Australia’s leading ITU triathletes will converge on the Olympic city of Rio de Janeiro this weekend, chasing the first opportunity to qualify for next year’s Games.
Two-time Olympians, Erin Densham, Emma Moffatt and Courtney Atkinson and their London team mate Emma Jackson will headline the 11-strong Australian team over the gruelling Rio course.
The remaining seven “Ryan Bailie, Aaron Royle, Ryan Fisher, Jake Birtwhistle in the men and Charlotte McShane, Gillian Backhouse and Ashleigh Gentle in the women will be chasing places on their first Olympic teams.
The first Australian to either podium or finish in the top 10 in the men’s and women’s races with receive the automatic nomination to the Australian Olympic Committee.
If Densham, Moffatt and Atkinson overcome this wave of youngsters, they have an early opportunity to become triathlon’s first triple Olympians.
A sport that began so spectacularly at the Sydney Opera House in 2000 and has continued to make its mark in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and London (2012).
Australia is steeped in Olympic success with Michellie Jones winning silver in 2000; Loretta Harrop silver in 2004; Emma Snowsill gold and Moffatt bronze in 2008 and Densham bronze in 2012.
Both races are scheduled for Sunday with the Paratriathlon on Saturday (see times below).
Moffatt, unlike many of her team mates who are based in Spain, France and the US, decided to stay on the Gold Coast to prepare for her third Olympic tilt.
“I chose to prepare at home as I find being in a familiar environment extremely valuable. I have great swimming and running squads on the Coast to train with and it also means the people that support me the most are all around me,” said Moffatt, who finished third in her last WTS race in Yokohama.
“I’ve had a great eight-week block of the training since Yokohama and I feel that my fitness is the best it’s been in a few years, so hopefully this transfers on race day!
“I’d love to get an automatic spot for Australia with a podium finish.”
For Ryan Bailie and Aaron Royle this weekend presents an opportunity to gain selection on to the Rio team and then start to think about the Olympic strategy. For Bailie the tough bike course is made for him. For Royle the Olympic distance race will be more to his liking. Both would back themselves to finish in the top ten if all goes well on the day.
One youngster who has put his hand up with an eye-catching WTS debut season is talented Tasmanian Jake Birtwhistle “who is learning that life on the ITU circuit can certainly have its ups and downs.
Training with Australia’s leading males Bailie and Royle under coach Jamie Turner in Wollongong and in Vitoria has provided Birtwhistle with an insight into what it takes to race the best in the world.
After finishing 9th in Yokohama and 11th in London, Birtwhistle prepared for everyone’s favourite race in Hamburg.
But things didn’t go according to plan.
“Two weeks out from Hamburg I missed seven days of training as I had developed a chest infection and needed to rest,” said Birtwhistle.
“I looked on the positive side and figured the forced rest may have helped me freshen up for the race.
“Tuesday morning before the race weekend I was bitten by a bee while doing my first bit of speed work in a week and a half and last before the race.
“My leg doubled in size, or felt like it anyway, and was pretty uncomfortable to move so I had another few days struggling through some unpleasant training sessions. Looking back it was a pretty rough fortnight.”
Birtwhistle struggled from the outset in Hamburg and having never pulled out of a race in his life was determined to finish and he hung in to finish 59th.
Down but by no means out Birtwhistle has arrived in the Olympic city chasing his boyhood dream.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Rio, long before it was a country of consideration for the 2016 Olympics so I am really looking forward to getting to see and experience the place, even if it is just outside my hotel window as I rest up for the race,” said Birtwhistle.
“The work is done… I’ve just been trying to get the feel back and get back to my normal self.
“I was training really well before (my rough patch) and have been able to get in a few more quality sessions since.”
Olympic journeys are never easy with 2014 Commonwealth Games representative Dan Wilson, knows only too well.
Wilson has had a major setback in the lead up to another chance to make his Olympic triathlon dream come true.
A disappointed Wilson has been forced out of this week’s race with an Achilles injury.
“I’m gutted to come down with an injury. It appears to be more bad timing than a really serious injury,” said Wilson.
“I’ve inflamed the sheath around my Achilles tendon. It’s rehabbed pretty well, and I’m back to running as of this week, but having missed the last three weeks of training, I’m not in the shape that a race like Rio requires.”
Wilson will travel to France and Aix Les Bains next week, to get himself back in shape to try and finish the season off well in the WTS races in Edmonton and the Grand Final in Chicago.
Meanwhile in the Paratriathlon Test event, Australia’s four-time World Champion Bill Chaffey will fly the Aussie flag in another stepping stone in the sport that will debut in Rio.
Although not a selection race, Chaffey, who has mastered the P1 wheelchair category, will use the race to his benefit over what will be a tough course
Paratriathlon “Saturday August 1st
9:00 PT4/ PT2 Men & Women
12:15 PT1 Men & Women
13:45 PT3 Men & Women / PT5 B1 M & W
13:48:18 PT5 B2/3 Men
13:48:48 PT5 B2/3 Women
Triathlon “Sunday August 2nd
Elite women - 9:00am Sunday
Elite men “12:15pm Sunday
The ITU Media Team has supplied some useful links to additional data which you can use to suit your individual needs.
Olympic winning margins
Best Test Event finish by country
Best Olympic finish by country
Olympic Stats of athletes on 2015 Test Event Start List
Overall Olympic stats (starts /podiums by country / age of Olympic champions, fastest times)