The Sydney Olympics was a milestone that changed the sport in many ways. When Canada’s Simon Whitfield blasted past German Stephan Vuckovic to win the men’s innaugural gold medal, millions of people were excited about the sport. Since Whitfield’s win in Sydney, the International Triathlon Union (ITU) has used their yearly World Cup Series as the primary method for athletes to qualify for each of the Olympic Games that have followed. Whitfield is one of only a handful of men or women who have raced in all three Olympic Games that triathlon has been part of (Sydney, Athens and Beijing) and is the only athlete, male or female, to own a gold and silver medal.
The ITU’s new World Championship Series will open the 2010 season by going back to Sydney for the first time since Whitfield won his magical gold a decade ago. In preparation for the highly competitive season debut, Simon spent part of the off-season training in Maui, Hawaii knowing that as good as his 29:50 10km run split was last year, he will have improve on that in 2010 to get back on the podium. Whitfield’s biggest concern in 2010 will be managing his family commitments (check the news section for information about the birth of his second child in March) while continuing to race competitively.
Whitfield knows that there are eight to10 men from England, Spain, France, America, New Zealand, Germany and Australia who are major threats to be on the podium each time he races. “The fantastic thing about the ITU World Championship series is that we race all over the world, in front of huge crowds, and the the level of competition is incredibly tight.”
Canada’s Kirsten Sweetland started the 2009 season with victories in Australia and New Zealand before injuries sidelined her and would like to get back on the podium early in 2010. Watching her work out in Tucson, Arizona in February leads me to believe there is a good chance that Sweetland will be back on the podium often in 2010. Joining the former World Junior Champion on the circuit is an always-improving Kathy Tremblay from Quebec along with Vancouver’s
Lauren Groves (who is recovering from a broken collarbone).
The baby on the national world cup women’s team will be Edmonton’s Paula Findlay, who won a bronze medal at the U23 world championship. Balancing pre-med studies at the University of Alberta and training hard all winter is not an easy task, but Findlay should be a regular top-16 finisher on the circuit this year.
On a 6 hour lay-over in Sydney in 2003, I remember taking Kyle Jones and a few of the juniors to the race site and had them run the Olympic course.
Kyle Jones lives only a few kilometers from Whitfield and does a tremendous amount of daily training with him. After a few years of steady progression, Jones’s 2010 goal is to finish consistently in the top 10 and to start building toward a spot in London in 2012.
Two of the sport’s superstars from 2009 were on the side-lines when the season opened in April. British world champion Allister Brownlee and Australia’s world champion Emma Moffatt both have pre-season injuries. Brownlee is recovering from a stress fracture and Moffatt is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained during a bike crash in February.
The World Championship Series will have stops in Australia (Sydney April 11th), Korea (Seoul May 8th), Spain (Madrid June 5th), Germany (Hamburg, July 17th), England (London July 24th), Austria (Kitzbuhel, Aug 14th) and the final World Championship Event in Hungary (Budapest Sept 12th).
Triathlon Canada’s Executive Director, Alan Trivett, is excited by the way the season ended in 2009 and the progression of many of the younger athletes over the winter. “Obviously we have always relied on Simon Whitfield to get the job done for us,” said Trivett, but now he believes that Canada can expect to see other elite team members reach the podium.
“The 2009 series saw half-dozen photo finishes and the depth of men and women’s racing is at an all time high,” says World Championship Series director Paul Coleman. “Ten years ago only a handful of countries had full time coaching staff, but today most countries have a compliment of bike mechanics, coaches, medical support and high performance directors.”
CBC will be carrying many of the 2010 World Championship Series Races and the ITU presents all events live on the internet at www.triathlon.org
Barrie Shepley was Canada’s first Olympic Head Coach in 2000 and continues to coach age group athletes on a weekly basis.