By Andrew Dewhurst on 17/04/13 at 2:59 pm
Expert analysis by Olympian Kris Gemmell and ITU commentator Barrie Shepley of this weekend's races in San Diego
Sport is littered with great rivalries, match ups that can transcend the code, battles that can promote the sport and its personalities to a world beyond the dedicated and often tragic sports fan.
Think of McEnroe and you think of Connors. Say Alain Prost and you must mention Ayrton Senna, consider Ali and how can you leave out Frazier? These are all heavyweight match ups that promoters dream of.
Triathlon is in the midst of just such a battle with the great Javier Gomez and amazing Alistair Brownlee set to renew a rivalry that has crowds buzzing, media furiously writing and television audiences the world over cooing over their flat screens when the two are racing side by side.
Gomez may be 30 and Brownlee a sprightly 24, but there can be no question that despite ITU Triathlon increasing in depth and global appeal year upon year, these two are fighting for dominance in the one moment in time, they are the best of the best, the ones setting the standard and forcing others to follow if they are to compete alongside them for part of a race, let alone stand next to them on the podium.
ITU Commentator Barrie Shepley has seen it all in his race calling career but has no doubt we are in the midst of greatness.
“London’s Olympic showdown was the strongest athletic battle the sport has ever seen. As good as the other 53 men were in London, all eyes were on the incredible swim-bike and ultimately the ten kilometre run battle that developed between Brownlee and Gomez – not to forget Jonny of course who played a great role too.
“Javier ran on the shoulder of Alistair as long as he could hang in London, before the stronger running Brownlee used his perseverance and the home crowd to run a mind-blowing 29:08 ten kilometre run split.
“Javier came back with a victory over Alistair at the HyVee International Triathlon four weeks later to leave the season beautifully poised. The two men will see each other for the first time in 2013 at the San Diego WTS Triathlon this weekend; it is simply a mouth watering prospect.”
The similarities between the two are there, at least in their records if not their physique and style of racing. Gomez appears to roll across the ground, punching his way through the race, his face calm and eyes often hidden behind his sunglasses while Brownlee is the taller, tapping along on tip toes, his face often creased with effort as he wrenches every last ounce of energy from his wiry frame.
Gomez has been crowned world champion twice, in 2008 and 2010 and was U23 world champion ten years ago. He has 13 World Cup titles, five World Triathlon Series victories (and 7 podiums) and that silver medal in London behind Alistair Brownlee.
Brownlee emerged in 2008 as the U23 world champion and first Brit at the Beijing Games in 12th place (Gomez the race favourite finished 4th). In fact when winning the ITU World Championship in 2009, Brownlee became the first athlete to win the ITU Triathlon World Championships titles for Junior Men (2006), Under 23 Men (2008) and Senior Men.
The match-up between the two is already the stuff of legend, as Shepley describes.
“In the past six years the two men have raced each over 20 times with Gomez winning eight times and Brownlee defeating him a dozen times. Of those 20 races, only twice (Beijing Olympic Games being one of them) did neither of the men win the overall race (Javier was 4th and Alistair was 12th).
“The rivalry between the two has been going for six years with Javier winning more of the races in the first few years and Alistair dominating in the last 24 months.”
San Diego will commence another fascinating year of racing between these super athletes. Gomez has already made a statement in 2013 as he sets out in pursuit of Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, winning the ITU Mooloolaba World Cup and in Auckland at the opening round of the ITU World Triathlon Series.
Brownlee though has not yet fired any shots, at least not at ITU level, and will race for the first time this season in San Diego. And with younger brother and London bronze medallist Jonathan withdrawing through injury, there is more room on the stage that is once again set to be dominated by Alistair and Javier.
Shepley speaks with noticeable excitement at the prospect of not just another thriller on the streets of San Diego, but the possibility of three years of a classic rivalry in the lead up to Rio 2016, a rivalry that might go some way to defining the current version of triathlon racing, ITU style.
“Epic battles in any sport help take athletes to new levels and the Gomez / Brownlee battle in triathlon has forced the entire men’s race schedule to go to a new level of racing. Prior to Alistair’s emergence as a dominant force in 2009, Javier set a new level of racing by being a first pack swimmer, strong biker and an incredible runner in the last five kilometres of the triathlons. After dominating the sport for nearly three years, Gomez suddenly had a new rival in Brownlee who had equal swim and bike powers, but used the first two kilometres of the run to rip open the field and often break Javier – not to mention the rest of the field being left in both their wakes. I can’t wait for another episode to play out this weekend.”
The Tale of the Tape
30 years of age, born in Basel, Switzerland in 1983
2008 & 2010 ITU World Champion
World Sub Champion 2007 & 2009
4th 2008 Beijing Olympics
Silver 2012 London Olympics
2007 & 2009 European Champion
U23 ITU World Champion 2003
Winner of 13 ITU World Cups
Winner of 5 ITU World Triathlon Series + 7 Podiums
24 years of age, born in Yorkshire, England in 1988
2006 ITU World Junior Champion
2008 ITU World U23 Champion
2009 ITU World Champion
12th 2008 Beijing Olympics
Gold 2012 London Olympics
Winner of 12 ITU World Triathlon Series
The Elite Women will go off at 3:30pm on 19 April, while the Elite Men will start on Saturday at 4:00pm local time.
International Women’s start times
International Men’s start times
Be sure to follow all the action live through the ITU’s live video stream on www.triathlon.org/tv, or follow via Twitter at @ITUonline and @triathlonlive
Find more details about this event - 2013 ITU World Triathlon San Diego