Australia’s Olympic hopefuls Emma Jackson and Brendan Sexton will spearhead a spirited group of established and future stars at this weekend’s ITU Triathlon World Championship Series round race in Madrid. Joining Sexton on the start line will be Aaron Royle, Ryan Bailie and Drew Box. Felicity Sheedy-Ryan, Felicity Abram and Natalie Van Coevorden will be starting in the female race alongside Jackson.
Jackson, fresh from her victory in the French Grand Prix sprint race in Dunkirk last weekend and Sexton, disappointed with his race in the ITU round in San Diego, are both determined to show their wares. (The women will race at 1.45am on Sunday morning and the men will race 9.55pm Sunday night.)
Although Madrid is the final race before the end of the Olympic Qualification period on May 31, the Spanish leg was never part of the original competition plans for the remainder of the Australians in contention for London and they have chosen to stick to those plans.
Of the women Olympic gold medallist Emma Snowsill has returned to her German training base in Saarbrucken; Olympic bronze medallist Emma Moffatt, pre-nominated for London last November, is back in training on the Gold Coast; Beijing Olympian and ITU Sydney race winner Erin Densham is training in Spain after a busy race schedule.
Of the men, Courtney Atkinson is training in California after his spirited 13th in San Diego a fortnight ago; veteran Chris McCormack has returned to Australia to prepare for Ironman Cairns on June 3 and Beijing Olympian, Brad Kahlefeldt, already pre-nominated for London, has departed Los Angeles to join the Australian camp in Majorca after a week-long stay in a San Diego Hospital.
Kahlefeldt, who has been monitored by doctors in San Diego and by Triathlon Australia’s medical team, was cleared of tuberculosis, with doctors believing he had pneumonia and he has been given the green light to fly to Europe to begin his Olympic preparation.
The Australian selectors will meet on May 31 to finalise the Australian team for London, before the team is nominated to the Australian Olympic Committee in early June.
And on the eve of the Madrid race, the Australian team has also confirmed final clarification that Australia has qualified three men as well as three women for London, following the decision by Canada’s Sydney 2000 Olympic champion, Simon Whitfield not to contest Madrid.
Australia’s National Head Coach Shaun Stephens, who has been on an Australian team training camp in Majorca, Spain over the past fortnight said today: “It has been a close battle for Australia over the past few months but Courtney Atkinson’s result (13th) in San Diego was enough to put Australia ahead of Portugal and Canada.
“Simon Whitfield’s decision not to compete in Madrid makes it is impossible for Australia to fall outside of the top eight nations.”
For Jackson, Madrid, will be another opportunity for Australia’s rising star to show her wares.
She looked in great shape, despite the wet and windy conditions to win the French Grand Prix event in Dunkirk last weekend, saying it was the first time this season her running “felt back to normal.”
The 20-year-old’s QAS coach Stephen Moss said Jackson is determined to put up a good performance on the tough Madrid course.
“Emma is just going out there wanting to put up a good performance and feels she is in reasonable shape now to do so,” said Moss.
“I just want her to race like she is enjoying it. If she gets the process right I’m sure the result will look after itself.”
Sexton, who had a disappointing result in San Diego admitted Madrid was important for (Olympic) selection but said he was going there “to prove to myself that I’m in as good shape now as I was in February (when he won the ITO Oceania Championship in Devonport).
“Both my training form and mindset has been more than positive all year and this hasn’t changed over the past week and a half,” said Sexton.
“Throughout my career I have always had to be extremely close to my best on race day to be successful and San Diego was a perfect example that being just off my best can be detrimental.
“The only thing that has changed over the past two weeks is ensuring more than ever that I am 100 percent ready to go when I stand on the start line.
“If I can succeed in doing this the effort I’ve put in over the past 18 months I’m sure that will be reflected in my result.”
Meanwhile, Stephens said the choice of competing in Madrid was a decision for each athlete and individual coach to make and was part of their annual plans.
“For the remaining Australian athletes in Olympic contention, Madrid was never part of their original competition schedule and they have chosen to stick to those plans,” said Stephens.
“From discussions with Emma Jackson and Brendan, the choice to race Madrid is as much about proving to themselves that their training is on track and they are ready to have good performances through the remainder of the year,
“Both men’s and women’s races are missing some of the top international athletes, including both series leaders Helen Jenkins (GBR) in the women and Richard Murray (RSA) in the men.
“Madrid is always a tough swim and with the Russian Team lining up in the men, along with Britain’s San Diego race winner Jonathon Brownlee, the pace in the men’s race will be fast from the start.
“Add to this a tough hilly bike course and selection for a number of nations on the line, including the strong German team, I expect the bike to be hard.
“Nevertheless, in the women, New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt is in terrific form and Nicola Spirig (SUI) will ensure the bike pace is on from the beginning.
“The Australians, Jackson, Felicity Abram and Felicity Sheedy-Ryan are all great runners and if they are positioned well entering T2 they will be very competitive.
“Australia will also be exposing some of our up and coming athletes to a world class field to see what they can deliver for the future, including Aaron Royle, Ryan Bailie and Drew Box in the men’s race and Natalie Van Coevorden in the women’s.”
Stephens said Majorca has been a terrific training base since arriving from the USA.
“The majority of Europe is still very cold but Majorca has been ideal weather and the training here is outstanding,” Stephens said.
“A number of Olympic swim teams are currently here and the island is a cycling haven with a number of pro-teams choosing to train here regularly.”
The Australians will relocate to its European training base in Aix Les Bains, France on June 1.