Ah, the glitz and glamor of the ITU World Cup circuit, where the not-quite fastest triathletes in the world compete in some of the most captivating destinations on earth. Then there’s Tongyeong, South Korea, a tiny fishing village that leaves visitors smelling like fish for months after they depart.
You know how your nose becomes numb to certain smells after a while? Like farmers no longer recognize the smell of fertilizer. Or my parents, who live next to a chocolate factory, can no longer smell chocolate. That doesn’t happen with dead fish. So it’s particularly impressive that Matt McElroy, fresh off last week’s victory in Tongyeong—and still reeking of fish guts—made it back-to-back wins at Saturday’s Miyazaki World Cup in southern Japan.
ITU Miyazaki World Cup
For those of you who only follow the ITU closely as we approach the Olympics, you should get to know McElroy, who represents the U.S. men’s best chance for a medal since that time Greg Bennett briefly became American. That’s not to say that McElroy is a slam dunk to medal next summer in Tokyo, but he’s at least on the right trajectory.
McElroy is a 27-year-old from Orange County who grew up surfing every day, but don’t hate him on account of that. Or just hate him a little on account of that. He’s been an elite runner since youth, taking second at the Footlocker Cross Country Championship in 2009 (behind fellow Olympic triathlon hopeful Lukas Verzbicas). What has been holding him back at the elite ITU level was the swim, which appears to be coming together at just the right time. While there’s a big difference between making the first pack in a World Triathlon Series (WTS) race and a World Cup, McElroy is a threat to win any time he’s out of the water near the leaders.
And he excels at multiple distances. At the sprint-distance race in Tongyeong, he closed with a 14:41 5K to win in a sprint. Racing Olympic distance in Miyazaki, he ran away with it after a 30:05 10K—40 seconds better than anyone else in the field. Also, for those with a short term memory for the ITU, he became the first American male to medal at a WTS-level event in a decade when he took Javier Gomez’s scalp in a sprint to the line at WTS Leeds in June.
It’s still nine months until Tokyo, but right now I wouldn’t give him better than a five percent chance to win an individual medal. But that’s better chances than the U.S. men had heading into Rio, and McElroy’s top-end speed will make him a valuable relay piece.
The women’s race in Miyazaki was won by Ai Ueda, who is the only professional triathlete in the world considerably shorter than me, and she also never seems to age. While she may not be a household name outside of Japan, she’s Japan’s most decorated triathlete of all-time and will be a crowd favorite in Tokyo next summer. It’s Ueda’s third World Cup win of the season after also winning in South Africa and Kazakhstan. Not bad for the 36-year-old competing in her 16th season at the elite ITU level.
Ironman 70.3 Waco
From Kona to Cozumel and Lima to Luxembourg, the Ironman series of events welcomes athletes to some of the most enchanting vacation destinations in the world. It also welcomes athletes to Waco, Texas. If you’ve ever watched HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” then you’re aware that you probably live in a place with a higher median home price.
This weekend, Waco courted non-Chip-and-Jojo-Gaines-related fame when pro triathlete Kearci Smith was disqualified for grabbing the family dog and crossing the finish line with her. In a Facebook post, Smith accepted responsibility and wrote, “Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t carry your dogs, babies or small children or your grandma across the line with you.”
She also added that since returning from “Nepal/Base Camp” she’s “so at peace right now with everything.” I have no idea what she was doing in Nepal, but look for a future article about Smith written by me and tentatively titled “The World’s Most Interesting Triathlete.”
I get that finish lines are not a place for animals, but this year we’ve had professional triathletes disqualified for both holding dogs and hands. Go triathlon.
Jacalyn Hering did not carry a dog across the finish line while finishing first 4:18:29. She pocketed $5,000 for her effort and malevolence toward dogs.
Sam Appleton went wire-to-wire for the win in the men’s race. That’s his second 70.3 win of the season, which is impressive for a guy who smashed his collarbone to bits in April. Andrew Starykowicz finished second and has yet to call me with a list of excuses for not being able to catch Appo. I’m going to enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.
XTERRA World Champs
OK, so I buried the lead here. Hawaii’s other triathlon world championship took place Sunday, and Flora Duffy reminded us that she’s probably the best multisport athlete in the world. The Bermudan put on an absolute clinic in her record fifth Maui win, finishing 14 minutes ahead of runner up Lesley Paterson, a three-time winner and the defending champion.
South Africa’s Bradley Weiss won his second XTERRA world title, taking a conservative approach on the rain-slicked trails to avoid the crashes that took a toll on the likes of Ruben Razafa and Sam Osborne. Weiss steered clear of the carnage, for the most part, and finished just more than a minute ahead of France’s Arthur Serrieres.