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ITU World Champions To Be Crowned in Beijing This Weekend

The 2011 ITU elite short-course world champions will be crowned this weekend when the best short-course triathletes in the world race in the Dextro Energy World Championship Series Grand Final in Beijing.

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The 2011 ITU elite short-course world champions will be crowned this weekend when the best short-course triathletes in the world race in the Dextro Energy World Championship Series Grand Final in Beijing.

They will race on the same course that was used in the 2008 Olympics, which Jan Frodeno of Germany and Emma Snowsill of Australia won.

Verzbicas is one of the top American junior triathletes. Photo: Rich Cruse/ USA Triathlon

The under-23, junior, paratriathlon and age-group world champions will also be decided this weekend, which means that track and field wonder boy Lukas Verzbicas will be representing the United States in his attempt to win the junior world title.

The race will likely be Verzbicas’ last international triathlon for some time, as he will be running for the University of Oregon beginning this fall. He became only the fifth high school runner ever to break the 4:00 minute mile barrier in June, when he ran a 3:59.71 at the Jim Ryun High School Dream Mile in New York City.

Verzbicas, who was fourth at the junior world championships last year, has said that he hopes to win the junior world title for his friend and Chicago-based Multisport Madness Triathlon teammate Kevin McDowell, who was the bronze medalist at the junior world championships last year and who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March. McDowell, who will be attending the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs this fall on a triathlon scholarship, would have been one of the favorites to win the junior world title in Beijing if he were competing. He is expected to fully recover from his Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which luckily was caught early.

Women’s Preview

There are five athletes heading into the Grand Final this Sunday who have a realistic shot at making the overall World Championship Series podium: Helen Jenkins of Great Britain, Paula Findlay of Canada, Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz, Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand, and Emma Jackson of Australia.

Findlay dominated early in the season. Photo: Delly Carr/Triathlon.org

The overall world title is given to the most consistent athlete of the year and is decided by adding up athletes’ points from their four best World Championship Series races to the points they earn at the Grand Final, which counts for double.

Currently, the top three ranked women—Jenkins, Riveros and Findlay, in that order—are separated by 276 points. The winner on Sunday will earn 1600 points.

Jenkins, who is coming off of what was perhaps the greatest win of her career—she won the Olympic test event in London in August—only needs to get on the podium for her to win the overall title, even if Riveros or Findlay wins the Grand Final on Sunday.

Findlay was on fire at the beginning of the season, winning the World Championship Series races in Sydney, Madrid and Kitzbühel, Austria, but she suffered a slight hip injury in June that affected her training heading into the Olympic test event in London, where she finished 29th.

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If Jenkins does pull off the world championship on Sunday, it will be the second in her career, as she was the 2008 short-course world champion.

While there are only five women who are in contention for the overall World Championship Series podium on Sunday, there are dozens who have a shot at winning or getting on the podium for the Grand Final itself.

These women include the USA’s Sarah Groff and Laura Bennett, Australia’s Emma Moffatt and Emma Snowsill, Ai Ueda of Japan, Emmie Charayron of France, Germany’s Svenja Bazlen and Anja Dittmer, Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig and Sweden’s Lisa Norden, among many others.

At the 2010 Grand Final in Budapest, Hungary, reigning Olympic gold medalist Snowsill, who had no shot at winning the overall World Championship Series title, annihilated the field with a blistering 33:08 10K, beating her next competitor, Moffatt, by almost two minutes.

If Groff and Bennett race well, they have a chance to finish their seasons in the top-10 in the World Championship Series rankings. Currently, Groff, who secured her spot on the U.S. Olympic team by placing seventh at the Olympic test event in London in August, is ranked sixth. Bennett is ninth. The best ever finish by an American in World Championship Series rankings is sixth, which Sarah Haskins accomplished in 2009. If Bennett finishes in the top nine, it will be her second-straight top-10 finish, as she was ranked 10th last year.

Jillian Petersen will be the only other American competing on Sunday, as Sarah Haskins and Gwen Jorgensen, who qualified for the 2012 London Olympics by finishing second at the London test event in August, will be skipping the race.

Men’s Preview

Chances are good that the names “Brownlee” and “Gomez” will appear on the overall World Championship Series podium this weekend, but the order in which they’ll appear is yet to be determined.

Can anyone top Alistair Brownlee? Photo: Delly Carr/Triathlon.org

Currently, Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain sits 120 points ahead of his younger brother Jonathan and is 227 points ahead of 2010 short-course world champion Javier Gomez of Spain.

The overall world title is given to the most consistent athlete of the year and is decided by adding up athletes’ points from their four best World Championship Series races to the points they earn at the Grand Final, which counts for double.

Alistair, the 2009 short-course world champion and 2010 Grand Final winner in Budapest, Hungary, will go into the Grand Final this weekend as the favorite to win both the race and the overall world title. He has been exceedingly dominant this year, winning the World Championship Series races in Madrid, Kitzbühel, Austria, and London by wide margins and defending his European title in Pontevedra, Spain, despite suffering a puncture. Since the World Championship Series inception in 2009, Alistair has won 50 percent of its races. He has never lost a Grand Final.

Jonathan Brownlee, the 2010 and 2011 sprint world champion, can also come away from this weekend with the overall world title if he wins and Alistair finishes lower than second.

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Gomez can defend his 2010 world title if he wins the Grand Final and both Brownlees are off the podium.

While the overall world championship series podium is likely set among the Brownlees and Gomez, there are many athletes who are in contention for Grand Final podium spots on Saturday.

Athletes to watch include Alexander Brukhankov and Dmitry Polyansky of Russia; David Hauss and Laurent Vidal of France; Brad Kahlefeldt, Courtney Atkinson and Brendan Sexton of Australia; Switzerland’s Sven Riederer; Great Britain’s William Clarke; Joao Silva of Portugal; Germany’s Jan Frodeno and Steffen Justus; New Zealand’s Bevan Docherty; Mario Mola of Spain; and Canada’s Simon Whitfield, among many others.

Americans Matt Chrabot, Jarrod Shoemaker and Mark Fretta will also be competing on Saturday. While the American men have had an overall disappointing 2011 season, both Chrabot and Shoemaker are capable of podiums on Saturday.

In other notable competitors, reigning Ironman world champion Chris McCormack will give Beijing a go after dropping out of the Olympic Test event in London in August with a pulled hamstring.

Americans Hunter Kemper, Manny Huerta and Greg Bennett are not slated to compete.

[sig:CourtneyBaird]