By Erin Greene
In the men’s triathlon competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games, there appears to be a few heavy favorites in the men’s race, with the pair of British phenoms Alistair Brownlee and Jonathan Brownlee headlining the show in their own country. However, if there is anything the Olympics has proven in the sport of triathlon, it’s to expect the unexpected.
“If you run this Olympic race ten times, one of the Brownlee brothers will win nine out of ten times,” four-time Olympic triathlete Simon Whitfield, who is the sport’s first male Olympic gold medallist, told The Vancouver Sun recently. “But they won’t win it that 10th time, and you try to be that person to be there to capitalise on it that 10th time.”
The Brownlee brothers are obvious contenders for the podium, as they each own a multitude of of ITU World Triathlon Series titles. Alistair’s form was briefly questioned when he was absent from much of the 2012 season due to injury. However, his showing in Kitzbuehel laid to rest any doubts with a dominant first-place performance.
While recovering, his brother took over the family business of winning, capturing the Madrid and San Diego titles. Despite their track record, if history plays a part in the race at Hyde Park, we may see surprise strong runners overtake the Olympic podium.
Similar to the women’s race, while gold may be decided on the run, it could also be lost in the swim. The day starts in The Serpentine, where the athletes will dive in from a pontoon for a 1.5km loop. With many of the medal favorites being strong swimmers, including the Brownlees, Javier Gomez (ESP), and Ivan Vasiliev (RUS), expect the swim to be quick and merciless. If the 2011 London race is any indicator, these men should exit the water in a top position.
“British weather can be British weather,” said Alistair Brownlee. “Wetsuit, or no wetsuit, it doesn’t really matter to us. Either way we are all great swimmers. It shouldn’t change the outcome too much. Out on the bike there was a problem. There was a bit of a dodgy corner. To me that’s just racing. Well, let’s hope I don’t fall off now. That’s just how it goes. You race on the course you’re given, and you get on with it. You don’t comlain about it. We know the corner is dodgy, we knew before the race yesterday the corner is dodgy. Any course corner that gets wet in a city with a white line on it could be slippy. That’s a given.”
Richard Varga (SVK), who qualified for London in a surprise last-ditch effort in May, will also be a name to watch in the swim. The powerful swimmer, who suffered from a stress fracture earlier this year, throws a new twist in the race. Not only could he speed up the swim even more, but he has also been training with the Brownlees leading up to London.
Men’s Competition Quick Facts
ITU World Champions
Alistair Brownlee (2011 & 2009), Javier Gomez (ESP) (2008 & 2010), Bevan Docherty (NZL) (2004)
Previous Olympic medallists
Simon Whitfield (CAN) – Gold, Sydney 2000, Silver, Beijing 2008
Jan Frodeno (GER) – Gold, Beijing 2008
Bevan Docherty (NZL) – Silver, Athens 2004, Bronze, Beijing 2008
Sven Riederer (SUI) – Bronze, Athens 2004
Simon Whitfield (CAN), Hunter Kemper (USA)
NOCs competing in first Olympics
Korea, Min Ho Heo, Monaco, Herve Banti
Simon Whitfield (CAN) – 37 years, 2 months and 23 days
Davide Uccellari (ITA) – 20 years, 9 months and 28 days
I guess from the way the races have gone over the past three years you could say quite easily the race is going to go in the guys race with a fast swim and the fact that Alistair and Jonny have been the major pre-cursor to the wire that we are all having to swim faster, and they are the best runners and maybe even the best cyclists, so if you have a bad swim in London, and if you haven’t prepared to have a good swim in London then I think you have made a fatal judgement,” said Kris Gemmell.
After the swim, the men will transition on Serpentine Road to start a seven-lap 43km bike course, which passes in front of Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial. While the course is essentially flat, athletes will be challenged by narrow turns for a technically challenging course. Rain could play an important role, as slick roads led to several crashes around Hyde Park corner near Buckingham Palace in the women’s race. Crashes took out favoured Emma Moffatt, and forced other athletes to drop back on the bike.
Though the course doesn’t provide many opportunities for a breakaway, Alistair and Alexander Bryukhankov (RUS) managed to do just that very early in the race in 2011. The talented swimmers and cyclists will be challenged by strong bikers like Kris Gemmell (NZL), Maik Petzold (GER), and Tyler Butterfield (BER). The younger Brownlee, Jonathan, who has proven to shine in all three disciplines, will also be a factor on the bike.
“It’s a really fast course, for sure. It’s great for the spectators,” Petzold said. “It’s maybe not the best kind of race profile for the kind of athlete I am. I prefer more the hilly courses, but at the end it doesn’t matter. I just have to give my best. For sure I have to run faster than I’ve ever run before. That’s probably the way most athletes think about this course, and we’ll see what’s possible.”
Similar to the bike, the 10km run course is mainly flat, turning around the Serpentine four times to give the crowd a nearly-constant vision of the athletes. If the Brownlees get off the bike first, their competition will have a tough time chasing them down.
In London last year, Alistair headed out onto the run with Bryukhankov, but quickly dropped the Russian for a lead so great, not even Alistair could believe it. He and his brother consistently crush the field with runs under 30 minutes on international courses.
However, as in past Olympic Games, all bets are off when it comes to the run. Beijing favourite Gomez will surely be looking to avenge the podium he missed in 2008. While his compatriot Mario Mola is an Olympic rookie, he is one of the fastest runners on the circuit.
If Laurent Vidal, Richard Murray and Steffen Justus maintain pace on the bike, the strong runner could also be a major factor heading into the finish, as well as Russians Bryukhankov and Polyanskiy. Likewise, previous Olympic veterans Whitfield and Jan Frodeno each staked their claim in Olympic hardware by storming the finish. Don’t count these two, who both already own Olympic gold.
The men’s triathlon competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games commences at 11:30 local time on Tuesday 7 August. Check your local Olympic broadcaster for broadcast times. While live timing and streaming are not available, tune in to triathlon.org/live and on Twitter for live text updates, via @ITUonline and @triathlonlive.