Olympic bronze medallist Emma Moffatt will make a hit and run visit to Geelong this Sunday for what will be the first stop for many athletes with their sights set on this year’s 2012 London Olympic Games.
Moffatt will be joined in the Australian Sprint Distance Championship race by fellow Beijing Olympian and 2007 winner Erin Densham, training partner Ashleigh Gentle, a host of young Australians including former World Championship open water swimmer Danielle de Francesco and a strong international contingent in the 32-strong field.
While Moffatt has the luxury of an early Olympic nomination, announced last December, both Densham and Gentle will be very much in the mix for an Olympic berth to be determined later in the year.
Geelong represents a perfect early season hit out and an ideal event for many athletes to get back into race mode.
But the Australian girls won’t have to look too far to see a strong group of internationals, some already booked for London and others seeking the final stamp on their passport to the biggest show in sport.
Sarah Groth, already named on the US Olympic team for London, will be joined by another London bound athlete, New Zealand’s Beijing Olympian and 2011 ITU World Championship Grand Final winner and former World Under 23 champion Andrea Hewitt.
They will be joined by a huge Dutch contingent including Rachel Klamer, who was second in last Sunday’s Oceania Sprint Championships in Kinloch, New Zealand and athletes from Germany, Italy and South Africa.
Moffatt is certainly no stranger to the popular Geelong Sprint Distance course, a 750 metre swim; 20 kilometre bike and five kilometre run, having won the title twice before.
The two-time world champion from 2009 and 2010 showed all her class to scamper away on the final lap of the run to beat Canada’s Kirsten Sweetland and fellow Australian Emma Jackson in last year’s race.
And while the pressure of selection was eased with her early nomination from Triathlon Australia, it didn’t mean any rest over the Christmas break as she and new coach Craig Walton put their plans together for a tilt at the London podium.
“Even over Christmas, we kept training. There was certainly no letting up. London will come around soon enough,” said Moffatt, who admitted she was pleased to put an indifferent 2011 behind her.
“Geelong is always a great way to start the competitive season, with a little sprint distance race and I’ll only travel down on Saturday, race Sunday and get back to training on Monday.
“My major races will come at the ITU World Cup in Mooloolaba (24 March) and the ITU World Championship Series race in Sydney (14 April).
“Training has been going really well. We have a good group, including Ashleigh Gentle and Liz Blatchford and that always makes training a lot of fun.
“There’s nothing better than a good chat with the girls before we get down to the serious side of training but so far so good.”
Moffatt certainly covers most of the Gold Coast in her week-long training routines, swimming three times a week at the Denis Cotterell Pool of Champions at Pizzey Park, Miami and three times a week at Southport Olympic.
And then in between the squad will run and bike ride around Nerang, Coombabah and Coomera and into the hinterland and south down to Kingscliff.
Other Australian youngsters to watch this Sunday will include 2004 Olympian Maxine Seear, 2011 ITU World Championship team members Tamsyn Moana-Veale and Natalie Van Coevorden while second round winner of the National Junior Series in Canberra last weekend, Ellie Salthouse remains in doubt with injury.
The only athletes missing will be Olympic champion Emma Snowsill, who will return from her overseas training base in South Africa for the Mooloolaba and Sydney races, and Jackson who will also set herself for those Olympic distances races.
The men’s race will see Beijing Olympian Courtney Atkinson, a four-time Australian Sprint Distance Champion spearhead a field that includes 38-year-old Ironman king Chris McCormack who won the Sprint Distance title back in 2001 and fellow Olympic hopefuls Brendan Sexton and Jamie Huggett as well as talented Frenchman Laurent Vidal and the cream of Australian’s youngsters.
Missing will be defending champion Brad Kahlefeldt, pre-nominated for London, who will set his sights on Mooloolaba and Sydney.
Atkinson started his campaign with an impressive win in the Seven Sunshine Coast Enduro Triathlon at Caloundra last Sunday, as he chases Sprint title number five over the Geelong course and ultimately a place in the team for London.
“Training over summer is back to normal, I hate making excuses, so put simply last year was a shocker, but I haven’t lost it, it’s still there and I’ve got a few big months coming up in regards to selection,” Atkinson said after the Caloundra win.
“It’s not just the Australian Team I’m looking at, the reality is, if you want to go to London and do something you’ve got to be ready to race the rest of the world, not just Australia. So it’s baby steps at the moment, I’ve showed that I’m back in form, next step is to do Olympic Distance and show I’ve got form and then it’s heads down for London.”
McCormack was in action last Sunday too, finishing sixth to fellow Australian Aaron Royle in the Oceania Sprint Distance Championship in Kinloch, Lake Taupo, New Zealand.
Royle produced a stunning bike leg to hold off Dutchman Jan van Berkel and fellow Australians Huggett and Peter Kerr and another Dutchman Martin van Barneveld, who will all line up in what will be a strong field of 57 athletes in the men’s field.
Others include leading Australian juniors, Victorians Marcel Walkington and Joel Tobin-White and Queenslanders Drew Box and Jesse Featonby.
AUSTRALIAN SPRINT DISTANCE TRIATHLON CHAMPIONS – HONOUR ROLL
1992 Greg Welch Michellie Jones
1993 Greg Stewart & Tim Bentley Maureen Cummings
1994 Miles Stewart Emma Carney
1995 Troy Fidler Emma Carney
1996 Lach Vollmerhaus Emma Carney
1997 Chris McCormack Joanne King
1998 Cancelled Cancelled
1999 Peter Robertson Jackie Gallagher
2000 Craig Walton Emma Carney
2001 Bryce Quirk Loretta Harrop
2002 Courtney Atkinson Nicole Hackett
2003 Courtney Atkinson Loretta Harrop
2004 Peter Robertson Maxine Seear
2005 Craig Alexander Felicity Abram
2006 Cancelled Cancelled
2007 Craig Walton Erin Densham
2008 Courtney Atkinson Emma Moffatt
2009 Courtney Atkinson Annabel Luxford
2010 Not Conducted Not Conducted
2011 Brad Kahlefeldt Emma Moffatt