Olympic Menís Triathlon picks
Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Tue Jul 31 2012
In 2000, a 5-time World Champion Simon was heavily favored and sure enough a Simon won it. But it was not Great Britainís Simon Lessing, who took 9th. It was a mostly unknown Canadian longshot Simon - Simon Whitfield who pulled the shocker. In 2004, the favorites ruled as long time World Cup star Hamish Carter led reigning ITU World Champ and fellow Kiwi Bevan Docherty to a 1-2 finish at the Athens Olympics. In 2008, Jan Frodeno, who had never won an ITU World Cup, snatched gold from Whitfield and Docherty in an inspired final sprint.
So with this alternating pattern established of long shots-favoritesĖlongs shots in the Menís Olympic Triathlon, this year favors the favorites again, right?
Well, maybe. While no one has ever come to the Olympic Triathlon with a better recent resume on paper, there is many a slip twixt lip and cup and certainly the oft rain-swept streets of London and all those sharp corners on the bike course can wreak havoc -- even with the all-conquering Brownlees.
As Matt Chrabot pointed out, much of what will determine this race is invisible to the poor wretches keying off recent results. Who has tapered and peaked well? Who has retreated to some distant training redoubt and pushed his body to previously untapped levels? Who is inspired? Who is lucky? Who will be great on the day?
Tune in August 7 for the answers.
1. Alistair Brownlee, 24, Great Britain
Back in 2008, Alistair Brownlee was just a preview of coming attractions -- a fearless, skinny 20-year-old kid who ran to the lead at the Beijing Olympics until he blew and left the stage to the main players and trotted home 12th. Soon after, the kid who has the unassuming look of a schoolboy Harry Potter has become the Quantum Leap in humankindís triathlon development. He swims, bikes and runs faster than anyone who came before and, except for two periods of injury and very rare bouts of overheating, has dominated the ITU Olympic distance arena. In 2009, he won all 5 of the World Championship Series events then won a stirring duel with Javier Gomez at the Grand Final on the Gold Coast. During the 2010 off season, he sustained a stress fracture of the femur which took him out of action until June. He returned to win Madrid and the European Championship before overheating and collapsing in the stretch at London, making it impossible to win the season points title. Nonetheless, he killed the field once again at the Grand Final in Budapest. In 2011, he overcame a heavy fall at Sydney, won Madrid, Kitzbuhel, the European Championship, smashed the field at London and took the Grand Final in Beijing and, to paraphrase Shakespeareís take on Julius Caesar, doth bestrode the world of triathlon like a Colossus.
An Achilles tear this February invited more questions as his brother Jonathan stood in splendidly and won San Diego and Madrid in his absence. But when Alistair returned he looked better than ever and dominated his brother by 49 seconds and Javier Gomez by 1:05 while he unleashing a race-best 29:51 run to win Kitzbuhel. While he may be older and wiser than 2008, Alistair has not lost his fearless pursuit of record breaking speed and disdain for conservative tactics. Which makes his odds of an Olympic victory far better than even money.
2. Jonathan Brownlee, 22, Great Britain
Two years younger, Jonathan Brownlee is his brotherís loyal, noble sidekick who wins lots of races when Alistair is out of action. Last summer, he missed his brotherís bike breakaway with Alexander Bryukhankov and, thinking quickly, slowed down any chase attempts before dusting everyone but Bryukhankov on the run to take the bronze. In 2011, Jonathan placed second to his brother in the World Championship Series points chase and took third in the Grand Final. If he is not otherwise occupied slowing down the chase packs on the bike, Jonathan should stand on the podium with the silver.
3. Javier Gomez, 29, Spain
4. Richard Murray, 23, Republic of South Africa
South African runner/mountain biker who started triathlon in 2009 is peaking at the right time. After a weak 30th at the Grand Final in Beijing, Murray took 2nd at the Huatulco World Cup, 1st at the ATU African Championship, 2nd to Steffen Justus at the highly competitive Sydney World Triathlon Series event which Murray closed with the race-fastest 30:53 10k, 3rd at the San Diego WTS behind Jonathan Brownlee and Sven Riederer with a 4th-fastest 30:16 run, and 1st at the Olympic warm up World Triathlon Series sprint distance race in Hamburg closing with a wicked-quick 14:05 5k. The only weak outing was a DNF at Kitzbuhel. The man could always run and ride as his 2007 and 2008 ITU Junior Menís Duathlon World titles can attest.
This Russian would have had a place in the old school world of modern pentathlon as he grew up swimming, running, shooting and riding. But in 2002 at the age of 15, he caught the eye of some triathlon coaches and has been on a steady climb to the top ever since. After a 24th at the Beijing Olympics, he had breakthrough races at London where he took 4th in 2010 and split the Brownlees in 2011, taking 2nd to Alistair and ahead of Jonathan. After 2011 London, heís raced consistently at a high level, taking 2nd at the Yokohama WTS, 5th at Sydney WTS, 2nd at Madrid and 4th at Kitzbuhel. Dead solid bet to make top 10 at Olympics. First pack swim, breakaway bike and sub 31-run make him a good podium bet but no threat to the Brownlees on the run.
6. Sven Riederer, 31, Switzerland
Thought this Swiss was a one hit wonder after his bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics? Look no further than Riedererís 2nd place finish at the 2011 ITU Grand Final in Beijing sneaking in between gold medalist Alistair and bronze brother Jonathan. Think the Swiss star is getting slower at age 30? His 29:55 Beijing Grand Final run split was second-best, just six seconds slower than Alistair and leaving him just 7 seconds back at the finish. Do you think that great effort was Riedererís last gasp? He took second to Jonathan Brownlee at San Diego with a 30:03 run, just three seconds slower than Brownleeís 10k and 5 seconds back at the finish.
7. Simon Whitfield, 37, Canada
After an Olympic gold in 2000 and comeback silver at Beijing in 2008, Commonwealth Games gold, a $200,000 Hy-Vee victory and a Life Time Fitness win, whatís left for this 37-year-old father? Is carrying the Canadian Olympic flag in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies honor enough? If you looked at his recent record, youíd think Whitfield better be over dreams of triathlon glory. He was 8th at the 2009 Grand Final in Budapest, 14tth at London in 2010, 23rd at London last year, 13th at the 2011 Grand Final in Beijing, 14th at Yokohama, 18th at Sydney and 11th at San Diego. He can still bring it on the run as his 30:52 split at San Diego almost precisely matches his barrier breaking sub-31 run for Sydney gold 12 years ago. But now, that puts him a minute behind todayís warriors like the Brownlees and Javier Gomez. Except on days of great pressure, like Beijing, where Whitfieldís 30:48 run was second-fastest and almost took gold. No one can rise to the occasion like Whitfield, and he still has magic in his fleet feet.
8. Steffen Justus, 30, Germany
9. Hunter Kemper, 36, USA
What does it take to come back from recurring sacroiliac joint injuries, a sports hernia, a broken collarbone and five operations from a 2011 bike crash that left him with a broken elbow, 13 screws holding his aching body together, and a debilitating infection? And through all that, somehow show up in do-or-die situations with your best game and make four hotly contested Olympic teams in your sport of triathlon, joining just Simon Whitfield and Anja Dittmer as triathlonís surviving trio of 4-time Olympians? Donít ask Hunter Kemper just yet. Because he has vowed to improve on his 17th , 9th and 7th place finishes at Sydney, Athens and Beijing -- and he has just the run to do it. When he had to, Kemper ran 30:27 at San Diego to finish 5th and at that level he remains one of the fastest runners in the modern triathlon.
10. Dmitry Polyanskiy, 25, Russia
This Siberian is coming on strong in 2012 with a 3rd place at Madrid and a 5th place at Kitzbuhel. The 2011 season wasn't bad either as Polyanskiy was 5th at Madrid, 3rd at the European Championship, 4th at the Grand Final in Beijing and 3rd at Yokohama and won the Tongyeong World Cup.
11. David Hauss, 28, France
Hauss is coming on strong and he is arguably the best man on the French Olympic squad.
Hauss hit the big time in 2011 with a 3rd at the Mooloolaba World Cup, took 5th at Sydney, 3rd at Hamburg and 7th at the Olympic-caliber elite field at London. He also scored 7th at the 2011 Grand Final in Beijing. Racing like a Hauss afire in 2012, he was 3rd at Mooloolaba, 4th at Sydney and won the Ishigaki World Cup before cooling off a little with a DNF at Madrid and an 11th place at Kitzbuhel.
12. Mario Mola, 22, Spain
Looking for a late blooming, long shot youngster? Mario Mola, age 22 and rising fast, is your man as the Spaniard took 4th at San Diego and 9th at Madrid. How dangerous is he? Mola pipped no less a competitor than Jonathan Brownlee to win the ITU World Championship junior crown in 2009.
After his breakthrough win at the 2011 Hamburg WTS race last summer, Brad Kahlefeldt could be forgiven if he thought he had the triathlon world by the tail and he could be on his way to a medal in London. Then an 18th at 2011 London and a DNF at the Grand Final in Beijing brought him back to earth. Starting 2012, a 2nd place at the Mooloolaba World Cup seemed to augur great things once again, But immediately thereafter the career roller coaster hit again and he DNFíd at Sydney, finished 26th at San Diego and was hit with a pneumonia-tuberculosis lung scare that required immediate bed rest and consequent loss of fitness. Six weeks later, Kahlefeldt seems back on track with a 6th place at the Hamburg sprint. But is this three-time ITU World Championship medalist ready for a full Olympic distance test already?
14. Courtney Atkinson, 32, Australia
Courtney Atkinsonís best races are in the past Ė but that is not to say his best days arenít in the future. He took 11th at the 2008 Olympics, then went on a 2009 hot streak with wins at the Perth Oceania Cup, Mooloolaba World Cup, Ishigaki World Cup and a 2nd place at the Madrid WCS, capped off by a 5th at the 2009 Grand Final. The 2010 seasonís lone highlight was a photo finish 3rd place at Hy-Vee. In 2011, he had more DNFs than top 10s, but made the Australian team with a 13th at the 2012 San Diego round of the World triathlon Series. Odds are against a sudden revival of his 2009 form.
15. Maik Petzold, 34, Germany
Petzoldís father was one of the first triathletes to emerge from the former East Germany and his dad won his first triathlon in 1984. Maik followed in his fatherís footsteps, and when he was chosen to train at the German Olympic Center in 1998, he was on his way. Petzold showed he rated with the elites of ITU with a 4th place at the 2009 Grand Final on the Gold Coast, a 5th at 2010 Kitzbuhel and a 7th at the 2010 Grand Final in Budapest. But 2011 was more of a struggle to stay in the top 10, as he finished 9th at Sydney and Madrid, 24th at Hamburg, 12th at London and 9th at the Grand Final in Beijing. His 2012 campaign started poorly with a 10th at Mooloolaba and a discouraging 38th at Sydney. But a 6th at the Madrid World Triathlon Series and a 5th at the Olympic warm up WTS sprint at Hamburg show Petzold is peaking well once again.
16. Joao Silva, 23, Portugal
Silva burst into prominence in 2010 with wins at the Monterrey World Cup and the Under 23 European Championship and with his 5th in the ITU World championship rankings earned with a 7th at Madrid, 10th at Hamburg, 7th at Kitzbuhel, and a dazzling 4th at the ITU Grand Final in Budapest. His 2011 season was up and down, highlighted by a 5th at Hamburg, an 8th at the 2011 ITU Sprint World Championship at Lausanne and a breakthrough WTS win at Yokohama. So far in 2012, Silva fell back with a 43rd at the European Cup at Quarteira, a 25th at the Eilat European Championship, and 52nd at the San Diego round of the World Triathlon Series.
17. Laurent Vidal, 28, France
After finishing 36th at the Beijing Olympics, Laurent Vidal of France has kept busy atoning for that disappointing outing. Last year he took 6tth at London to secure a starting spot at the Olympics. He took 5th at the Grand Final at Beijing. He won the 2012 Mooloolaba World Cup, took 3rd at Sydney and 2nd at the Banyoles World Cup and 7th at Kitzbuhel. Vidal, armed with a sub-31 minute 10k run, is ready.
18. Jan Frodeno, 30, Germany
19. Bevan Docherty, 35, New Zealand
Bevan Docherty won gold at the 2004 ITU World Championship, silver at the 2004 Olympics and bronze at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In the summer of 2010, he hit a pothole with four DNFs in five races and had to wait for things to get better. In 2011 he started off with a win at the Edmonton World Cup, took 15th at London, and DNFíd at Yokohama. When will the magic return? Not so far in 2012, as Docherty got a decent 12th at Sydney, a respectable 8th at San Diego before falling to 22nd at Kitzbuhel and 11th at the Hamburg sprint. Still has a puncherís chance at a medal
20. Kris Gemmell, 35, New Zealand
Gemmell rebounded well in 2009 after an off form 39th at the 2008 Olympics with 4th at Tongyeong, and finishing 4th in that incredible mass finish at Hy-Vee, then taking 3rd at London and 2nd at Yokohama. He did even better at the big-money Hy-Vee in 2010, taking 2nd to Tim Don, but other results were forgettable. His 2011 started well with a win at the Oceania Championships in Wellington, but after that his highlight was 7th at Hamburg. In 2012, once again Gemmell started well near home with a 2nd at Devonport and a promising 7th at the important Sydney WTS and an Olympic slot-earning 10th at San Diego. Can Gemmell chase an Olympic medal in London as well as raced there in the World Championship Series triathlon in 2009 -- and as well as he races Des Moines?
By now, you've probably heard the inspiring story of Manuel Huerta, the Cuban born, proud U.S. citizen whose long shot qualification for the 2012 US Olympic Triathlon team came against long odds. So now, after that life affirming 9th place finish to make the team, what? Huertaís run is the real deal. He ran 31:50 to place 2nd at the Pan Am Games in 2011, 30:53 to place top American last year at London, and ran a clutch 30:45 to earn his long-held dream and secure his Olympic slot. If he can stick with the lead swimmers and hang on during the bike, whoís to say Mannyís dream peaked in San Diego?
22. Reinaldo Colucci, 26, Brazil
Colucci is one of the last of the throwbacks who race well at every distance from sprint to Ironman. Mixing it up with the Ironman and 70.3 competitors has not erased this tall Brazilianís speed as he placed 4th at the 2008 Tiszaujvaros World Cup and won at this same venue in 2010. He also posted a 4th at the 2010 Huatulco World Cup and earned a win at the 2011 Guadalajara Pan Am Games. But recent form does not look promising as he placed 46th at the 2012 San Diego WTS and 34th at Kitzbuhel. But a ray of hope reappeared with his 7th at the Hamburg WTS sprint.
Londonís prominent William Hill betting agency takes bets on Olympic events - including triathlon, where you must risk 2 pounds to win 1 on Alistair Brownlee, or you may take a 150-1 flier on Reinaldo Colucci. 8.02.12
As expected, Alistair Brownlee won gold, Javier Gomez took silver and Jonathan Brownlee took bronze at the 2012 Olympic Menís Triathlon in London; USAís Hunter Kemper was 14th Manuel Huerta 50th. 8.07.12
Jonathan Brownlee swam well, rode aggressively on the bike and then stomped on the competition during the run to win the ITU WTS San Diego. Hunter Kemper and Manuel Huerta earned the coveted US Olympic spots. 5.12.12
These things are almost always impossible to predict. Which makes this endeavor an amusing fantasy, not unlike playing the lottery. But honestly speaking, there are only 8 to 10 men in the field of 56 who have the foot speed and leg power to win. 8.18.08