Olympic Odyssey: Men’s Preview
Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes eyes
If history repeats the mens Olympic triathlon race will be won by a nice guy. At Sydney in 2000, the then unheralded Canadian athlete Simon Whitfield bounded down Macquarie Street and into the Olympic annals. He opened up a sprint on the Opera House forecourt that left German Stefan Vuckovic powder-coated in silver.
Hamish Carter pulled the same trick on compatriot Bevan Docherty in Athens 2004. The only difference was that Carter made his winning move about one kilometre from the line, leaving himself a little more time than Whitfield to soak it all up. Both Olympic champions are nice guys of the sport.
Javier Gomez (Spain) is a nice guy. He is also the red-hot favourite of the Beijing mens race. This is because Gomez has won everything going in the sport for the last two years, including this years world championships and the test event staged over the Olympic course last year.
The men who finished behind him: 2nd Courtney Atkinson (Australia), 3rd Docherty, 4th Kris Gemmell (New Zealand), 5th Whitfield, 6th Ivan Rana (Spain), 7th William Clarke (Great Britain), 8th Brad Kahlefeldt (Australia), 9th Frederic Belaubre (France), and 10th Jan Frodeno (Germany), are more than formidable threats. All will race on Tuesday August 19 in Beijing.
Belaubre won the 2006 test event with Gomez second. Stephane Poulat (France) took third but failed to make the Beijing team having placed 14th in Athens. In 2005, Hunter Kemper (USA) beat Belaubre, and Frodeno in the Beijing world cup.
As well as Whitfields and Dochertys gold and silver in Sydney and Athens, Olympic medalist Sven Riederer (Switzerland) will be lining up in Beijing. He took the bronze medal in Athens by hanging tough in one of the most courageous performances of the Games.
Amazingly there are ten three-time Olympians in the Beijing field: Tim Don (Great Britain 10th in Sydney, 18th in Athens), Dmitriy Gaag (Kazakhstan 4th in Sydney, 25th in Athens), Reto Hug (Switzerland 8th in Sydney, 40th in Athens), Kemper (17th in Sydney, 9th in Athens), Olivier Marceau (Switzerland 7th in Sydney, 8th in Athens).
Also: Juraci Moreira (Brazil 22nd Sydney, 41st Athens), Filip Ospaly (Czech Republic DNF in Sydney, 29th in Athens), Volodymyr Polikarpenko (Ukraine 15th in Sydney, 30th in Athens), Ivan Rana (Spain 5th in Sydney, 23rd in Athens) and Whitfield (gold in Sydney, 11th in Athens).
There will be nine two-time Olympians in the field. And like the womens competition there are many first-time Olympians lining up in Beijing, 36 to be exact.
These athletes may have no Olympic experience but will bring first-time enthusiasm to the Games.
Some of them are: Laurent Vidal (France), Dmitry Polyansky (Russia), Peter Croes (Belgium), Emilio DAquino (ITA), Ryosuke Yamamoto (JPN), Sander Berk (Netherlands), Marek Jaskolka (Poland) and Shane Reed (New Zealand).
This lack of experience contrasts with world cup veteran Dmitriy Gaag who is the oldest man competing in Beijing at: 37 years, 4 months, 30 days on the day of mens competition. Gaag, though a little long in the tooth, has done it all in his career from world cups to world champs. He also took fourth place at the Sydney Olympics.
Daqing Wang (China) is at the opposite end of the age spectrum to Gaag. He is the youngest athlete in the field at: 18 years, 10 months, 6 days on the day of mens competition. He is also the only Chinese male competitor in the field.
Men who have won world championships in the elite category and are competing in Beijing are: Gomez 2008, Danier Unger (GER) 2007, Don 2006, Docherty 2004, Rana 2002, Marceau 2000, Gaag 1999.
The under23 world champions in the field are: Alistair Brownlee (Great Britain) 2008, Clarke 2006, Jarrod Shoemaker (USA) 2005, Gomez 2003, Kahlefeldt 2002. And junior world champions: Brownlee 2006, Belaubre 2000, Atkinson 1999, Don 1998.
Judging from this list, the number of three-time Olympians and the strength of the first-time Olympians the Beijing Games mens triathlon will be a one of the closest contested events in the sports Olympic history.
Nice guys Whitfield and Carter won the Olympics. But there are a lot of nice guys in the Beijing Olympic field, and one will win next Tuesday.
Former World Number one Chris Hill brings his unique elite athlete perspective in weekly Olympic columns to ITUs website, triathlon.org. He competed on the ITU World Cup circuit, winning three titles and ten medals in total. He was crowned the overall World Cup series champion in 2001. That same year he was silver medalist at the ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Watch for Chris Hills column, Olympic Odyssey every week on triathlon.org.