But racing for money, as opposed to glory, never made much sense to most people.
On the 18th August 2008, 56 female triathletes will dive off the pontoon into the waters of the Shisanling Reservoir for the start of the 1.5 kilometre swim loop. On exiting the water they will mount their bicycles and cycle 40 kilometres broken into 6 criterium-styled bike loops. This will be finished off with a 10 kilometre run on a course of 4 laps. The first to cross the finish line wins. The men’s winner will be revealed the following day on the same course.
Beijing Triathlon World Cup 2007
Almost a year ago, the elites travelled to race this same venue to do a trial run of the Olympic course and stand the chance of winning a World Cup title, with some athletes seeking to secure a spot on their country’s Olympic team. The tough Portuguese triathlete, Vanessa Fernandes, daughter of a former professional cyclist who won the Volta a Portugal, built a 9-second lead over the Australian, Emma Snowsill, on the tough bike course. Fernandes laid down an impressive 34:16 run to take gold. Snowsill took silver and the American, Laura Bennett, took bronze.
After his recent surprise upset two weeks earlier to the feet of Daniel Unger at the Hamburg Triathlon World Championships, Javier Gomez Noya came to Beijing and decimated the opposition with a 30:41 run, no doubt inspired by his defeat in Germany. The Spaniard was followed by the Australian, Courtney Atkinson into silver, who managed to out-sprint the Kiwi, Bevan Docherty, who was forced to settle for bronze.
So it appears Fernandez and Gomez, the respective female and male number one triathletes in the world, are the favourites for Beijing. But we all know how being the favourite in a race doesn’t bode well in triathlon. The South African, Simon Lessing, racing under British colours in the debut Olympic triathlon in the Sydney 2000 Games can attest to that. Despite being the overwhelming favourite, a war horse in triathlon circles, Lessing lost to another Simon by a minute and came home in 9th position. Simon Whitfield pulled out his sub -31minute running legs, the only sub-31 minutes of the day, to bring in gold for Canada.
The favourite to win the women’s race was the Aussie, Michellie Jones. Despite going on to redeem her silver medal by winning the Hawaii Ironman in 2006, Jones lost to the Swiss athlete, Brigitte McMahon, by two seconds. Many may argue that McMahon’s gold medal time of 2:00:40.52, which still stands as the fastest time for a female in an Olympic triathlon, was tainted by McMahon’s testing positive for EPO doping during a competition in 2005. Despite her maintaining that she did not begin doping until well after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a haze of suspicion still sits uncomfortably on her Sydney victory. Skeptics of her Gold medal victory (and the entire Michellie Jones family) will be pleases to note that McMahon was immediately removed from the Swiss national team and immediately retired.
Sydney 2000 Triathlon Medals:
Simon Whitfield (CAN)
Stephan Vuckovic (GER)
Jan Řehula (CZE)
Brigitte McMahon (SUI)
Michellie Jones (AUS)
Magali Messmer (SUI)
Athens 2004 saw the 2nd ever triathlon of the Games. Australia had to find redemption after their poor performance in Sydney, and the hopes and aspirations of the gold for the nation were set firmly on the shoulders of Loretta Harrop for the women and Peter Robertson for the men. Despite neither athlete taking gold, the Australians had to watch an ex-Australian now-Austrian, Kate Allen, (44th out of the water in the field of 51; 28th off the bike) progressively mow down 27 competitors to pip Harrop just 150 metres from the finish line. The pure joy in Allen’s face crossing the line, matched the awe and bewilderment in the crowd’s eyes. Clutching her silver, Harrop dedicated her medal to her brother, also a triathlete, who died in a training accident in the spring of 2002.
Peter Robertson, the previous year’s winner of the Athens course, had blistering pace and could decimate a field with his 30 minute 10k speed. But he was up against two of New Zealand’s most formidable athletes, Bevan Docherty and Hamish Carter, the current World Champion. In temperatures of 30 degrees and barometers indicating humidity at 65%, it was Carter who crossed the line first forgetting instantaneously of his 26th position in Sydney four years earlier. Docherty brought in the silver with the Swiss athlete, Sven Riederer, pale from his Everest of exertions taking bronze.
Athens 2004 Triathlon Medals:
Hamish Carter (NZL)
Bevan Docherty (NZL)
Sven Riederer (SUI)
Kate Allen (AUT)
Loretta Harrop (AUS)
Susan Williams (USA)
Colin Jenkins, one of Canada’s premier triathletes representing his country in the 2008 Games, shed a bit of light onto the evolving nature of triathlon when he revealed: “It is no secret that I was chosen to be a "team racer", someone who will increase the odds of a podium performance from our "team leader".”
Triathlon Canada, as well as various other countries, have expressed interest in applying team racing tactics in the Olympics in order to ensure the best chances for a medal for their country. So, the domestiques of the team will assist team leaders as much as possible to ensure the team leader does as little as possible on the bike and swim to facilitate the team leader’s pursuit for glory on the run. Whether this will have any effect on the day only time will tell, but most pros will agree that having two minders in the swim and two bikes to draft off on the bike would greatly increase their freshness on the run and their chances for a position on the podium.
In the women’s event, Emma Snowsill aims to be the first triathlete in history to become both World and Olympic champion. Vanessa Fernandes was also the world champion in 2006 where she pipped Fernandes to the line by 45 seconds. Fernandes won’t give up that easily and will certainly take the fight to Snowsill. Fernandes clearly remembered her previous year’s defeat and her vendetta against Snowsill when in 2007 she took the World crown off Snowsill by beating her to the finish line by over a minute.
The favourite for Beijing in the men’s race has to be Spain’s Javier Gomez Noya, otherwise known as Xavier - a splendid name for one of Galicia’s finest athletes - in his home town of Ferrol. In just two years, this 25 year old Spaniard has won 10 World Cups, whereas it took the current record holder, and first ever Olympic champion, Simon Whitfield, 12 years to win 11.
Javier Gomez Noya (Spain) aka Xavier Gómez Noya
Vanessa Fernandes (Portugal)
Not So Dark Horses
Brad Kahlefeldt (Australia)
Emma Snowsill (Australia)
Here are my wild cards for the races based on past experience, big match temperament and the ability to run fast off a tough bike course.
Bevan Docherty (New Zealand)
Simon Whitfield (Canada)
Kate Allen (Austria)
Nadia Cortassa (Italy)
So prepare your popcorn and non-fat mineral water and adjust your television sets because, in only a few days, Beijing will introduce the world’s fastest triathletes racing for country, fame and fortune. Men and women who have dedicated their lives to one day and to one race. On the 18th and 19th August 2008, in close to 2 hours under the Chinese sun and smog, the world will hand out two gold medals to the fastest male and female athletes on the planet. I can’t wait.
Go for gold,
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