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The Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series kicks off on Sunday in Sydney, with the world’s fastest triathletes ready to begin the quest to become the 2010 world champion. While a strong Australian team will look to defend their home turf, injury and illness have opened the door wide for the international contenders.
The most notable injured Aussie is reigning world champion Emma Moffatt, who broke her shoulder while bike training last month. Her shoulder has since healed, but the injury put a serious damper on her swim training.
“We’re yet to make a decision on Emma,” said Michael Flynn, Triathlon Australia’s Director of High Performance. “The final decision rests with Emma and we’ll give her every possible chance.”
If Moffatt’s sore shoulder keeps her out of the lead pack at the first transition, look for Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf and Sweden’s Lisa Norden to take advantage on the bike. They’re two of the strongest cyclists in the field and they’ve worked together in the past to put a gap on the stronger runners. Both women are coming off the best seasons of their careers. Norden finished second to Moffatt in last year’s world rankings, posting an impressive five podium finishes throughout the year, including a win at the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Yokohama. Ryf finished fourth in the standings last year, highlighted by third-place showings in Washington D.C. and Hamburg.
Other women to keep an eye on at the opener include Kiwi Andrea Hewitt, who won the Oceania Championship in Wellington last month, American Sarah Haskins, who finished fourth at last season’s Gold Coast Grand Final, and Brit Helen Jenkins, who looked very strong in the final races of the 2009 World Championship Series.
The other big news in the women’s race is who’s not on the start list. 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medallist Emma Snowsill has been forced to put a hold on the start of the 2010 season due to a virus. The Aussie is recovering well, but she’ll be forced to watch this season’s opening race from the sidelines. Also absent from the series opener will be Japan’s Juri Ide, who has been sidelined with a bout of plantar fasciitis.
A pair of Olympic champions highlight the men’s field in Sydney: Canada’s Simon Whitfield, the 2000 Olympic winner, and Germany’s Jan Frodeno, who took gold at the Beijing Games in 2008. Whitfield will no doubt be looking forward to returning to Sydney, where he won the sport’s first gold medal a decade ago. Frodeno had a solid ending to the 2009 season, winning the World Championship event in Yokohama and finishing 3rd at the Gold Coast Grand Final.
Headlining the Aussie men’s team is Brad Kahlefeldt, who kicked off the 2010 season with a win at the Mooloolaba World Cup less than two weeks ago. After a rough ending to the 2009 season, in which he finished a disappointing 34th at the Gold Coast Grand Final, Kahlefeldt appears to be in top shape entering this season.
Absent from the men’s race will be reigning world champ Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain, who has been forced to postpone the start of his season due to a femoral stress fracture. Javier Gomez, the runner-up in last year’s world standings, is on the start list for Sunday’s race, but remains questionable because of a hip injury. The Spaniard sat out the World Cup opener in Mooloolaba as a precautionary measure.
Other’s to keep an eye on in the men’s race include France’s Laurent Vidal and Kiwis Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmell. Vidal kicked off the 2010 season with a win at the Oceania Championships in Wellington, with Gemmell taking the runner-up position.
The elite course features many of the elements that made the Olympic Games triathlon such a memorable spectacle, with the transition area at the foot of the Sydney Opera House, the 1500-metre swim in Farm Cove and 40-kilometer bike leg and 10-kilometer run taking in Macquarie Street and the Cahill Expressway, overlooking Circular Quay.