By Kevin Mackinnon
In just a few hours the first medal event of the 2018 Commonwealth Games will take place – the women’s triathlon. We previewed the triathlon event in our March issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada:
While it wasn’t until 2002 when triathlon became an official sport at the Commonwealth Games, Canada’s rich multi-sport history at the games actually goes back to 1990. Triathlon was an exhibition sport that year at the games in Auckland, New Zealand. Organizers were no-doubt motivated to include triathlon on the agenda as two of the world’s best were Kiwis and they came through with the gold medals. Rick Wells took the men’s title over Australian’s Brad Bevan and Greg Welch. Erin Baker won the women’s race over Canadian Carol Montgomery with another Kiwi, Erin Christie, taking the bronze.
The event also hosted an elite junior race, which featured a Canadian sweep of the podium as Dave Smit, Andrew MacMartin and Erik Myllymaki took all three medals.
Fast forward 12 years to Manchester, England, where triathlon is now an official sport in the games. This time there’s another sweep of the top of the podium, but it’s not the home country that earns the top honours – Canada’s very own Simon Whitfield and Carol Montgomery took gold that day. (Another 2000 Olympian, Sharon Donnelly would win the second-pack sprint that day, finishing fifth.)
Since that heady race day in Manchester Canada has won just one more medal – Kristen Sweetland’s career-comeback silver-medal performance in Glasgow in 2014. So how do things look for Canada heading into this year’s event? Here’s our preview of the upcoming 2018 Commonwealth Games triathlon that takes place on Australia’s Gold Coast on April 4 (individual events) and April 6 (Mixed Team Relay).
For the first time in Commonwealth Games history the athletes will race over the sprint distance as opposed to the usual Olympic- or standard-distance race. The race starts at the Southport Broadwater Parklands with a 750-m swim. That’s followed by a four-lap, 20 km bike loop that follows the waterfront with two short out and back stretches. The race finishes up with a two-lap, out and back 5 km run course.
The four-person mixed team relay is made up of a 250 m one-lap swim course followed by a two-lap 7 km bike course and rounds out with a 1.5 km, one-lap run course.
While Canada might be looking at the Commonwealth Games as a “developmental opportunity,” the rest of the world isn’t looking at it quite the same way, sending a raft of Olympic and Commonwealth medalists to represent their countries. On the women’s side of things, defending champion Jodie Stimpson won’t be back to defend, but with Bermuda’s Flora Duffy in the race, the Brit wouldn’t have arrived as the woman to beat, anyway. Duffy won all but one WTS event last year and will arrive at the Gold Coast as the prohibitive women’s favourite.
She’ll take on WTS number two from 2017, Australia’s Ashleigh Gentle, who was the only woman to beat Duffy in 2017 when she won the WTS Montreal event. Great Britain’s Olympic bronze medalist, Vicky Holland will have some outstanding support out on the course in the form of Jessica Learmonth and Sophie Coldwell, while fellow GB athlete Non Stanford is in the race competing for Wales. Add to the mix New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt, a three-time Olympian and winner of a pair of WTS events last year, along with Canada’s own Joanna Brown (see below) and you have the makings of one very exciting race.
The men’s race promises to be every bit as interesting as the gold and silver medalists from both the last Olympic and the last Commonwealth Games are back to go for more hardware. Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee have dominated those past games, but those were contended over a longer distance race. Alistair is also coming off hip surgery from last fall and a move to longer distance racing, making his potential dominance of the race a bit more of a question than it normally would be. Jonathan wasn’t nearly as dominant on the WTS circuit as he has been in past years, but his record representing the UK at Games has resulted in numerous medals, so he’s hardly one to rule out.
There will be lots of competition for the podium, though, as South African stars Henri Schoeman (third at the Rio Olympics) and Richard Murray are in great form. One man the Brownlee’s will have to keep an especially close eye on, though, is Australia’s Jacob Birtwhistle, who has an incredible finishing kick, one he used to take the final leg of the inaugural Super League race and to help Australia take the Mixed Team Relay World Championship last year in Hamburg.
Speaking of the Mixed Team Relay, how much of a barn-burner is that race going to be? Australia took the world title last year, but will face off against the defending champions, Great Britain. Team Canada certainly has a shot at a medal, too – last year they were fifth at the worlds, despite a crash in the final leg of the race that negated a breakaway they were in with the American team.
Joanna Brown (Carp, Ont.) had a stellar year in 2017, finishing fifth at the WTS Grand Final in Rotterdam to go along with three world cup podium finishes and a pair of fourth-place finishes at WTS races. The 25-year-old certainly has the ability to race with the top women in the event, but will have to be on her toes to stay with the likes of Duffy and Holland. Brown would have benefited the most by having super-strong cyclist Paula Findlay on the team with her – Findlay was a key factor in keeping the pack together and preventing Duffy from getting away in Montreal last year, but wasn’t named to the Commonwealth Games team.
Desirae Ridenour (Cowichan Bay, B.C.) is just 17, but offers a bright hope for Canada in future Games. An extremely quick runner, Ridenour was the 2017 Continental junior champion, took the silver medal at the ITU Duathlon World Championship in Penticton last summer and even impressed Chris McCormack enough to get an invitation to the Super League event in Jersey last September.
Dominika Jamnicky (Guelph, Ont.) took third at last year’s Canadian Championships in Ottawa. The 25-year-old had two top-five finishes at world cup events in 2017 (Yucatan and Salinas).
Olympian Tyler Mislawchuk (Oak Bluff, Man.) took last year’s national championship. His 15th-place finish at the Olympic Games in Rio signalled a bright future in the sport. Mislawchuk is an all-around performer who also competed in Hamburg last year as part of the Mixed Team Relay.
Matt Sharpe (Victoria) had a huge 2017 that included four top-10 finishes at world cup races and took gold at the World Aquathlon Championships in Penticton.
Alexis Lepage (Gatineau, Que.) finished second at last year’s national championship in Ottawa and was on track to lead Canada to a medal at the Mixed Relay World Championship before a crash on the wet pavement in Hamburg saw him lose his spot in the two-man breakaway. Lepage will no-doubt be more than motivated to get another shot at a relay medal in Australia.