It was not the day Australia’s elite women triathletes would have hoped for at the 2016 Rio Test Event at the iconic Copacabana Beach over night but they will live to fight another day as they chase their Olympic dreams.
On a day when Australia’s most experienced triathletes struggled it was the youngest member of the team that stood up and produced another class performance – pushing herself to the limit.
Gillian Backhouse, the U23 World Championship silver medalist from Edmonton last year, put together another monster swim-bike combination and was the first to head out onto the 10km run.
Although not yet capable of maintaining the pace alongside the worlds best she dug deeper than she’s ever dug in her career and was the best of the Australian women finishing in 13th place “three spots away from an automatic qualifier.
“So close but so far, I’m absolutely stoked I wasn’t expecting to get top ten,” said Backhouse, who is coached at the QAS by 2012 Olympic coach Stephen Moss.
“The swim was brutal, I was expecting it to be a lot more spread out, it was a moderately big group out of the water, and so I was happy I made the pack.
“I was hoping it would split up a bit more on the ride but it didn’t, the hill still hurt a lot of people for the run,” said Backhouse who will now focus on the WTS round in Stockholm in three weeks time.
Gold Coaster Ashleigh Gentle, who made a break on the bell lap of the bike in an attempt to reduce the 1 minute 20 second lead heading onto the run was the next best of the Australian’s running through for 19th.
Behind Gentle came Brisbane’s London Olympian and Backhouse’s training partner Emma Jackson (35th) and right behind her 2013 ITU Under 23 world champion Charlotte McShane (36th).
A positive start to the day as Backhouse and Moffatt were well placed in the lead group after the 1.5km one-lap swim.
On the early stages of the bike Backhouse was nicely positioned in the front group, while former world champion and dual Olympian Moffatt was finding the pace too much and dropped from the 30-strong lead group on lap three. Flora Duffy (BER) was doing a lot of work at the front of this group, keeping the pace high.
The tough bike course was technical, hilly and in parts narrow putting all the women’s bike handling skills to the test and legs under pressure.
The first casualty for Australia was London Olympic bronze medallist Erin Densham, who was over a minute down after the swim and withdrew after the first lap of the bike, later admitting she wasn’t 100 percent, feeling flat and lethargic.
The chase group now contained four of the Australian girls, Gentle, McShane, Jackson and Moffatt. Gentle and McShane were contributing at the front of this group in a desperate bid to close the gap to the leaders but were losing time each lap.
On lap four Australia suffered another blow as Moffatt withdrew after experiencing technical issues on the bike.
They all know that it’s going to be a tough road ahead, but will now set their sights to the ITU World the ITU World Championships in Chicago in September.
The day belonged to the USA’s unstoppable Gwen Jorgensen, breaking away on the final lap of the run to lodge her 12th consecutive victory but more importantly stamp her Olympic selection for Rio next year.
The British girls made it tough for Jorgensen all day and in one of the closest finishes Non Stanford claimed the silver and Vicky Holland the bronze.
Triathlon Australia’s National Performance Director Bernard Savage was philosophical about today’s results, saying: “While it is a little disappointing we can take a lot away from our learning’s here, it was a Test Event and that’s how we need to look at it.
“We’ve learnt some valuable lessons about this course and will work on some changes and specific things we need to address with the athletes.
“Gillian was excellent again today and raced really well, she prepared well and her confidence is soaring.”
RIO TEST EVENT TOP TEN
1 Gwen Jorgensen USA 01:58:46
2 Non Stanford GBR 00:19
3 Vicky Holland GBR 00:41
4 Sarah True USA 01:00
5 Barbara Riveros CHI 01:22
6 Katie Zaferes USA 01:40
7 Anne Haug GER 02:11
8 Annamaria Mazzetti ITA 02:14
9 Rachel Klamer NED 02:15
10 Jodie Stimpson GBR 02:18