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This is the race that all ITU athletes and fans have been waiting for all year—the best triathletes in the world will be peaked and ready to race their best at the ITU’s Dextro Energy World Championship Series race in London this weekend as they chase Olympic spots and points for the overall world championship title.
The men’s and women’s fields look to be two of the best ever assembled in the sport’s history, and there will be many storylines at work this Saturday and Sunday.
For one, most countries are using the race as an Olympic Trials to begin qualifying athletes for the 2012 London Olympics. That is, for many athletes, all the work they have put in over the last three years or longer will boil down to about 2 hours of racing—a time period that could mean the difference between qualifying and not qualifying for the Olympics.
The race will also be crucial in determining who will be the overall male and female world champion this year, as London—which will be contested on the same course that will be used in the Olympics—will serve as the first of the final three races of the ITU’s World Championship Series.
Americans Jarrod Shoemaker, Manny Huerta, Matt Chrabot and Hunter Kemper will be competing against each other for two potential automatic qualifying spots on the 2012 Olympic Team.
The two automatic spots will go to the first two Americans—provided they place in the top nine overall. That’s a big proviso, given no American man has been in the top nine at a World Championship Series event so far this year.
But all four men are capable of placing in the top nine, and the race for a spot on the team could likely come down to Shoemaker, the only American to ever win a World Championship Series race, Chrabot, the highest-ranking man on the ITU circuit in 2010, and Kemper, the former world No. 1 who battled injury last year but who looks to be back on form this year, with a World Cup win and two World Cup podiums so far this year.
On the women’s side, Laura Bennett, Sarah Haskins, Sarah Groff, Gwen Jorgensen and Jillian Petersen will also be racing for two Olympic spots—provided that they also finish in the top nine overall.
So far, Bennett, Haskins and Groff have shown themselves to be the women to beat, with Bennett never placing outside the top eight in any World Championship Series race she has entered this year, with Haskins winning the first World Cup of her career in May, and with Groff becoming the first American woman in history to podium in the World Championship Series by placing third in Kitzbühel in June.
The Overall Title—Men
Other than the hiccup 2009 short-course world champion Alistair Brownlee experienced this year in Sydney, where he slipped on slick asphalt during the run and faded to 29th, the oldest Brownlee brother has proved unbeatable in every ITU race he has entered this year. Brownlee won Kitzbühel by leading almost wire to wire and he became the European champion for the second time in his young career in June despite suffering a puncture on the bike and having to battle back to the pack.
But winning in London will be no easy task for Brownlee, as he will have plenty of competition from his his younger brother Jonathan, who has placed second in every ITU race he has entered this year, and reigning short-course world champion Javier Gomez, who will be rested and ready to defend his win in London last year.
The race will be stacked with other podium threats, as well, including fellow Brits Will Clarke, who was second in Kitzbühel in June, and former short-course world champion Tim Don. They will both be competing for a spot on the British Olympic triathlon team, probably the most difficult team to qualify for in all of triathlon.
Other men to watch include Kitzbühel silver medalist Alexander Brukhankov of Russia, Olympic silver and bronze medalist Bevan Docherty of New Zealand, reigning Olympic champion Jan Frodeno of Germany, multiple World Cup winner Kris Gemmell of New Zealand, Hamburg bronze medalist David Hauss of France, 2010 Kitzbühel winner Stuart Hayes of Great Britain, perennial podium threat Brad Kahlefeldt of Australia, 2009 junior world champion Mario Mola of Spain, multiple podium finisher and Olympic bronze medalist Sven Riederer of Switzerland, 2011 breakout star Brendan Sexton of Australia, rising Portuguese star Joao Silva, and Olympic gold and silver medalist Simon Whitfield of Canada, among others.
The Overall Title—Women
Canada’s Paula Findlay has won every World Championship Series race she has entered this year, and if she does decide to start the race on Saturday—she is contending with a lingering hip injury and her start status is questionable, according to the Edmonton Journal—she will do so with a bull’s-eye squarely on her back.
Although no one has yet proven capable of outkicking the spritely Canadian redhead this year, she will perhaps experience her fiercest competition yet in the form of Australia’s Emmas: 2009 and 2010 world champion Emma Moffatt, reigning Olympic gold medalist Emma Snowsill and reigning under-23 world champion Emma Jackson.
Snowsill and Moffatt had disappointing 2011 seasons until Hamburg in July, when Moffatt, Jackson and Snowsill went 1-2-3 in an historic Emma sweep.
Snowsill is perhaps the biggest wildcard in the race on Saturday—while she has been inconsistent since she won gold in Beijing, she has proven herself to be perhaps the best big-day racer in triathlon today, as she was the surprise winner of the 2010 Hy-Vee World Cup, which earned her $200,000, and the 2010 Grand Final in Budapest, where she annihilated the field with a 33:08 final 10K, two minutes faster than that of the next fastest runner, Findlay. If Snowsill can manage to swim well enough to be in the first chase pack on Saturday, look for her to be a podium threat.
The 2008 short-course world champion, Helen Jenkins, who has won silver at the past two World Championship Series races she has entered, will also be a real threat to Findlay, as she will be keen to race well in front of her home country.
Other women to watch include Americans Sarah Groff, Sarah Haskins and Laura Bennett, all of whom have shots to podium, as well as former world No. 1 Felicity Abram of Australia, recent standout Svenja Bazlen of Germany, reigning European champ Emmie Charayron of France, Olympian Erin Densham of Australia, multiple podium finisher Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand, consistent top-10 finisher Ainhoa Murua of Spain, 2010 sprint world champion Lisa Norden of Sweden, Chilean speedster Barbara Riveros Diaz, 2010 World Championship Series Seoul winner Daniela Ryf of Switzerland, 2010 World Championship Series overall No. 2 Nicola Spirig of Switzerland, 2010 Under-23 silver medalist Kirsten Sweetland of Canada and super runner Ai Ueda of Japan.