In 2000, Brigitte McMahon of Switzerland upset heavy favorite Michellie Jones of Australia. In 2004, Australian-born Austrian citizen Kate Allen shocked Australian favorite Loretta Harrop with a come-from-behind pass with 100 meters to go. Only in 2008 did the chalk come through as Emma Snowsill and Vanessa Fernandes went 1-2 as expected in Beijing.
This year, Emma Snowsill did not make the Australian team, Fernandes is taking an extended time off and 2008 bronze medalist Emma Moffatt is just coming out of a slump after dominating the ITU circuit in 2009 and 2010.
While there are well deserved favorites such a Helen Jenkins, Nicola Spirig, Erin Densham, Emma Moffatt and Andrea Hewitt, the 2012 women’s Olympic Triathlon seems to be as wide open as ever.
To those fans whose heroes are ignored here, take solace that I will be absolutely thrilled to eat crow when the race is done and a new face takes the gold and my crystal ball is shattered. This is simply an attempt to lay out the facts as fuel for debate on the eve of the fourth Olympic women’s triathlon. At this point, the usual last minute illness, injury, and secret heroic workouts are yet to be revealed. No one knows how the dynamics of the race will play out and who will find the luck.
1. Helen Jenkins, 28, Great Britain
Why she should win: Great all around game including first pack swim, great bike handling and top 5 run; Long-time excellence including 2008 ITU World Championship and the 2011 ITU World Championship Series title which she earned with 3rd at Sydney, 2nd at Madrid, 2nd at Kitzbuhel, 1st at London and 2nd at the WTS Grand Final in Beijing; loves the London course – finished 3rd in 2009, 3rd in 2010 and had a dominating win in 2011; 2012 form is also great – took 2nd at Sydney and 1st at high pressure San Diego WTS rounds against desperate, high level competition; Her record in big pressure races is exemplary – 1st at 2008 Vancouver ITU Worlds, 3rd at 2009 Gold Coast ITU Grand Final, 2nd at Beijing 2011 Grand Final. On her off days, 21st at 2008 Beijing Olympics, 7th at 2010 Grand Final in Budapest. Has intense love and support from all of Great Britain who carry high hopes for a British sweep of the triathlon golds.
2. Nicola Spirig, 30, Switzerland
Reasons she should win: Current hot streak – Won last two full distance WTS races - in May at Madrid (with 2nd fastest 35:01 run) and June at Kitzbuhel (with 5th fastest 34:57 run), and won Ironman 70.3 July tune-up by a mile; likes London course: Great in 2009 (1st) and 2010 (2nd) but off form 8th in 2011; Weakness: Averages 20th out of swim, 20-30 seconds back. Strength: Can punish the field and win WTS races on solo bike breaks; Holds her own with a top 5 run. Big day performances: 6th at 2008 Olympics, 3rd at 2010 WCs Grand Final, NSH 20th at Beijing Grand Final last year.
3. Erin Densham, 27, Australia
Many were ready to write Erin Densham off after the 2008 Olympics when she was hit by a string of DNFs in 2009 and 2010 while fighting for career survival through glandular fever, super ventricular tachycardia which required an operation, hamstring woes and, just as she was returning to form in 2011, a stress reaction in her tibia.
Then, it seems that her prayers were answered at just the right time. Densham started 2012 with a win at the Mooloolaba World Cup, a rousing win at the Sydney round of the WTS when all other Aussie women were falling apart, and a strong 2nd at San Diego WTS to Helen Jenkins. After a much needed rest, she resumed her dominant 2012 form with a win and by far the fastest run at the Hamburg WTS sprint race.
4. Andrea Hewitt, 30, New Zealand
Hewitt started her road to ITU stardom with a win at the 2005 ITU Under-23 World championship and took bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. She won her first World Cup in 2007 at Kitzbuhel and in 2008 placed 8th at the Beijing Olympic triathlon. In 2009, she had three ITU podium finishes and took 3rd overall in the WCS series. Hewitt placed 2nd to Helen Jenkins in the 2011 World Championship Series season long points chase and won the Grand Final at Beijing. Hewitt seems to be back on track in 2012 with third place finishes at the Mooloolaba World Cup, Sydney WTS and the recent Kitzbuhel WTS round.
5. Emma Moffatt, 27, Australia
In the two years since her bronze at Beijing, Little Miss Moffy performed like Emma Snowsill's late blooming twin sister. Moffatt won the 2009 Washington DC, Hy-Vee, Kitzbuhel and Hamburg World Cups, the 2009 ITU Grand Final and the season long WCS points title; in 2010, she was 3rd at Sydney and Seoul, 2nd at Hy-Vee and Hamburg, slipped to 9th at London and 5th at Kitzbuhel, and rebounded with 2nd at the Grand Final in Budapest. Things started to slide in 2011 as Moffatt returned to the human race with 13th place finishes at Sydney and Madrid. She then rebounded with a 4th at Kitzbuhel and led a Three Emmas sweep with a win at Hamburg, then faded to 15th at London and 11th at the Grand Final in Beijing.
She remained on a roller coaster with a 2nd at Yokohama and a win at Geelong, followed by an uninspired 9th at Mooloolaba, 13th at Sydney, and a 9th at San Diego.
She seems to have righted the ship with a 2nd at the Hamburg sprint. So which Moffy will show up at London?
6. Lisa Norden, 27, Sweden
This Swedish star arrived on the ITU scene with an under-23 World Championship in 2007. After an 18th at the Beijing Olympics, she broke through with a World Cup win in 2008 at Lorient. In 2009 Norden really got going with a 2nd at Madrid, a 2nd at Hamburg, a 2nd at London, a win at Yokohama and a 2nd to Moffatt at the ITU Grand Final on the Gold Coast. In 2010, she won Hamburg, took 2nd at Kitzbuhel, and was 4th at Budapest. Things slowed in 2011, as she fought nagging injuries but still managed a $151,500 payday winning in the newly inaugurated non-drafting format at Hy-Vee in September. But could she return to her old form in time for the 2012 Olympic Games? That question was answered at the last moment as Norden took 2nd at the 2012 Kitzbuhel round of the World Triathlon Series.
7. Laura Bennett, 37, USA
Bennett has four medals at ITU World Championships [2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007], a $200,000 Hy-Vee victory in 2007, and a 4th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics accomplished while gingerly nursing leg ailments. Anyone thinking her time was over needs to go look at the video of her clutch third place finish at the 2012 San Diego round of the World Triathlon Series which earned her the third and final slot on the 2012 US Olympic Triathlon team. Bennett has a first pack swim., great bike skills, and can run with the best.
8. Sarah Groff, 30, USA
Groffy earned her long sought after Olympic slot with a clutch 7th-place finish at the 2011 London World Triathlon Series event and Olympic course preview. That came shortly after her first WTS podium earned with a 3rd place finish at 2011 Kitzbuhel. After a few decent races, Groff showed she is peaking well with a fast run and a third place finish at the Hamburg sprint WTS against a field loaded with Olympians two weeks before the Olympics.
9. Gwen Jorgensen, 26, USA
This University of Wisconsin cross-country and track star arrived on the ITU triathlon scene with great promise in 2010 when she took 3rd at a San Francisco Pan Am Cup and 2nd at the Puerto Vallarta Pan Am Champs . But after a modest start to 2011, she blazed like a comet to secure the first USA women’s Olympic slot with a race-best 33:43 run that brought her a 2nd place finish to Helen Jenkins at the prestigious London round of the World Championship Series. Since then she won a World Cup in Hungary, took 4th at the opening round of the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Series at Sydney, then faded to 51st at San Diego and put in a decent 11th place finish at Kitzbuhel. In her best race, Jorgensen showed the potential to medal at the Olympics. But her star has not shone as brilliantly since a year ago at London.
10. Barbara Riveros Diaz, 25, Chile
The diminutive Riveros Diaz made a big splash at the start of the 2010 season with a breakthrough win at the Sydney World Championship Series followed by a 2nd at Seoul, and 6th at Madrid, then leveled off. In 2011, she demonstrated she was no flash in the pan and started off with a 3rd at Mooloolaba, followed by 2nd at the Sydney WCS, a win at the Ishigaki World Cup, 5ths at Madrid and Hamburg before a late season leveling off again. In 2012, Riveros Diaz displayed first rate results with a 3rd at Madrid and a 4th at Kitzbuhel.
11. Anne Haug, 29, Germany
Part of the Darren Smith squad that now includes Lisa Norden, Sarah Groff, Kate Roberts and Vicky Holland, Haug has risen to the 2012 Olympic occasion. This year she seems to be peaking perfectly and advanced steadily with an 11th at Mooloolaba, 7th at Sydney and at San Diego, and 4th places at Madrid and Hamburg.
12. Vicky Holland, 26, Great Britain
Holland is steadily rising out from under the shadow of Great Britain’s star Helen Jenkins. The former University swimmer switched to triathlon in 2005 and emerged as a London threat with a 5th place finish at the 2012 San Diego WTS event and backed that up with a 7th place at Madrid.
13. Paula Findlay, 23, Canada
Wild card. This fast-rising Canadian superstar would have been a favorite to medal if we were talking about her short reign at the top in 2010 and early 2011. It started with a 3rd place finish at the 2009 Under-23 World championship. At the age of 21, she vaulted to prominence with back to back World Championship Series wins at London and Kitzbuhel followed by 5th at the WCs Grand Final at Budapest. In 2011, she continued to rule with wins at Sydney, Madrid and Kitzbuhel. Then the bottom dropped out as Findlay suffered a hip tear that led to 29th at London and a DNF at the Beijing Grand Final. This year, Findlay has rehabbed and crossed her fingers -- she has not raced at all before she toes the line August 4 at London.
14. Jessica Harrison, 34, France
This British-born French citizen seems to be in the best form of the French women leading up to the 2012 Olympics. In her career, she was French champion in 2009, 2010, and 2011, and placed 9th at the ITU World Championships in 2007 and 2009. Right now, Harrison seems to have a slim medal chance at London thanks to performances which include a win at the 2011 Tongyeong ITU World Cup and a 4th at San Diego and 5th at Kitzbuhel in 2012.
15. Ainhoa Murua, 34, Spain
The top Spanish woman contender, Murua is a consistent top-10 ITU performer in 2012 with a 6th at Sydney, 2nd at the Europeans Championships in Eilat, 6th at Madrid and 9th at the pre Olympic tune-up in Hamburg.
16. Flora Duffy, 24, Bermuda
Bermuda’s pride has been coming on strong in 2012 with a 6th at San Diego and a 3rd at the Edmonton World Cup.
17. Aileen Morrison, 30, Ireland
If you are looking for a dark horse who is peaking late, Aileen Morrison of Ireland might be your pick. After years of outside the top 10 finishes on the ITU circuit punctuated by brief flashes like a win at the Hong Kong ITU Asian Cup in 2010 and a 2nd place at the Ishigaki World Cup in 2011, Morrison is on a 2012 hot streak. Her 2nd place at the Ishigaki World Cup followed by her most impressive finish – 2nd at the ITU WTS race in Madrid -- have revealed her potential. Since then, she has cooled off a bit with a 14th at Kitzbuhel and 36th at the Hamburg WTS sprint.
18. Emma Jackson, 20, Australia
After winning the Under 23 title at the 2010 ITU Grand Final, Jackson advanced to the head of the 20-year-old phenom class with a 2nd at the 2011 Hamburg World Triathlon Series event behind Emma Moffatt and ahead of all-time ITU star Emma Snowsill. She followed that up with a 4th place and top Australian [Snowsill 5th, Ashleigh Gentle 9th, Moffatt 15th] at the key Australian Olympic qualification event on the London Olympic course. With a 34-minute 10k run, Jackson looked ready to follow in the footsteps of all-star Aussie Emmas -- Carney, Snowsill and Moffatt. But pushing so hard for the Olympic slot at an early age seems to have left the wispy-framed Jackson a bit worn out. Jackson’s 2012 season has been discouraging – 33rd at Sydney, 14th at San Diego, and DNFs at both Madrid and Hamburg,
19. Anja Dittmer, 36, Germany
This rare 4-time Olympian secured her spot at London with a clutch 3rd place at the high-pressure 2011 London WTS event. Her next most recent ITU podium was a 2nd at the 2010 Tongyeong World Cup. In her three Olympics, Dittmer placed 18th at Sydney, 11th at Athens and 33rd at Beijing.
20. Kate Roberts, 29, Republic of South Africa
Roberts rose to the elite level with a hot stretch in 2010 with a 4th in Hamburg, 8th at London and 6th in Kitzbuhel and 11th at the Budapest Grand Final. Cooled off 2011 but recently is back on track with a 5th at the Hamburg sprint distance WTS event.
21. Juri Ide, 29, Japan
Top Japanese contender was 5th at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Recent results have been so-so with a 22nd at Sydney, 13th at San Diego and 16th at Madrid.