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ITU World Championship

Possibly Canada's best team showing at a world championship occurred in Australia in 1991

The elite and junior athletes were still racing the non-drafting format and the Australian organizer’s sent the women off 12 minutes ahead of the men (thinking that the men would run them down). Instead of seeing a male cross the line first, it was two Canadian women who broke the tape. Kelowna’s Joanne Ritchie won the title, with Alberta’s Terri Smith-Ross crossing in second (just ahead of Australia’s Michelle Jones). Canada won the world junior team title and a number of age group championships, too.  
 When ITU officials selected the Gold Coast for this year’s world championship, hundreds of Canadian age group athletes immediately booked their vacation time and started saving their pennies for the trip of a life-time. Few countries are more suited to triathlon training and racing than Australia and, even though early September is still Australia’s spring season, Team Canada was treated to a week of near perfect blue sky and 25 degree weather.

The three day championship program began with the Under 23 race on Friday afternoon. Edmonton’s Paula Findlay used her early season ITU race experience to it’s fullest to take the bronze medal behind a pair of British athletes (winner Hollie Avil and silver medallist Jodie Stimpson).

“Paula executed a near perfect race today and she showed Triathlon Canada that she is going to be a major part of future elite national teams,” said high performance coach Patrick Kelly. On the men’s side,  Victoria’s Andrew MacCartney led out of the water and finished 13th overall, with Caledon, Ontario’s Andrew Yorke finishing 36th.

Nearly 5,000 age group athletes raced over the weekend with Canada taking seven medals and winning three different age categories. Gold went to Suzanne Chandler (35-39),  Stephanie Kiefffer (40-44) and Margaret Ritchie (50-54); silver to Steve Hardwicke (65-69), Charles Moreau (para-triathlon 1) and Grant Darby (para-triathlon 2); bronze medallists included Scott Takala (20-24) and Baska Ujeski (45-49). The age group athletes and their families stuck around with another 75,000 Australian spectators to be treated to one of the most competitive men’s world championship  races in history. The salt-water swim had very little chop and nearly 50 men exited the water within 45 seconds of each other. Team Canada, consisting of Simon Whitfield, Kyle Jones, Paul Tichelaar and Brent McMahon, all made the big large pack out of the water. Several un-successful mini-breaks on the bike were attempted before Portugal’s Bruno Pais and Ukraine’s Danyo Sapunov finally got clear of the main contenders on the fifth lap. One lap later, Canadian Paul Tichelaar and American Matt Reid also broke free of the main pack. 

It quickly became obvious that all the main contenders were committed to a frantically fast 10km run. Britain’s Alistair Brownlee has been virtually undefeated in 2009 , winning four straight World Series Races and a silver at the European Championships. Spain’s Javier Gomez and Brownlee ran their first 2 km in under six minutes and showed the rest of the men that they would have to break 30 minutes for 10km to have any chance for the win. Each time Brownlee would accelerate, Gomez would react and try to surge to the front. After a dozen lead changes in the last 5 km, Brownlee finally edged away from Gomez to win his first senior world championship.  Germany’s Jan Frodeno backed up his Beijing Olympic gold medal to take bronze.

By the end of the day ten men broke the elusive 30 minutes for 10 km barrier, with Simon Whitfield crossing in eighth place overall with a 29 minute 58 second 10k split. Former Canadian Olympian Brent McMahon finished 18th, while Tichelaar and Jones finished 20th and 25th respectively.

“This is the strongest men and women’s team we have ever had at a world championships,” said Whitfield. Throughout the week, Whitfield was one part athlete, one part mentor to the Canadian junior and 23 and under team.   “Getting to train and observe Simon Whitfield was an invaluable opportunity for myself and the other younger athletes,” said Yorke.

Brownlee’s World Championship victory was historic as he became the first athlete to win a junior (2006), 23 and under (2008) and senior elite title (2009), not to mention the fact that his 29:04 run split is perhaps the fastest in triathlon’s history.
 The third and final day of the world championships saw Canada’s junior Allison Hopper exit the water in the top group along with Kyla Coates. The talented BC pair came off the bike in the lead pack and ran to sixth and eighth place overall behind France’s Emmie Charayron. In the Junior men’s race, Ontario’s Connor Hammond was first out of the water along with Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee (younger brother to Alistair).   Joining Hammond in the lead pack was BC’s Matt Sharpe (with Ontario’s Ian Donald in the chase pack). Spain’s next superstar, Mario Mola, ran the day’s fastest junior 5km split (15:00 / 5k) to win his first world junior title, with Hammond finishing 11th, Sharpe 26th and Donald 42nd overall.

The last event of the weekend was the women’s elite race. Injuries continued to plague Canada’s Kirsten Sweetland and she had to pull out with an inflamed knee before the race started. Strong currents made the women’s swim incredibly challenging and Canada’s Kathy Tremblay and Lauren Groves exited the water nearly 45 seconds behind American Sarah Haskins.  Groves and Tremblay were never able to make up the deficit they lost in the water as a seven-woman group broke away early on the bike. Early on the run, Aussie Emma Moffatt and Sweden’s Lisa Norden broke away from the other five and turned it into a two woman battle for gold. Home crowd advantage was significant as crowd “willed” Moffatt to a her first world championship.

“I can’t believe how amazing this entire season has gone,” said Moffat, who won three ITU World Series Races in 2009. Moffatt becomes the eighth Australian woman to win a world championship title.

While Findlay was the only Canadian to win an elite  medal, once again Canadian age groupers proved that they are some of the best in the world.

“Triathlon Canada has always been committed to showcasing our great age group talent and once again they have come through with some incredible performances,” said Triathlon Canada president Stephen Holmes. The 2010 Triathlon World Championship will be in Budapest Hungary.

Barrie Shepley was Canada’s  first Olympic coach in 2000 and was in the Gold Coast as the voice of the International Triathlon Union and CBC.