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photo: JANOS M SCHMIDT
International Medal Threats
Plenty of Flags Could Rise Above the Rest in London
There are three names in ITU triathlon that have dominated the sport in the past two years: Alistair Brownlee, Jonathan Brownlee and Javier Gomez.
One of these men has stood atop the podium at 16 of the 22 World Triathlon Series races where at least one of them has participated — that’s 72 percent.
And no athlete has been more transcendent than Alistair, who has won all but four of the 15 World Triathlon Series races he has started.
“The Brownlee brothers are changing the sport, [and] Javier Gomez,” said four-time Olympian Hunter Kemper, who was ranked No. 1 in the world in 2005.
What makes the Brownlees and Gomez so difficult to beat is they lack weaknesses: they can swim with the best and often lead the field into T1, they ride hard at the front, and they can run a 29:30 10k after hammering the bike.
In a sense, they don’t have to worry about whether the event becomes a runner’s race, as they can beat anyone in the field in an open 10k, or whether it’s won with a breakaway and a hard bike, as they can ride with the best non-draft athletes in the world.
But history has taught us that Olympic triathlon rarely turns out like it should in theory.
If it did, Gomez would already have his gold, as he was considered a shoo-in for the top prize in Beijing but suffered an Achilles tendon injury prior to the event, which caused him to finish fourth.
Similarly, Alistair announced in February that he had recently suffered a tear in his Achilles tendon.
While Alistair is said to be recovering well from the injury, and while he’s demonstrated before that winter injuries do little to hamper his late-season races, the announcement just goes to show that nothing is settled until the top three cross the line in London.
And there are plenty of guys who could upset the Big Three, including double Olympic medalists and crafty veterans Simon Whitfield and Bevan Docherty, reigning Olympic champ Jan Frodeno of Germany, 2004 silver medalist Sven Riederer of Switzerland, upstart Spanish athlete Mario Mola, super cyclist Alexander Bryukhankov of Russia, veteran Kiwi Kris Gemmell, French stars David Hauss and Laurent Vidal, Australian athletes Brad Kahlefeldt and Brendan Sexton, Richard Murray of South Africa, and several others, including the Americans.
“Thirty of the 55 men who line up in London are legitimate medal contenders,” said USA Triathlon High Performance General Manager Andy Schmitz.
Tune in Aug. 7 to find out who transforms the label “contender” into “medalist.”
Given the unpredictability of Olympic triathlon and that the women’s field doesn’t have a dominant athlete, forecasting who’ll go one-two-three in London on the women’s side is akin to cashing in big at a Las Vegas casino.
Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins will be the home favorite, as she won the Olympic test event in August and is the reigning and two-time world champion. Plus she’s started off the year well with a silver at the World Triathlon Series race in Sydney and a win at the WTS event in San Diego.
But there are plenty of women who could give Jenkins a run for her money, including Kiwi Andrea Hewitt, who outsprinted Jenkins to the line at the 2011 Beijing Grand Final, and Australia’s Erin Densham, who beat both Jenkins and Hewitt in her dominant win in Sydney and who secured silver behind Jenkins in San Diego.
Joining Densham in London will be her countrywomen Emma Moffatt, who won bronze in Beijing, and Emma Jackson, the 2010 U23 world champion. While both women have recently raced inconsistently, they should never be counted out.
Canada’s Paula Findlay has also asked that she not be counted out for London despite revealing in April that she has a hip injury that will eventually require surgery. Indeed, the youngster who won six World Triathlon Series races from 2010 to 2011 would be a near-lock for gold if it weren’t for this untimely injury.
Other athletes to consider include Lisa Norden of Sweden, Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig, Great Britain’s Vicky Holland, Ireland’s Aileen Morrison, Barbara Riveros Diaz of Chile, Ai Ueda of Japan, Spain’s Ainhoa Murua, the entire German, Kiwi, French, and American teams, and several others.“ITU races normally involve a degree of uncertainty,” said American medal contender Sarah Groff. “But given how much is at stake, the end result [in London] will be even more unpredictable.”