Debate: An Olympic Champion To Beat All Champions

Of the best triathletes in history, who would you pick to take gold?

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With the Olympics quickly approaching and with the Inside Triathlon staffers getting all nerded out about it, we asked each other a simple question: If you could round up all of history’s best short-course triathletes and put them on the starting line of the London Olympics in August in the best shape of their lives and with no injuries—and assuming past non-draft ITU athletes were trained and focused on drafting—who would win and why? Here’s part of our discussion.

Courtney Baird, contributing editor: “I say Alistair Brownlee because he is just too good and has ice in his veins. For the women I say the great Emma Carney, who raced so hard during her career that she says she likely damaged her heart.”

Aaron Hersh, contributing editor:Vanessa Fernandes for the women. In one summer she won six World Cups, the world duathlon championship, a European title and killed [Emma] Snowsill and the field to win the world title. Regarding the men, I agree, Brownlee. Can’t be dropped before the run and can’t be outrun when he’s on form. Pretty cut and dry.”

T.J. Murphy, contributing writer: “You know who could beat the great Simon Lessing when Simon was at his peak? Mark Allen. I also believe if both he and Brownlee were at their peaks at the same time, Mark could have beaten him. Mark was both a tremendous and natural athlete—he was fast in all three disciplines—and his mental toughness was beyond measure. One of his last races before retiring was one of those crazy super sprint races in Australia. Allen beat all the young, fast Australians and everyone else. This was like 1997. He was just wicked good. But Jerry Macneil might be the one to ask. He’s kind of the Rain Man of triathlon. He knows everyone’s splits inside and out. Also weather, course, who beat whom when.”

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Liz Hichens, web producer of “I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I’m not 100 percent confident I have the knowledge to answer a great question like this. But I will take a stab at it. For the men I’d have to go with Simon Whitfield. I think the biggest factor when it comes to the Olympics is how well you can perform under the huge pressure of the Games. Whitfield has proven twice that he can thrive under that pressure. It will be interesting to see how Brownlee handles it as the overwhelming favorite heading into London. The women’s side is tough for me. I have a few I can think of. Given the prerequisite that the athlete is 100 percent healthy I may actually have to go with Paula Findlay. I believe that if she were healthy throughout all of 2011 she could have won every race that she entered, and we would be putting her on the level of Brownlee, etc. OK, that’s all I’ve got. And no, I’m not Canadian.”

Jerry Macneil, triathlon historian and analyst: “Been thinkin’ ‘bout this. I see podium efforts for these girls: Emma Snowsill, Erin Baker and Vanessa Fernandes. The guys are tougher. I think Mark Allen would medal but would need today’s science and technology. You need to find a legit 1:45 guy to win. Alistair Brownlee may be the guy. Too bad the Olympics aren’t non-drafting. That would open the door for Scott Molina and Simon Lessing. People have forgotten how good Molina was in the late ’80s, assuming that his 1:50 then translates to a 1:46 now. I suspect it does. Also, the 2007 version of Greg Bennett was special.”

Now it’s your turn! Tell us in the comments section below who your picks would be.

This story appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

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