th at WTCS Abu Dhabi that same year (shortly after winning the 70.3 world championship title).
The only thing harder than making the British team for Paris will be making the American team. Taylor Knibb’s return to racing saw her take an impressive third-place finish, a nice return to racing after her surgery in January.
All eyes on Taylor Knibb as 70.3 world champ returns to draft-legal racing in Yokohama
Knibb was one spot ahead of countrywoman Taylor Spivey. The next American across the line was Kirsten Kasper in eighth, followed by Summer Rappaport, who was 10th. That’s four women in the top-10, and Olympic bronze medalist Katie Zaferes wasn’t able to race because she doesn’t have enough qualifying points at this point to get into a WTCS race. The same went for 2016 Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen, who was on the wait list for Yokohama.
Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen returns to triathlon for run at Paris Games
But wait, there’s more! Another American, Erika Ackerlund, finished 13th to go along with her 18th from Abu Dhabi, adding to the impressive US depth chart.
Ackerland will join the other four American women we saw compete in Yokohama in Cagliari, Italy in a couple of weeks and, once again, giving themselves the opportunity to compete in another big points race while Zaferes and Jorgensen will find themselves on the sidelines and having to hit World Cup races in order to work their way up the qualifying ladder.
Taylor Knibb made us look good
OK, you’re saying that after we listed her as the one to watch, she ended up third. We’ll maintain that was a solid performance considering she had foot surgery in January. And, also, considering the wet conditions made it difficult for her to use her incredible bike strength to get clear of the rest of the lead group. Knibb was being so careful that when she wasn’t at the front of the group she was hanging well back, giving up some of the valuable draft. Presumably that was to ensure she wouldn’t be involved in a crash.
As she gains more confidence and run fitness, coupled with better bike conditions, Knibb is likely to light up a few courses this year.
Amelie Kretz appears to be on track for a third Olympics
Hopefully this time the Quebec star won’t be making it to the Games in Paris just under the gun. In 2016 she made it to Rio at one of the last qualifying races, and in 2021, for Tokyo, Kretz had to travel the world in a whirlwind six-week period to get herself on the team.
Kretz finished 21st in Yokohama, with fellow Canadian Emy Legault taking 40th position. Thanks to Legault’s great 2022 season, she currently sits 27th on the Olympic Qualification Ranking for Paris, with Kretz at 50th. We’ll see Kretz in Cagliari in a couple of weeks, too.