Sydney Kicks Off The 2012 ITU World Triathlon Series

There are more than podium spots up for grabs in Sydney this Saturday.

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With Olympic qualification and country spots on the line, the ITU’s World Triathlon Series race in Sydney on Saturday will offer plenty of drama.

The Men

The absence of the sport’s big three—Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee of Great Britain and Javier Gomez of Spain—from Sydney this Saturday opens the race wide open, and any number of men could take the top podium spot.

Likely winners include France’s Laurent Vidal, who is coming off a win at the Mooloolaba World Cup, which featured a field similar to what will be racing in Sydney; Australia’s Brendan Sexton, who recently won the Oceania Championships; and Russian Alexander Brukhankov, who will likely be looking to finally earn gold at a World Triathlon Series event after four silvers and one bronze.

But there are more subtle prizes at stake in Sydney than medals—Olympic qualification and country spots.

For example, stellar performances by Americans Matt Chrabot and Jarrod Shoemaker will significantly increase their chances for Olympic qualification, as the U.S.’s qualification process may come down to discretion, depending on what happens at the World Triathlon Series race in San Diego in May, which is serving as the U.S.’s second and final Olympic trials.

Sexton could also increase his chances for Olympic qualification with a win or podium finish on Saturday, as Triathlon Australia has only named one man to its men’s Olympic team: Brad Kahlefeldt.

Additionally, Triathlon New Zealand has named Sydney an automatic Olympic qualification race and has said that the first Kiwi across the line, provided he comes in the top-eight overall, will punch his ticket to London.

The men fighting for this automatic spot include two-time Olympic medalist Bevan Docherty, who won in Sydney in 2010; Beijing Olympian and multiple World Cup winner Kris Gemmell; and Kiwis Ryan Sissons, Tony Dodds, Martin Van Barneveld, Clark Ellice and James Elvery.

In terms of country spots, under the ITU’s arcane Olympic qualification system eight countries can qualify three men to the Olympics, and the remaining countries can only qualify two, one or zero athletes. Men obtain these country spots essentially by earning points at races, with the last race eligible for points being the World Triathlon Series race in Madrid in late May.

Right now, Great Britain, Germany, France and Spain have virtually secured their three country spots. But six countries—Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Portugal, Russia, and the U.S.—are still battling to be one of the remaining four countries to send the maximum of three athletes to London. (As it stands right now, Russia and the U.S. are the odd countries out with only two country spots.)

Look for action among the men of these countries, especially the Kiwis—Gemmell, Docherty and Ryan Sissons—the Canadians—Whitfield, Kyle Jones and Brent McMahon—Ivan Vasiliev of Russia and the U.S.’s Manny Huerta. All of these men are ranked close to each other, and each country’s third-ranked man is the man who earns the third country spot.

It’s also worth noting that Australia’s third-ranked man, Courtney Atkinson, is not slated to start.

RELATED – Olympic Medal Favorites: The Men

The Women

While the men’s Sydney race is missing the “big three,” the women’s field on Saturday is about as deep as it can get.

The field includes Beijing Grand Final winner Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand, two-time world champion Emma Moffatt of Australia, reigning world champion Helen Jenkins of Great Britain, 2011 sprint world championships runner up Emma Jackson of Australia, 2011 sprint world champion Barbara Riveros Diaz of Chile, 2011 Hy-Vee Triathlon winner Lisa Norden of Sweden, multiple World Triathlon Series podium finisher Nicola Spirig of Switzerland, 2011 World Triathlon Series overall bronze medalist Sarah Groff of the U.S., London Olympic test event silver medalist Gwen Jorgensen of the U.S., four-time world championship podium finisher Laura Bennett of the U.S., and many other top women.

The only notable athlete who isn’t on the start list is Canada’s Paula Findlay, who pulled out recently due to a hip injury that has plagued her since mid-season last year.

Like with the men’s race, there are prizes other than podium spots up for grabs for the women, including individual Olympic spots for Australia’s women’s team.

Australia is one of the deepest countries in the world in terms of its women triathletes, and with two-time world champion Emma Moffatt being the only woman who has be pre-selected for London, there are five women who have a legitimate shot at filling the remaining two spots.

These women are reigning Olympic champion Emma Snowsill; Emma Jackson, who was the top-ranked Australian woman last year; Beijing Olympian Erin Densham, who annihilated the field at the Mooloolaba World Cup two weeks ago; 2011 Edmonton World Cup winner Ashleigh Gentle; and former world No. 1 Felicity Abram. They are all slated to race on Saturday.

Snowsill remarked to Australia’s newspaper the Herald Sun recently that she has been told she has to win Sydney to qualify for London. While Snowsill’s results have been spotty of late, she’s entirely capable of pulling this off—and she’s entirely capable of pulling off gold in London in August if she gets a start.

Like the Kiwi men, the Kiwi women will be competing for an automatic individual Olympic spot in Sydney, according to the ITU. While Hewitt has already qualified, top New Zealand athletes Kate McIlroy, Debbie Tanner and Nicky Samuels are all competing for the remaining two spots.

RELATED – Olympic Medal Favorites: The Women

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