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Canadian Juniors Shine

Jumping into the water at your first World Championships, swimming with 60 other athletes

It’s every triathlete’s worst nightmare. You jump into the chilly river at your first World Championships, thrashing around with 60 other athletes, battling for position with something that resembles your swim stroke. All of sudden your wetsuit zipper comes flying back and a cold rush of water streams through your suit. After a few more strokes, the suit begins to fall off your body, and one arm is dangling at your side. Has your entire year of work all gone to waste? Not for Joanna Brown of Carp, Ontario, when this nightmare became a reality at the World Junior Triathlon Championships held September 12th in Budapest, Hungary.

Joanna was joined by teammates Christine Ridenour of Cowichan Bay, B.C. and Alison Hooper of Victoria, B.C. for this year’s woman’s event in Budapest. While Ridenour and Hooper found themselves in the lead pack on the bike, Brown was playing catch up after her rough go in the water. With the rest of the chase pack she worked well enough to limit her losses on the leaders, and when the 2010 National Junior Champion hit pavement out of T2, she was only 25 seconds off the lead. Brown took off on a mission down the road, and immediately began passing athletes from the large pack in front of her. In the final kilometre she passed Kelly Whitley of the United States to sneak her way onto the podium and grab Canada’s first World Junior medal since Kirsten Sweetland struck gold in 2006. Joining her on the podium was champion Ashleigh Gentle of Australia and Charlotte Bauer of Germany. Gentle grabbed her third World Junior medal, and her first win. Ridenour, a participant at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore this August, ran in for a solid 12th place finish, while Hooper was forced to withdraw on the run. All three Canadian women are eligible juniors for next year’s World Championships to be held in Beijing, and considering that all three now have a top 12 finish at a World Championship event (Hooper having placed 6th at last year’s race), Canada will surely be looking to send it’s strongest team ever in 2011.

In the men’s event, Canada was represented by Matt Sharpe and Cole Stewart of Victoria, and Alexander Hinton of Kingston, Ontario. With a massive field of nearly 80 athletes, strong swimmers Sharpe and Stewart came out of the water in the front and settled in comfortably with a lead pack of 37 athletes on the bike. Hinton narrowly missed making this pack and quickly began chasing with a group of 12. The chase pack lost a few seconds on the technical, urban bike course, and came into T2 fifty seconds down on the lead group. Sharpe, having dominated the Canadian Junior Series in 2010, found himself running strong in the top 6 for the early stages of the run, but slowly fell back to 9th as a pack of 5 athletes distinguished themselves in the front. A tight battle continued until the final kilometre when Fernando Alarza of Spain broke Thomas Bishop (GBR) and Kevin McDowell (USA) to claim the World Junior Title. Hinton had a blistering final leg, running down over half of the lead pack to grab himself a 16th place finish. Also coming from the chase pack was Lukas Verzbicas of the United States. Even with a fifteen second penalty for a misconduct in transition, the 17 year old outran the winner of the race by 27 seconds to snag 4th place. Stewart of Canada rebounded well after a rough first half of the run to finish in 21st position. Sharpe, Hinton and Stewart move into the U23 age category for the 2011 season, making way for younger athletes to qualify for spots at next year’s championships.

A strong year for Canadian juniors, boding well for our country’s future in the sport at the elite ITU level.