The men’s ITU circuit has been top-heavy over the past three years with British brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee and Javier Gomez of Spain dominating. That being said, given the anything-can-happen nature of the Olympics, there’s no guarantee that the Brownlees or Gomez will end up on the podium. (Who would have guessed that Jan Frodeno of Germany would win in Beijing in 2008—he had never won a major event before in his life.)
With London being a flat runner’s course, and with Olympic triathlons often turning into tactical affairs, some believe that the 2012 gold medalist will be the fastest sprinter (Jonathan is the reigning world sprint champ). But Alistair proved at the London Olympic test event last year that a breakaway on the bike is possible despite London’s flat course, which gives the sport’s super cyclists an opportunity to steal a podium spot. And it’s unlikely that the Brownlees will let the race unfold via tactics, as they’re known for going balls-to-the-wall from the gun.
Given this, you can bet that the 2012 London Olympic triathlon will be an event to behold. Here are just a few of the men who have a shot at a medal.
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Alistair Brownlee, Great Britain. Age at the Olympics: 24
Even with his recent Achilles injury, two-time and reigning world champion Alistair Brownlee is still the odds-on favorite for gold in London this summer. After all, he’s almost always injured during the winter, and he proved his ability to bounce back from a big winter injury when he won the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Budapest, Hungary, in early September of 2010 despite being out for most of the winter with a stress fracture. (In fact, he won the Madrid leg of the World Triathlon Series in 2010 despite almost no training at all.) But what makes the oldest Brownlee so dangerous is his ferocity—he isn’t afraid of anyone, and he’ll literally kill himself to win. Combine that with his enormous talent, his fearless racing style, his willingness to take risks, and his ability to handle pressure, and you’ve got someone who just might do something no triathlete ever has: win gold as the gold medal favorite.
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Jonathan Brownlee, Great Britain. Age at the Olympics: 22
If it weren’t for his older brother, Alistair, Jonathan Brownlee—the middle Brownlee of three Brownlee brothers—would be the easy pick for the gold medal favorite as we head into London. But even with Alistair’s dominance, some ITU observers are still picking Jonny for gold. After all, he’s more injury-proof than Alistair and has gotten considerably better each year of his young career. Last year was his first year racing entirely out of the under-23 ranks, and he was the silver medalist behind his brother on the World Triathlon Series, the ITU sprint world champion, and the bronze medalist at the Beijing Grand Final. (Watch this Grand Final and you’ll witness a toughness and mettle similar to his brother’s—he went out too hard on the run, died, and was caught by a pack of runners. Instead of giving up, he battled back for bronze.) Just imagine how strong he’ll be in London now that he has another uninterrupted winter of training under his belt.
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Alexander Brukhankov, Russia. Age at the Olympics: 25
Although he can’t run with the fastest of the fast ITU runners, his run splits aren’t anything to be brushed aside—he ran 30:15 on his way to silver at the London leg of the World Triathlon Series. This solid running ability combined with his willingness to take risky breaks on the bike—he, Brownlee and a few other athletes were part of a successful break in London last year—show that Brukhankov is a dangerous medal contender.
Matt Chrabot, United States. Age at the Olympics: 29
Like American Jarrod Shoemaker, Matt Chrabot hasn’t yet made the Olympic team. If he does, he could be this Olympics’ surprise medalist. Why? Because the Olympics is an event with lots of variables—loads of pressure, heightened security, media mobs—and few athletes deal with variables better than Chrabot. While he isn’t the fastest runner out there, his run is solid, and he’s willing to take risks on the bike to make up for his lack of this top-end run speed. And if there’s the added variable of cold rain in London—it poured freezing rain at the Olympic test event last August—Chrabot’s chances for a medal increase.
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Bevan Docherty, New Zealand. Age at the Olympics: 35
Like his good friend Simon Whitfield, Bevan Docherty has two Olympic medals: bronze from Beijing in 2008 and silver from Athens in 2004. But unlike Whitfield, he lacks gold, and he’s been vocal about his intentions to earn it this Olympic cycle. Although his performance on the World Triathlon Series has been spotty of late, he did win the Edmonton World Cup last year, placed second at the brutal Auckland World Cup, and he won the Sydney leg of the World Triathlon Series in 2010 before abandoning the rest of the season due to overtraining. And like Whitfield, Docherty knows how to race and show up big on the big stage. Don’t count him out.
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Jan Frodeno, Germany. Age at the Olympics: 30
We haven’t heard much from Frodeno since he won gold in Beijing in 2008. But Frodeno proved four years ago that his résumé going into the Olympics means nothing, as he came out of nowhere to outsprint Canada’s Simon Whitfield, New Zealand’s Bevan Docherty and Spain’s Javier Gomez for gold. He placed 10th at the Olympic test event in 2007 in Beijing, one year before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His place at the London Olympic test event last year? 11th. Perhaps that’s a sign of things to come. That he’s also a great sprinter bodes well for him, as ITU triathlon has a tendency to come down to the final meters, especially on flat courses like London.
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Javier Gomez, Spain. Age at the Olympics: 29
Although two-time world champion Javier Gomez has proven his ability to compete with—and beat—both Brownlees, he’s heading into the London Olympics a little off the radar. (It helps that the Brownlees will be competing in their home country.) This lack of attention can only prove advantageous for him—as the Olympics is a strange event where anything can happen, especially to athletes with loads of pressure on their backs. Gomez has another advantage over the Brownlees—he knows what it’s like to go into an Olympics as the favorite. In 2008, he was the odds-on favorite for gold, but an Achilles injury and stress fracture derailed his Olympic campaign. You can bet that this experience will help him as he attempts to capture the only prize that has eluded him in his stellar career: Olympic gold.
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David Hauss, France. Age at the Olympics: 28
A consistent podium finisher on the World Triathlon Series and World Cup circuit for the past few years, David Hauss has quietly stamped himself a medal contender for London. He finished the 2011 season ranked sixth in the World Triathlon Series, and he was ninth in 2010. He’s been on the podium at several other big races in his career, as well, including when he won bronze and the 2010 sprint world championships, bronze at the 2010 European Championships and silver at the 2002 and 2003 world championships as a junior.
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Brad Kahlefeldt, Australia. Age at the Olympics: 33
One of the most consistent racers over the past decade, Brad Kahlefeldt might just become the first Australian man to win an Olympic triathlon medal by getting on the podium in London this year. While he’s been on plenty of podiums, including his many podiums on the World Triathlon Series and at World Cup events, some of his best results to date are a win at the Hamburg, Germany, leg of the World Triathlon Series last year (granted, neither Brownlee attended the event), an overall bronze medal on the 2010 World Triathlon Series, bronze medals at the 2007 and 2005 world championships, and a win at the 2002 under-23 world championships.
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Sven Riederer, Switzerland. Age at the Olympics: 31
A bronze medalist on the brutally hilly 2004 Athens Olympics course and a consistent bronze medalist at major races—he won bronze at the 2011 World Triathlon Series races in Kitzbühel, Austria and Sydney and at the Madrid leg of the 2010 series, for example—Sven Riederer outran his reputation as “Mr. Bronze” when he won silver over Jonathan Brownlee at the 2011 Grand Final in Beijing. Riederer is consistent, knows how to suffer, is a great runner, and he shows up for big races. These are all good reasons for why he shouldn’t be counted out for London.
Triathlete Directory: Sven Riederer
Brendan Sexton, Australia. Age at the Olympics: 27
Brendan Sexton announced himself as a podium contender for the Olympics when he finished second at the Mooloolaba World Cup last year, fourth at the Sydney leg of the World Triathlon Series and then won the Monterrey World Cup—three breakthrough performances after years of injury and a horrific bike crash in 2009. Although he faded towards the end of last year, he’s one of the few athletes on the men’s circuit with the top-end run speed needed to compete with the Brownlees and Javier Gomez. Now the issue is getting on the Australian Olympic team—so far the only man who has a guaranteed spot is Brad Kahlefeldt.
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Jarrod Shoemaker, United States. Age at the Olympics: 30
Jarrod Shoemaker hasn’t yet made the Olympic team, but if he does, some believe he’s America’s best shot at a medal for the men. Shoemaker is the only American man who has demonstrated that he has the ability to run 29:30 off the bike (although even this split time may be too slow for a medal in London). Shoemaker is also the only American to have ever won a World Triathlon Series event, which he did in 2009 in Hamburg, Germany. Given his run speed and the likelihood that the flat course in London will come down to the run, Shoemaker could potentially steal a podium spot from one of the big three: Brownlee, Brownlee Junior and Gomez.
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Joao Silva, Portugal. Age at the Olympics: 23
Joao Silva is a young athlete who has a lot of upside and the kind of running speed that could earn him a medal in London. He won the Yokohama, Japan, leg of the World Triathlon Series last year (although the event had an unusually weak field due to unforeseen circumstances related to Japan’s tragic tsunami) and he was the Under-23 European champion in 2010. But his best result to date was probably his fourth at the 2010 Grand Final in Budapest—an event he could have skipped in favor of the under-23 world championships, where he likely would have gone head to head for the win with Jonathan Brownlee. Given his youth and his run speed, he’s a wild card podium contender for London.
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Laurent Vidal, France. Age at the Olympics: 28
Laurent Vidal began 2012 with a bang by winning the Mooloolaba World Cup, which featured one of the deepest fields in the event’s history and one worthy of a World Triathlon Series race. Vidal has also shown extreme consistency over the last few years—he finished the 2011 season ranked seventh overall on the World Triathlon Series, and he was sixth in 2009. That he is one of the best runners in the sport also bodes well for him, given the likelihood that the race in London will come down to the run.
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Simon Whitfield, Canada. Age at the Olympics: 37
There are many people who think Whitfield is too old to contend for a medal in London. But few believed he could win a medal in Sydney in 2000, when he became triathlon’s first male gold medalist, and few were predicting Whitfield would medal in Beijing in 2008, when he won silver. Whitfield is a racer, he knows how to deliver on the big stage, and if Whitfield is at all near the leaders near the end of the race, don’t be surprised if he steals a podium spot. “I wouldn’t count [Simon] out at all for London,” said Joel Filliol during a 2011 interview for Inside Triathlon magazine. Filliol would know—he spent several years coaching Whitfield and was instrumental in his silver medal.
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