Brits opt for domestiques

After dismissing appeals from higher ranked triathletes left off the home country Olympic team, the British Triathlon Federation named veteran Stuart Hayes and 20-year-old newcomer Lucy Hall to serve as domestiques in support of the Brownlee brothers and Helen Jenkins. In addition, the British Federation also named Vicky Holland to round out their heavily favored 2012 Olympic Triathlon team.

In following the example of the 2008 Canadian Triathlon officials who chose strong swimmer-cyclist Colin Jenkins to their Olympic team to support the silver-medal winning performance of Simon Whitfield, Great Britain left off higher-ranked triathletes Will Clarke (12th in current ITU rankings) and Tim Don (13th) in favor of 46th ranked Stuart Hayes. Liz Blatchford (15th in current ITU world rankings) and Jodie Stimpson (27th) were left off in favor of Hall, who is not ranked in the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Series standings.

Blatchford, Clarke and Stimpson appealed their non-selection to an appeals panel but their cases were denied Thursday night, according to The Sun newspaper.

British Triathlon selectors openly stated that they would select any athlete they considered a true medal contender and would support those potential medalists with athletes whose swim and bike strengths would serve the team best. Alistair and Jonny Brownlee are ranked 1-2 in the world and Helen Jenkins is the reigning ITU women’s world champion

Clarke, who finished 14th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and has consistently been the third best British male triathlete in the elite ITU series, was told by men’s coach Ben Bright that unless he made the podium at the May 12 World Triathlon Series event in San Diego, the team would go with a domestique.

Clarke finished 14th at the London round of the WCS series last year, 8th at the 2012 Sydney round of the WTS series, 20th at San Diego and DNF’d in his last minute bid at Madrid.

"It's hard, because two of those people have basically walked onto an Olympic team," Clarke, 27, told The Guardian newspaper in regard to the Hayes and Hall choices. "There's not really any other sport like that, where someone qualifies so easily considering what others like us have been through. We've been racing at the top level around the world for years, gaining ranking points, and they've walked onto the Olympic team. But I'm still good friends with Stuey [Hayes] and I wish him all the best."

The decision also denied Tim Don’s bid to become a rare 4-time Olympian.

Don, the 2006 ITU World Champion and winner of the big money 2010 Hy-Vee Triathlon, was 10th at the 2000 Olympics, 18th in 2004, and DNF’d in 2008. In recent key races in the campaign to make the 2012 Olympics, Don scored 6th at 2011 Sydney, 7th at 2011 Hamburg, 8th at 2011 Yokohama, and in 2012 Don was 11th at Sydney and 7th at San Diego.

While the choice of Hayes remains controversial among some Brits given his 46th place finish at London last year, 56th place finish at 2012 Sydney and 47th at 2012 Madrid, the 33-year-old has a notable record as well as precisely fitting the profile of a powerful swim-bike domestique.

Perhaps his best calling card for the role was his win at the 2010 World Championship series race in Kitzbuhel, Austria where he followed his usual strong swim with a solo breakaway on the bike and held off a strong run by Javier Gomez.

Hayes also scored ITU World Cup podiums at Salford (2nd in 2004), Madrid (3rd in 2004), Gold Coast (2nd in 2008) and Mooloolaba (2nd in 2010).

His reputation as a strong swimmer and attacking cyclist also served him well in non drafting races such as the Life Time Fitness Toyota Cup series. In a 17-year triathlon career, Hayes also served as an alternate at the 2004 Olympic Games where his wife-to-be and current coach Michelle Dillon finished 6th.

Certainly no one could accuse Hayes of being ungrateful. On the Team Dillon website, Hayes wrote: “I am so happy I am lost for words. I have always been striving to go to an Olympic Games and it was my dream from when I began my career. However I have had so much bad luck or it just wasn’t my time for the last three Olympics. I almost quit the sport so many times through frustration & injury. They say everything happens for a reason – this is my time. I am really looking forward to competing alongside Alistair and Johnny, who are the best guys in the world, in front of a home crowd on August 7th!”

On the women’s side, 32-year-old Liz Blatchford was the third-ranked British woman behind Jenkins and Vicky Holland and has been a consistent top-10 finisher at big races. Blatchford was 8th at 2011 Sydney, 8th at the 2011 Grand Final in Beijing, 4th at the 2012 Mooloolaba World Cup. But she then slipped to 18th at the 2012 Sydney WTS, 16th at 2012 San Diego and 10th at Madrid.

Holland, 25, has been coming on strong and earned her place by a 7th ranking in current ITU series stats, second behind Jenkins. Holland scored 12th at Yokohama, slipped to 38th at Sydney, but then came though in the clutch with a 5th at San Diego and 7th at Madrid.
Lucy Hall, just 20, is the most controversial choice. Hall’s calling card is the swim, as she exited the water 1st in her senior triathlon debut in the 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon World Championship Series race in Hamburg (finished 37th) and the 2011 Lausanne ITU Sprint World Championship (finished 32nd). In the 2011 ITU Junior world championship event in Beijing, Hall surged to a big lead on the swim and bike until a dog ran on the course in front of her and crashed Hall out of the race.

Interestingly, Hall was not entered in key 2012 Olympic selection races at Sydney, San Diego or Madrid.

Hall told BBC Sport about her feelings about being selected to the team: “I’m very happy and am 100 percent committed to my role.” But, she added, “I'm a human being, I'm not a rock. I do have feelings. As an athlete I can see it from their perspective but I hope people don't see it as my fault and they realize I was selected to do a job. Everyone can't be happy with the decision - people are always going to be upset. That's how it is, that's sport. It's horrible to think some people don't get to fulfil their Olympic dreams - I hope they understand why I'm taking this opportunity. I can't turn it down."