Timothy Carlson sets Olympic Odds

The men

These things are almost always impossible to predict. Which makes this endeavor an amusing fantasy, not unlike playing the lottery. Still, there are important factors. Number one: This course is nothing like Athens with its killer steep hill which created the opportunity for Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty to make a major breakaway. Not is it nearly as steep or as long as the recent ITU World Championship in Vancouver. Beijing's hill lasts half a mile and rises only 170 feet. No matter that riders will come back to it 6 times, it will remain a blip on the best riders power meters – not a make or break obstacle. Further ruling out a decisive bike leg is what follows -- a bobsled-style 1.5-mile curving downhill whose steep side walls create an amplified drafting effect. If you noticed in the women’s race, the USA’s Julie Ertel got dusted on every trip up the hill, but easily (almost freewheeling) caught up to the 20-woman main pack on the downhill. Despite the fact that several strong swimmer-bikers would love to break away, the field lacks the engines that might make it work – Andy Potts and recently retired Craig Walton. For all Olivier Marceau and Matt Reed and Colin Jenkins might try, they don't have the collective horsepower to leave the anticipated huge pack. Which will make the bike a test of who can use no energy but stay out of trouble riding in the middle of the anticipated 50-strong main pack – just like the 2007 World Cup on the same track at Shinsanling Reservoir.

That brings this race, even more so than the women's event, down to the run and the run alone. Honestly speaking, there are only 8 to 10 men in the field of 56 who have the foot speed and leg power to win.

Reliable favorites

Javier Gomez ESP 5-2

With 17 straight World Cup podiums, three straight ITU World Cup series championships, a silver and a gold in the last two ITU World Championships, and a rep for the fastest run in the game – just under 30 minutes on his best day on an accurately measured course (not a sure thing outside the Olympics) -- Gomez is the man a rational punter puts his money on. However, the Olympics invite emotionally inspired upsets and there are the men who can light the dynamite. Germany’s Daniel Unger pulled off just such a miracle to pass Gomez near the end of the 2007 ITU World Champs in Hamburg. Great Britain’s Tim Don did the same to Hamish Carter at the 2006 ITU World Champs in Lausanne. Plus Great Dane Rasmus Henning has done it twice in a row to cash $200,000 checks at Hy-Vee in Des Moines. While Simon Whitfield gave us the textbook example of Dave Wottle-style impossible come from behind stretch runs at Sydney in 2000, Simon sadly is now well into his 30s and does not have the old snap.

Bevan Docherty NZL 4-1

The 2004 ITU World Champ and Olympic silver medalist, and now 2008 ITU World Championship and Hy-Vee silver medalist has the second best run in the game but not the fiery stretch run of retired Kiwi Hamish Carter. Almost the safest
bet in the sport to get a silver medal.

Courtney Atkinson AUS 7-2

Also belongs in the "First rate but spent long time fighting injury and illness" category. But he's had half a year to rest and recuperate from nagging injuries that afflicted him at the end of 2007. His strong a second place to Gomez at the 2007 Beijing World Cup on the Olympic course last September marks his as a dangerous gold medal threat – if he is healthy.

Brad Kahlefeldt AUS 9-2

Most reliable Aussie World Cup performer the last four years. But does not have the brilliant run to threaten for the gold.

Simon Whitfield CAN 5-1

Sad to say, while exuberant, funny, joyful Simon has improved his swim and bike to the first rank eight years after his stirring 2000 Olympic victory, his run is no longer his invincible ace in the hole. Just ask Matt Reed, who out-sprinted Whitfield to the line at Vancouver.

Reto Hug SUI 9-1

Unheralded quiet Swiss is inspired by beautiful girlfriend Nicola Spirig and has in his quiet stealth fashion nabbed two ITU World Championship medals. Very reliable but not the firepower to nab a medal.

Sven Riederer SUI 21-2

Inspired Swiss youngster hung on for dear life to stay on the heels of Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty on the bike break in Athens, then had just enough run power to hold off Aussie Greg Bennett for the bronze. Streaky results – not much this year.

Potentially red hot

Tim Don GBR 11-2

Ran with the wings of Mercury to out duel Hamish Carter and take gold at the 2006 ITU Worlds in Lausanne. Spotty results, highlighted by a win at Tongyeong and a 4th at Madrid don’t promise medallions. But never rule out a man who trains in Brett Sutton’s crew.

Daniel Unger GER 6-1

Certified miracle worker on home course at Hamburg in 2007 proves this man has winged feet. But can he summon the inspiration in Beijing?

Kris Gemmell NZL 7-1

Off form all year until he summoned a 2nd at final pre-Olympic World Cup in Kitzbuhel. Can run with the big dogs.

Rasmus Henning DEN 8-1

Summoned two miracles at Hy-Vee and can run with the big dogs. Very streaky and spotty ability to summon brilliance. Don’t bet your 401k on this guy.

Matt Reed USA 10-1

Hit the big time in 2008 chasing to nail down his Olympic slot. Wins at Tuscaloosa, St. Anthony’s, a 5th at Worlds and a second at Richards Bay shows this 6-foot 5-inch star is triathlon’s answer to Usain Bolt.

Young dark horses who could break out

Alistair Brownlee GBR 14-1

William Clarke GBR 15-1

Reinaldo Colucci BRA 19-1

Jarrod Shoemaker 22-1

Lack of sufficient challenge to allow a break on the bike might yet allow this NCAA cross country star a lottery ticket’s chance to run to a medal.

Oldies but goodies

Ivan Rana ESP 13-2

The 2002 ITU World Champion has been eclipsed by countryman Javier Gomez. But after three years of hard work, Rana showed he was back with a win at Kitzbuhel shortly before the Olympics.

Volodymyr Polikarpenko 13-1

Has won some World Cups but scored only 15th and 30th at two previous Olympics

Olivier Marceau SUI 16-1

This 2000 ITU World Champion was the straw that stirred the drink when he and Craig Walton made a break on the bike at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Still one of the two or three strongest bikers in the game, but no longer has the run to hang on for a medal.

First rate but spent long time fighting injury and illness

Hunter Kemper USA 12-1

If Kemper continued to recover from his injuries and improve as fast as he did before dusting rival Andy Potts at Hy-Vee for the final US Olympic slot - and that’s a big if – he can return to world beating 2005 running form and has a chance for Olympic medal. If he returns to 2005, that’s a good omen. Kemper won the first Beijing World Cup at this site in 2005.

Frederic Belaubre 11-1

Sports Illustrated tabbed this Frenchman for bronze based almost entirely on his 2006 win at Beijing. But he has been fighting nagging injuries and indifferent results. If he went to Lourdes and was cured on what ailed him, he could do a lot of damage to the favorites.=2 0

Good – but Can’t win

Andriy Gluschenko UKR 17-1

Igor Syosev 18-1

Jan Frodeno GER 24-1

I know, I know. The women’s race is now history. But technical difficulties prevented me from posting it before the race. If you want to know how good or bad I was in prognosticating the race won by Emma Snowsill - and you trust my sense of integrity – you might find these predictions and their justifications mildly interesting. -- Timothy Carlson

The women

Heavy favorites (on another planet)

Vanessa Fernandes 2-1

The Portuguese prodigy at age 22 has the most wins in ITU World Cup history with 20, five straight European Championship wins, and has handily won all three of the Beijing Olympic preview World Cups. Oh yeah. She also took down=2 0the cream of the non-drafting crop in her second try at the Life Time Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis in 2007. Her father is a Portuguese bike road racer who has instilled love of competition and discipline and sportsmanship. Thus Fernandes is the most consistent high level performer in all three disciplines with front pack swim, bike and run. But no weaknesses does not mean invulnerable. While she shines in hot weather, Beijing has been hit by rains and unexpectedly mild temperatures. If things were as cold as Vancouver’s 58 degree waters, she might fade like Superman before Kryptonite and many women might beat her. But in moderate heat, the only woman who can beat her is Australia’s Emma Snowsill. Fernandes’ run is better than every other competitor except a healthy Snowsill. But in her last two ITU World Championship wins, Snowsill left Fernandes in the dust. In 2007, Snowsill suffered from undiagnosed asthma and various leg injuries and bowed to Fernandes. But once she treated her asthma and rested up so her legs were at peak fitness, Snowsill whipped Fernandes at Mooloolaba and smashed the field in Des Moines. The question is: Is Fernandes rested, completely healthy and absolutely fit. If so, fans might be treated to the much anticipated but never quite realized battle of these two titans at their best.

Emma Snowsill 5-2

The only reason the odds are better for a Fernandes win is that Snowsill is a little older and has proved to be vulnerable to a range of illnesses and mild injuries. The reason there is so little chance of an upset has something to do with the course. The one big hill on the Shinsanling Reservoir course rises just 150 feet at 8-10 percent, about half the rise and steepness at Athens which invited a bike breakaway. While strong bikers like Sarah Haskins and Helen Tucker might be tempted to replicate their daring successful bike breakaway in Vancouver, Beijing’s long gradual downhill after the climb, with its narrow side walls turning that 1.5-mile descent into a draft-friendly bobsled run, won’t allow a break to succeed. This20leaves Beijing to be decided on the run. If, and only if, Snowsill hasn’t developed pulmonary problems, quad or hamstring sprains or ankle issues, she will be i9n place coming off the bike and will outrun anything we have seen so far from Fernandes.

Most consistent excellence

Emma Moffatt AUS 5-1

Moffatt has quietly gone about the business of being this year’s Alydar, the horse that came second to Affirmed in all three legs of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. Moffatt won her second World Cup in a field lacking Snowsill and Fernandes at New Plymouth and took a $40,000 second to a flying Snowsill at Hy-Vee. Slightly off form 5th at Worlds. While she can be outrun by inspired performances by her peers, Moffat has been consistently clutch.

Laura Bennett USA 6-1

With four ITU World Championship medals in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008, a $200,000 Hy-Vee win in 2007, and a clutch third to Fernandes and Snowsill at the 2007 Beijing World Cup which cinched her the first US Olympic slot. Bennett has mastered tactics, strategy. Her final sprint has even Snowsill worried. But Bennett, who was off form at Vancouver and has managed only fourth places at Mooloolaba and Hy-Vee, and hasn’t been at her healthy best so far this year. She certainly can podium, but unless she has reached her peak this summer, a medal is against the odds.

Samantha Warriner NZL 8-1

The Kiwi veteran won a thrilling finish line sprint with Aussie Erin Densham for a bronze medal at Vancouver and has five World Cup wins to her credit. But all year she has been on and off and had a very disappointing outing at the Beijing World Cup. Most like the Beijing course will rob her of a bike breakaway necessary to put her in position to medal.

Capable of Applying Long Shot Heat

Helen Tucker GBR 7-1

Tucker arrived at the top big time with a second at Richards Bay, a daring bike break shared with Sarah Haskins that gave her a World Championship win at Vancouver, and a smooth big payday third at Hy-Vee. Capable of inheriting an Olympic win if both Fernandes and Snowsill suffer mishaps.

Sarah Haskins USA 8-1

Brilliant bike break at Vancouver gave her a World Championship silver, but her stretch run lacks the speed to break into contention if Beijing bike is neutralized as expected.

Hollie Avil GBR 9-1

Very young (just turned 19) Great Brit came of age in World Cup racing with a 3rd at Ishigaki, a 2nd at Tongyeong, a third at Madrid but was invisible at Vancouver and faded to 11th at Hy-Vee. Strong run, youthful lack of fear, and still growing strength could propel her to a surprise medal.

Lisa Norden SWE 9-1

Last year's Under 23 World Champ proved she belonged with the senior elites this year with a 3rd at Mooloolaba, a second at New Plymouth, and a 5th at Madrid. But she faded at Vancouver and her present fitness is a mystery.

Debbie Tanner NZL 9-1

The diminutive Kiwi can fly on the run as she proved in a race long duel with Vanessa Fernandes at the 2006 Hamburg World Cup. But this year her only spark came at with a recent 3rd place at the Hamburg World Cup. She promises to be a factor at Beijing because of her top 7 finish last year at Beijing.

Nicola Spirig SUI 12-1

The Swiss newcomer trained by Brett Sutton can run and is rounding into form at the right time with a win at Kitzbuhel, the final World Cup before Beijing.

Andrea Hewitt NZL 14-1

The third Kiwi Olympic qualifier won a World Cup last year, but has been tepid except for a third in the last Beijing tune-up at Kitzbuhel.

Off form this year

Erin Densham AUS 17-2

Much stronger last year, but took a 2nd at Ishigaki in April and a 4th at Vancouver in June.

The next level

Julie Swail Ertel USA 13-1

Proved she could run with strong win at Tuscaloosa Olympic Trials and her first World Cup win late last year. But has been sick or off form in every other race this year.

Ricarda Lisk GER 15-1

A smart longshot bet to make the podium thanks to recent form – won her first World Cup at Hamburg. .

Carolyn Murray CAN 18-1

With 19-year-old Canadian phenom Kirsten Sweetland, who won her first World Cup last year at Richards Bay, out of the Olympics with injuries, Murray is the only Canadian woman with a prayer of a medal. That’s because she won her first World Cup at Richards Bay this spring.

Needs a miracle

Christiane Pilz GER 22-1

Carole Peon FRA 25-1

Lauren Groves CAN 30-1

Historical interest

Kate Allen AUT 27-1

Allen’s blazing come-from-behind sub-34 minute run to snatch gold from Loretta Harrop at Athens will never be forgotten. Actually, her clutch 8th place at Vancouver to earn an Olympic spot after suffering horrible injuries in a bike crash early in the season may have been the 38-year-old’s greatest performance under the circumstances. She still has the run, but her swim and bike are worse than Athens and there will be no repeat miracles.

Magali Di Marco Messmer SUI 33-1

Swiss beauty who took bronze at Sydney in 2000 is no longer the young speedy threat. Her Olympic qualification was hard earned and she should bow out of the sport for good this time with an Olympic au revoir.

All images © Timothy Carlson