A who’s who of Olympic triathlon were front and centre in Sydney today for the official press conference for Saturday’s opening round of the Dextro Energy ITU Triathlon World Championship Series.
The birthplace of Olympic triathlon in 2000, Sydney is being transformed into a picturesque course in and around Farm Cove, Circular Quay, the Royal Botanical Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.
Australia’s defending Olympic women’s champion from Beijing 2008 Emma Snowsill; Canada’s Sydney 2000 Olympic men’s champion Simon Whitfield; New Zealand’s duel medallist from Athens (silver) and Beijing (bronze) Bevan Docherty and Australia’s bronze medallist from Beijing Emma Moffatt led the who’s who.
They were joined by two members of generation next, represented by Great Britain’s reigning ITU women’s world champion Helen Jenkins and Australian young gun, Oceania champion, Brendan Sexton.
Saturday’s opening round will see the 140 competitors (71 males and 69 females) dive into Sydney Harbour, next to the iconic Opera House with the women starting at 7.36am and the me3n at 10.36am.
And apart from kicking off the eight-event season in style in Sydney, most competitors will have one thing on their minds â€“ London 2012.
Some like Emma Moffatt and Helen Jenkins have earned pre-nomination but others will take the plunge into the famous Harbour knowing it will present an ideal opportunity to seal their places.
It will present the first time the three Emmas – Snowsill, Moffatt and Jackson have lined up in the same race in Australia since the corresponding race last year.
All three are at different stages of their preparations with Moffatt already lodging an early season win at the Australian Sprint Championship in Geelong; Jackson a win in the OTO Oceania Championships in Devonport and Snowsill who will line up for her first race of the season.
Throw in ITU Mooloolaba World Cup winner Erin Densham along with former ITU World junior champions Ashleigh Gentle and Felicity Abram and the race for the remaining two places on the Australian team for London has never been hotter.
Snowsill arrived home from her South African training base for the Mooloolaba World Cup but was laid low by a virus which forced her last minute withdrawal.
But the reigning Olympic champion and three time world champion has bounced back with some encouraging training sessions over the last 10 days but is not getting too far ahead of herself.
â€œI enjoy the adrenalin of these big races and I see each of these races becoming more and more important in the lead up to a really big year,â€ said Snowsill.
â€œAt the moment I am just looking forward to putting my best foot forward to the start of my season on Saturday.â€
Moffatt admits the Olympic selection pressure may be off but it is still a big race.
â€œAugust is certainly the main aim for this year but I still want to have some really good races this year,â€ said Moffatt.
â€œI am approaching Sydney like any other World Series Race. There is still a World Championship up for grabs at the end of the year so all these races are very important.
â€œI have changed coaches to train under Craig Walton, who was my coach in 2009 so that’s the main thing that has changed for me over the last 12 months.â€
Jenkins focused her attentions on Olympic qualification at last year’s London Triathlon and she achieved her goal.
â€œRacing on the home front last year was my main aim for the year and to actually achieve my goal at a home event was amazing and the pressure was on for that event.
â€œIt is going to be nothing compared to 2012 and all of these races this year are the build up for August.â€
The men’s race will see three of the biggest names in triathlon line up places on the Olympic team â€“ Australia’s 38-year-old Chris McCormack who will be looking to make his Olympic debut; Sydney 2000 gold medallist Simon Whitfield at 37 and New Zealand’s duel Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty at 35, chasing a place on his third Olympic team.
And a host of young guns like Sexton, who showed with his win in the OTU Oceania Championship in Devonport (and guaranteeing a spot for Australia) that he means business.
â€œWinning in Devonport probably doesn’t hurt my chances of being selected on the team,â€said Sexton, â€œit’s been a good start to the season.
â€œI’ve kept the approach this year, the same as last year; but I’ve learnt a lot from that experience and have prepared this year to keep on building.
â€œSydney is a priority race for me; being in Australia and being part of the World Series.â€
Whitfield, born in Ontario, but educated in Australia, certainly has a special affinity with Sydney.
â€œWhen I come back to Australia after growing up here, it’s very nostalgic. It will probably be my last Sydney race; I feel honored just to be here with this incredible field,â€ said Whitfield, who has been in New Zealand preparing for his final Olympic tilt.
â€œI’ve spent the last 5 weeks in Wanaka (on the South Island) and had an incredible time. They are great people, it’s a great place and it’s a great place for training.â€
Docherty, despite his Olympic success must be the first New Zealander home on Saturday and finish in the top eight to lock away an early nomination.
â€œSuccess of the past was based on early qualification so it’s hard not having qualified early enough,â€ said Docherty.
â€œI strongly believe that if you qualify early, the real race is in August (the Olympics!); so I’ve openly said to everyone that this isn’t a focus race, because I’m building for August.â€