By Brad Culp on 26/05/10 at 7:36 pm
Ten years ago, it would have seemed impossible that Russia could occupy two of the top three spots in the ITU world rankings. Today that scenario is more than just a possibility—it’s reality, as Russians Alexander Brukhankov and Dmitry Polyansky are ranked first and third in the world, respectively. The pair’s superb start to the 2010 season has placed Russia among the world’s most elite triathlon nations. Only perennial powers Germany and Australia also currently have two athletes ranked in the top ten in the world.
While it seems like Russians have all of a sudden appeared on podiums throughout the world, the team’s recent success should come as no surprise. In 2007 Russia won both the men and women’s Team Triathlon World Championships in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary. That same year the then 21-year-old Brukhankov scored the first two podiums of his World Cup career and Polyansky began cracking the top ten at World Cup events. Last season Russia finished the year with four athletes ranked in the top 20 in the world, more than any other nation. This year Brukhankov and Polyansky have made the transition from up-and-comers to international standouts and the rest of the strong Russian squad now looks to follow in their footsteps.
After the first two races of the 2010 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series, Brukhankov has emerged as the one to watch on the Russian squad. He competed in his first Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, finishing 24th overall. Inspired by his first Olympic competition, he had a breakthrough season in 2009, finishing third at the ETU European Championships in Holten and third at the World Championship Series event in Hamburg. After wrapping up the season with a tenth-place showing at the Gold Coast Grand Final, Brukhankov finished last season 11th in the world rankings. Coming off of a solid off-season of training, Brukhankov enters the 2010 season in the best shape of his life, as shown by his runner-up finish in Sydney and fifth-place performance in Seoul. Brukhankov currently leads the world rankings with 1,326 points, putting him only 25 points ahead of Sydney winner Bevan Docherty.
Another 126 points back of Docherty is Polyansky, who finished last season as the top Russian, ranked ninth in the world. The 24-year old originally pursued a career as a professional swimmer, but instead made the jump to triathlon in 2002 and hasn’t looked back since. Capitalizing off of one of the strongest swim legs in the game, Polyansky has notched three European Cup victories, one World Cup win and finished first at the 2009 Asian Championships.
Another Russian youngster making a name for himself this year is 25-year-old Valentin Meshcheryakov, who won the Ishigaki World Cup in April. Meshcheryakov burst onto the international scene in 2004 by winning the Junior world championship and has made a steady progression on the Elite level since then. He is competing in the World Championship Series for the first time this season, after focusing on Continental Cup races in 2009. Meshcheryakov finished 16th in Sydney and is currently ranked 26th in the world.
Also improving quickly is Yulian Malyshev, who ended the 2009 season ranked 15th. Malyshev has four European Cup titles to his credit and has finished in the top 20 in all six Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship events in which he has competed, highlighted by a seventh-place showing in Yokohama last year.
The final Russian male in the top 20 of last season’s world rankings is Ivan Vasiliev, who wrapped up the year ranked number 19 in the world. Vasiliev, whose brother, Denis, also competes on an Elite level, has racked up three World Cup podiums and finished fifth at last year’s World Championship Event in Madrid.
While the Russian women’s squad doesn’t have quite the same firepower as the men, there are few Russian ladies ready to break into the international racing scene. The team’s top-ranked woman from 2009 is 29-year old Irina Abysova, who ended the year ranked 30th. Abysova had the best season of her career in 2009, earning a runner-up finish at the Tiszaujvaros World Cup and finishing ninth in Hamburg.
Besting Abysova earlier this year at the Antalya World Cup was countrywoman Olga Dmitrieva. While Dmitrieva has yet to breakthrough on the World Championship Series level, she has recorded four European Cup podiums since becoming an Elite triathlete in 2002.
Check out triathlon.org next week for a profile of the Swiss team.