By Merryn Sherwood on 13/04/12 at 12:28 am
This year’s ITU World Triathlon Series is less than 24 hours away, but which athletes are podium contenders? From the established stars, Olympic medallists, multiple world champions and multiple series title winners to the new faces on the scene, here those most likely to be walking away with a medal this year.
It’s hard to look past Andrea Hewitt to start, considering the last time she missed an ITU podium was six months ago in London. She’s collected wins in Beijing, Yokohama and Auckland, and bronze medals in Lausanne and to start this year, Mooloolaba.
The other major contenders for the ITU World title will be 2011 ITU World Champion Helen Jenkins, who visited four series podiums last year, including winning London, to clinch her second world title. While Paula Findlay might have lost the second half of her 2011 season to bad luck and injury, remember that in the 12 months she was fit and firing. From the end of 2010 to the start of 2011, Findlay racked up five wins from six races to become the equal most successful woman in history. The woman she shares that title with, Emma Moffatt, also can’t be discounted. And neither can reigning Olympic champion Emma Snowsill – despite not recording a single ITU win in 2011, she’s still one of the all-time greats.
Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz missed out on a chance on the podium in Beijing with a disappointing 44th place finish, but she collected an ITU World Championship in Lausanne and a podium in Sydney in another otherwise consistent year. Her former Team ITU teammate Lisa Norden is also still dangerous, as shown in the second half of 2011. Then there are two rising stars with a killer kick, Emma Jackson and Gwen Jorgensen. Both made series podiums in 2011, Jackson with two, and both ran through the field in the London event last year to finish second and fourth respectively. Another Australian, Ashleigh Gentle, also fits in that category.
Yet another in the Australian camp is Erin Densham, who dominated the field in Mooloolaba, capping off a comeback from heart surgery she had after Beijing 2008. Also on the comeback trail are Swiss athletes Daniela Ryf and Nicola Spirig, both had injury stifled 2011 years, but finished 6th and 2nd respectively in Mooloolaba. Canada’s Kirsten Sweetland is another that is on her way back, if she can overcome her latest injury, on her day she’s a World Cup winner and Junior ITU World Champion, but has a history of bad luck.
The opening ITU World Cup of the season also shone some light on the Netherlands’ Rachel Klamer, who had a solid swim, bike and run leg to claim fifth. Then there is France’s Emmie Charayon, the 2011 European Champion has two WTS podium efforts in her career – both in Madrid. New Zealand’s Kate McIlroy, who claimed her first series podium in Yokohama with bronze, and Sarah Groff, who was the first American woman to make the series podium.
Clearly all eyes are on the trio that has dominated men’s ITU triathlon since 2008: Alistair Brownlee, Javier Gomez and Jonathan Brownlee. Uninspiring news for the rest of the men is that they all became better in 2011. Gomez had one of the best wins of his career in Sydney while Alistair led the swim for the first time, Jonathan actually beat Alistair (in Lausanne) and both Brownlees were part of bike breakaways that stuck.
But the results do show the gap could be closing. Sven Riederer overtook Jonathan in the final finishing straight in Beijing, was behind Alistair by just seven seconds and the next 10 athletes were all within a minute. In London, only Alexander Bryukhankov was within 30 seconds of Alistair, everyone else was more than a minute. They are still the ones to beat, but perhaps the gap is closing.
Speaking of Bryukhankov, 2012 might just be the year he breaks his series bridesmaid tag. The Russian is currently the athlete with the most series medals without a win. He has five - four silver and one bronze. Riederer is also yet to win a series title, and has four podium places. Others who will be looking to get on top of the podium – which has been hard given that Alistair Brownlee has won 11 out of 23 total races – are Frenchman Laurent Vidal and David Hauss. Both finished in the top-10 in 2011, both have series medals, and both were impressive in Mooloolaba where Vidal won and Hauss claimed bronze. Add to that Vincent Luis, and the French should be a formidable force in 2012.
Then there is William Clarke (GBR), the British man most likely to be the third selection for Team GB in London, the always consistent Steffen Justus (GER) and the evergreen multiple Olympic medallists Bevan Docherty (NZL) and Simon Whitfield (CAN).
Others to watch include Portugal’s Joao Silva, who pulled out an incredible performance to win Yokohama in 2011, Australia’s Brendan Sexton who won his first ITU World Cup in Monterrey last year, Spain’s Mario Mola – who Javier Gomez has continually labeled as one to watch.
Dextro Energy Triathlon Sydney gets underway when the women’s elite starts at 7.30am (local time) on Saturday, April 14, followed by the men’s race at 10.25am. Follow every movement live through Triathlon’s live video, timing and text updates, at www.triathlonlive.tv. Follow on Twitter at @triathlonlive