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Ironman athletes are triathlon’s version of plow horses- consistent, reliable and scary strong. The athletes that will be battling for the ITU World Championship in London this weekend are thoroughbreds. They are the fastest of the fast. Even Craig Alexander struggled to win on the ITU circuit before moving up in distance and dominating Ironman and 70.3 races.
Written by: Aaron Hersh
The International Triathlon Union used to decide its world champion with a single race, but this year’s championship will be decided by the eight-race World Championship Series. Athletes score points at every one of these events and the person that finishes atop the standings is the world champion. Tomorrow’s Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU WCS London is the fifth race in the series. It will be held in Hyde Park, which is in the heart
of London and the site of the 2012 Olympic Triathlon. Some athletes, like Alistair Brownlee, readily admit that they are using this race to scout the Olympic course but others, like Emma Snowsill, are focused only on this race.
The current top 3 are:
- Jan Frodeno (GER)
- Alexander Brukhankov (RUS)
- Javier Gomez (ESP)
- Emma Moffatt (AUS)
- Mariko Adachi (JPN)
- Barbara Riveros Diaz (CHI)
Last year’s London Triathlon was broadcasted on 35 networks and was viewed by 1.6 million people. 49 networks will show this year’s event across 146 countries. In addition to the men’s and women’s WCS races, elite paratriathletes and more than 3,000 age groupers are racing this weekend in Hyde Park. The women race at 9:06 east coast time on Saturday July 24th. The men face off Sunday July 25th at 12:06. The races can be found on Universal Sports and live online courtesy of the ITU. Nearly all of the world’s premier draft-legal triathletes will be facing off this weekend and you can be sure that the athletes below will be in the mix.
Gomez was considered the fastest Olympic distance triathlete in the world as recently as 15 months ago but now he has to fight to regain that title. Alistair Brownlee has wrestled it away from Gomez but the Spaniard is ready to strike back. He displayed the same run speed that carried him to the 2008 world championship by running away from Jan Frodeno last weekend to take the win at the Hamburg WCS race. Gomez expects Alistair Brownlee to burn out of T2 at an incredible pace, but Gomez plans to stick with Brownlee. He says, “If Alistair starts at 2:40 [through 1km], you have to be there.” Expect fireworks.
Atkinson hasn’t yet found the top step of the podium in 2010 but he has been just a level or two below on many occasions. He has been arguably the most consistent performer of the year but suffered a setback last week in Hamburg. He simply didn’t have the legs to run with the first group. “Just a bad day,” he said. Alistair Brownlee’s return to fitness may also have had something to do with it because he pushed the pace out of T2 and forced the field to decide, go with him or try and catch him. This wasn’t the first time Brownlee played his cards aggressively and Atkinson knows that Brownlee and the others “can’t do the same trick too many times.” Look for the Australian to be in contention for the win all the way to the finishing tape.
Brownlee does not race with patience. The 22 year old pushes the pace at every opportunity and forces the competition to decide if they want to match his suicidal effort level or try and catch him later. It was reported that he defeated Gomez at the Madrid WCS race on June 6th by running the first kilometer at 4:15 mile pace. Every athlete that didn’t race in Madrid wanted to know if this reported kamikaze pace was accurate. Gomez confirmed it. Brownlee did not race last weekend in Hamburg and he thinks that his fresh legs will give him the upper hand this weekend. Expect him to test the field by burning out of T2.
Docherty has changed up his routine in preparation for the WCS format. He and his wife have lived in Boulder, Colorado for 5 years but they recently moved to Santa Cruz, California because Docherty believes it is critical to train at sea level to hit the intensity levels necessary to run at the front of the ITU pack. Docherty has been around the ITU race circuit as long as anyone but he recently entered and won the non-drafting Philadelphia Triathlon. He is fully committed to the ITU circuit through the 2012 Olympics in London but is considering a switch to longer races after London. He says, “there are guys [racing Ironman] who are considered rock stars that I believe I can mix it up with. I have lots of respect for those guys but there isn’t the depth [found on the ITU circuit.]” The Ironman field will have to wait to test out Docherty’s strength because he is completely focused on ITU racing for now and says he is ready to run an open 10k under 29:00.
The Canadian is an elder statesman of the ITU circuit. He won Olympic Gold at triathlon’s first Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney Austrailia and Silver in Beijing just two years ago. Every other athlete clearly reveres Whitfield for his experience as well as his foot-speed. When asked how he has kept himself at the sport’s absolute highest level for a full decade, Whitfield plainly replies, “I’m competitive.” It’s a fun thing to call a job. Hanging out with the boys and riding around London. Too bad it’s in a Speedo.”
Snowsill lost most of the 2009 season to a labrum (cartilage surrounding the hip joint socket) tear but her surgically repaired hip is back to full strength. She views this season as an opportunity to regain the confidence she lost to the hip injury and isn’t putting too much pressure on herself. She won the $200,000 first prize at the 2010 Hyvee/ITU Elite Cup race in Iowa last month despite her supposed modest expectations. She is training full bore and her fitness has obviously returned quickly. Her recovery from the Hamburg ITU WCS race contested last weekend has been slower than usual, however, and she, “only started feeling like [herself] Friday.” If Snowsill hasn’t recovered and falters on Saturday there will be plenty of strong racers to take the race from her, but Snowsill is the defending Olympic champion and when she is on form she is the scariest competitor in the sport.
Snowsill may have the most impressive list of career achievements of anyone in the field but Moffatt has proven herself to be the best over the past year. She is the defending world champion, she won last week’s race in Hamburg and is leading the 2010 World Championship Series rankings. The Beijing Bronze medalist must be considered the favorite in any race she enters.
Haskins doesn’t possess the top end speed to stick with the fastest runners in the sport in a straight-up foot race. She is, however, one of the strongest all-around women in the sport and plans to, “push the swim, push the bike, make everyone tired in the run.” She lives and trains near the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, more than 8,000ft above sea level, which makes it difficult to hit the intensity levels in training that are necessary to drop the pack. She uses a technique studied by Roger Bannister, the world’s first sub-4 minute miler, to train at those ultra-high intensities. Haskins regularly does trainer sessions while breathing from an oxygen-supplemented gas mix that is 60% oxygen, three times the oxygen content of ambient air. Perhaps those sessions have given her the power to break off the front and start the run with a lead.
Aaron Hersh is Senior Editor of Triathlete magazine, the world’s biggest triathlon publication.