By Merryn Sherwood on 05/03/12 at 9:28 pm
The Oceania Championships are always a tough trans-Tasman battle between two powerful triathlon nations: Australia and New Zealand. This weekend the 2012 Devonport OTU Triathlon Oceania Championships, there is even more on the line. The winner of the elite men’s and women’s races will secure a spot for their National Olympic Committee on the London 2012 startline. It’s also the New Zealand national championships, the first time that the event has been held outside of New Zealand, due to an already packed domestic triathlon calendar.
But Triathlon Australia is planning to be prepared for the Kiwi contingent, particulary after New Zealand claimed both Oceania spots in 2008 before the Beijing Olympics. “As far as Olympic positions alone are concerned, Devonport is a “must win” for Australia and that alone is sure to produce some dynamic racing,” said Australian High Performance Manager Michael Flynn. “Back in 2008 the Kiwis were better organised than us and took the automatic Oceania spots and we will be going all out to ensure that does not happen again.”
The 2012 Oceania Championships will be conducted at a brand new venue in Devonport at the Devonport Surf Life Saving Club and Mersey Bluff foreshore which will allow for a natural amphitheatre for athletes and spectators alike.
Elite Women’s Preview
Australia’s Emma Jackson, who finished fourth overall in the ITU World Triathlon Series last year, will headline the women’s field in Devonport, and the 20-year-old said she was prepared.
“It is important to race well in Devonport and to try and secure that place for Australia and then go on and race well again at the first ITU World Championship round in Sydney on April 14,” Jackson said. “I am well ahead of where I was at the same time last year so that is certainly a positive going into an Olympic year. But this week in Devonport will be tough especially with Beijing Olympian Erin Densham in the field and a host of New Zealanders led by Nicky Samuels, who is a real strong swim-biker.”
Jackson said also missing early nomination had only made her more determined to showed she deserves Olympic selection with solid performances in Devonport and Sydney.
“It would have been nice to get an early nomination but Emma Moffatt certainly deserved her place. She has won two world titles and she has a lot more history than me but hopefully I will be able to prove myself with strong showings in Devonport and Sydney – that’s my aim.”
Her fellow Australians to watch include Densham, who recently finished fourth in Geelong, and World Cup winner and Junior World Champion Ashleigh Gentle. 2011 Junior Women’s World Championship silver medallist Ashlee Bailie is also on the start list, in her fourth start in the elite women’s field.
The New Zealand women’s contingent that is aiming to steal the Aussie home glory will be led by World Cup winner Samuels, and Beijing Olympian Debbie Tanner. Samuels is coming off a shared victory in Takapuna after a dead heat with Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz, and a fifth place in Kinloch. Tanner will be looking to improve on her 7th place finish at last year’s Oceania Championships.
Densham and Tanner also both competed in the last Oceania titles that were held in Devonport, back in 2004.
Elite Men’s Preview
If this race was about sheer numbers, then the Australians would have it covered with 42 athletes entered in the field compared to eight from New Zealand. But take into account that the New Zealand contingent includes two-time Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty, five-time World Cup winner Kris Gemmell, plus rising stars Tony Dodds, Ryan Sissons, James Elvery and Clark Ellice.
Flying the flag for Australia will be Beijing Olympian Courtney Atkinson, who only competed in five ITU races last year, Chris McCormack, and World Cup winners Brendan Sexton and Dan Wilson. Up and coming talent includes Jamie Huggett, Drew Box - who was the first Australian across the line in Geelong a few weeks ago, Kinloch sprint winner Aaron Royle, James Seear and Auckland World Cup bronze medallist Ryan Fisher.
There is also some history to contend with in the men’s field, as there are some familar faces returning from the 2004 OTU Devonport Oceania Championships. That event was a selection race for the New Zealand Olympic team, and it’s where Gemmell just missed out on a trip to the Athens Olympics, finishing behind Nathan Richmond. While McCormack, Elvery and Sexton will be hoping their races finish better than in 2004, as all recorded DNFs.
The women’s elite and U23 races begin at 1pm (local time) on Saturday 10 March, followed by the men’s elite and U23 race at 3.30pm. You can find the full wrap at www.triathlon.org after the race.
With files from Triathlon Australia
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