By Merryn Sherwood on 31/08/11 at 8:22 am
As we head back to Beijing for the biggest event on the triathlon calendar this year, and what will be the last Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Grand Final before the London 2012 Olympics, we take a look back at the last Games. Particularly as the course is the same and it just might offer some clues as to who might walk away with the 2011 ITU world titles.
Overall, the Beijing course is a tough one that demands an all-round strong swim-bike-runner, with both the run and bike offering a couple of serious hills. But there will be a few basic differences from the Olympic race, mostly the timing. These races are a month later than the Olympics were held and therefore the temperatures may be a little less than scorching than back in 2008. But aside from that, there are perhaps some lessons to be learned from the last Olympic Games.
In 2008, Spain’s Javier Gomez was the clear men’s favourite. Gomez won the Beijing test event in 2007 and then stormed to the 2008 ITU World Championship in Vancouver, ahead of New Zealand’s Bevan Docherty and Switzerland’s Reto Hug.
But the women’s field was slightly more open. Portgual’s Vanessa Fernandes had won the 2007 Beijing test event, but only just from Snowsill. Both were already ITU legends, with multiple World Cup and World Championship wins, but both were after that elusive Olympic gold to cap off the medal collection. But there was even more intrigue added at the 2008 World Championships in Vancouver, when Helen Jenkins (nee Tucker) and Sarah Haskins won gold and silver off the back of a defining bike breakaway. Fernandes finished 10th there, while Snowsill didn’t race.
The women were the first to race on 18 August 2008, lining up on the Ming Tomb Reservoir course in scorching heat. Laura Bennett (USA) led the swim and helped lead out the first pack on the bike, but there wasn’t a huge break between the contenders in that leg. Basically, it all came down to the run and Snowsill dominated from transition. There were gasps from around the world when Snowsill ran down the wrong side of the barricade near the end of the third lap, but she quickly hurdled back over it and continued on to the finish line, where she ran home to gold by a whopping 66 seconds. Fernandes finished strongly for silver, and Emma Moffatt claimed bronze.
But the men’s race back in 2008 showed that upsets were possible, as Frodeno claimed an Olympic gold medal as his first ITU victory. Before Beijing, Frodeno had podiumed at ITU events, but never made the top of one, making his gold medal even more special. The way the men’s race unfolded kept everyone guessing right until the end. Although the swim didn’t cause too many breaks, the bike did. Francisco Serrano (MEX), Dirk Bockel (LUX) and Axel Zeebroek (BEL) formed a break and while Serrano dropped off, Bockel and Zeebroek took almost a minute lead into the run. However, that wasn’t enough to keep off the sport’s top runners as none other than Alistair Brownlee (GBR) helped to reel them in. Then Ivan Rana (ESP) attacked on the hill that leads back to the reservoir and only Gomez, Brownlee, Frodeno, Simon Whitfield (CAN) and Bevan Docherty (NZL) went with him. But Rana dropped, followed by Alistair Brownlee and Whitfield, seemingly leaving the medals to Gomez, Docherty and Frodeno. But Whitfield made up lost group and in the final 500 metres, took the lead. In a dramatic final 100 metres Frodeno found the final push to win.
So what does it mean for this year? One is that Snowsill has already triumphed on the course and she has a history of coming up big when it matters most. After an injury riddled 2010, she came home strong to win the Budapest Grand Final last year and the three-time World Champion loves the heat. The next is that the course actually suits current rankings leader Jenkins perfectly. The 2008 World Champion is a strong swimmer and has exited with the leaders in most series races this year. She’s usually turned that into a bike breakaway. It hasn’t always worked, but she’s then been able to turn in stellar run legs. An unknown is how athletes like Barbara Riveros Diaz and Paula Findlay will tackle the course. But if it all comes down to the run again then they will be big chances again.
Frodeno would also be chasing a high point to end the year on, after his results in 2011 failed to live up to previous years and he’s returning to the site of his greatest ever triumph. But again, the course would seem to play into the hands of the current rankings leader, in this case Alistair Brownlee. In 2008, with five kilometres to go in the run the first time around Brownlee was with the leaders, before fading badly. But back then he was only 20, and since then he’s had more races affected by heat exhaustion. So if it is cooler, it will only play to his favour. Add in the fact that he’s got his brother, Jonathan Brownlee, to work with this time. The brothers have make plenty of bike breakaways in the series this year, and if they can get away on the steep hill in Beijing, they will be hard to catch. Although, Gomez is not one to be counted as out as the defending World Champion has some unfinished business after he started as favourite three years ago, and ended up fourth.
Overall, it’s going to be an intriguing battle as the world’s best return to one of the world’s best triathlon courses, to again decide who is the best triathlete in the world.
Find more details about this event - 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Grand Final Beijing