While there are several legends as usual in the Olympic field, current form can be more important as evidenced by Simon Whitfield’s unknown surprise gold in 2000. This year, thanks to the yearlong pandemic hiatus and a reduced race schedule, many young phenoms and crafty veterans may have gone into long term training which avoids injuries and may reward with big gains in fitness. Thus Morgan Pearson’s emergence as a star and Mario Mola’s re-emergence to peak fitness.
Vincent Luis, 31, France
At the 2016 Rio Olympics Vincent Luis of France put the triathlon world on notice with a 7th place finish. In 2019, he won the WTS World Championship, beating three-time champion Mario Mola. He capped off a pandemic-abbreviated 2020 season with four straight wins including the Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon, During Luis’s hot streak, he regularly posted sub-30 seconds 10ks and top three run splits. Early this year, Luis had a lukewarm 6th at WTS Yokohama which leaves him a question mark for an Olympic medal.
Mario Mola, 30, Spain
Once known as the fastest runner on the ITU circuit, Mola has slipped into contender on the run. The Spaniard is a three-time ITU World Champion (2016, 2017, 2018) and lost his quest for a four-peat to rising star Vincent Luis of France.
During his dominant 2018 season Mola won WTS races at Montreal, Edmonton, Hamburg and Yokohama and took second at the Grand Final on the Gold Coast with a 29:55 2nd best run for the season title.
In 2019 Mola started strong but off form races in Bermuda, Yokohama and Leeds set him back in his bid for a fourth successive World title. Mola rallied towards the end of the season to take three silvers but training partner Vincent Luis held off Mola’s challenge.
Mola’s recent races were not impressive – 46th at the 2020 Hamburg Wasser World title sprint and 10th at the 2021 World Cup Lisbon. Mola is still seeking Olympic validation as he took 8th at the Rio de Janeiro and 19th at London.
Alex Yee, 23, Great Britain
British 10,000-meter champ Alex Yee can stay om the game most days on the swim and the bike before unleashing his super power on the run. A 5th place at age 18 at the Cozumel Grand Final in 2016 announced his promise. At his first World Cup in Cagliari in 2017 Yee crashed and suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung. One year later, he finished 8th at the same race with a race-best run by 20 seconds. Third place at the end of 2018 was his first World Cup podium, but in the 2019 season opener, Yee took World Cup gold in Cape Town and then a silver medal at WTS Abu Dhabi.
This year Yee graduated from prospect to Olympic medal contender with a win at the WTS Leeds crowned by a 29:46 run that effectively shut the door on Alistair Brownlee’s campaign for the second Great Britain Olympic slot.
There are some questions that Yee might lose the pack on the swim or the bike. But he is not unassailable on the run either as Kristian Blummenfelt outran Yee’s creditable 29:49 by 23 seconds. On that day Yee finished one place behind Morgan Pearson of the U.S.
Kristian Blummenfelt, 27 Norway
While many men in the Olympic field have far superior histories, after a pandemic hiatus recent form is critical to picking favorites. While Kristian Blummenfelt has been up and down, the leader of the Norwegian triumvirate which includes Gustav Iden and Casper Stornes has as strong bike and posted a warning shot with his win over a stacked field at WTS Yokohama. There Blummenfelt finished in 1:42:55, won by 10 seconds with a spectacular 29:26 run, with Morgan Pearson, Alex Yee, Henri Schoeman, Vincent Luis in his dust. Recent history includes a win at the 2019 Grand Final and the 2021 Lisbon World Cup.
Jonathan Brownlee, 31, Great Britain
The brother of two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee has a strong Olympic record himself with a 3rd at the 2012 London Olympics and second at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He also took second in a spectacular finish of the 2016 Grand Final and second overall at the 2016 the World Championship rankings.
Morgan Pearson, 28, USA
Attended Duke University for one year, and finished college career at CU Boulder where he was 7-time all American. Won age group nationals in 2017 and started elite triathlon in 2018 and qualified for the National team. In midst of Pandemic, he focused on bike and swim training and improved greatly. In 2020, finished 8th at Hamburg Wasser World Title. Then hit the jackpot in 2021 against prime fields with a 3rd at WTS Yokohama (third best 29:30 run) and 2nd at WTS Leeds (2nd best 30:04 run). In a shocking turn of events, Pearson leapfrogged past triathlon’s greatest runners such as Mario Mola, Vincent Luis, Tyler Mislawchuk and Jonny Brownlee. In races this spring, only Alex Yee of Great Britain displayed a better run than Pearson. Pearson us a solid bet for top five.
Javier Gomez, 38, Spain
The legendary Javier Gomez has an impeccable record: Five-time ITU World Champion (2015, 2014, 2013, 2010, 2008), silver at the 2012 London Olympics, two Ironman 70.3 gold, a win at XTERRA Worlds. But he is not at his best in recently as he was 3rd overall in the 2019 WTS rankings, 6th at the 2019 Grand Final in Lausanne and DNF at 2021 WTS Leeds.
Henri Schoeman, 30, South Africa
The South African excels in big race pressure evidenced by his 3rd at the Rio Olympics, 1st at the 2016 Grand Final at Cozumel, 1st at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 1st at the 2018 WTS Abu Dhabi, 2ND at 2019 WTS Abu Dhabi. Moree modest results recently such as 9th at the Tokyo Olympic Qualifying event, and 5th at the 2021 WTS Yokohama with a 29:51 run that proves he is as fit as ever.
Tyler Mislawchuk, 27, Canada
The Canadian has one spectacular calling card – he won the 2019 Tokyo Olympic Qualification event which he won by 4 seconds over Casper Stornes and posted the day’s tied-for-fastest 30:27 run split. Other notable finishes include wins at the 2019 and 2021 Huatulco World Cups, a win at the Mooloolaba World Cup, and the Americas Triathlon Cup at Long Beach. Mislawchuk also favors the heat and will adapt well to Tokyo’s midsummer weather.
Gustav Iden, 25, Norway
Iden won gold at 2019 Ironman 70.3 worlds, took 4th at the 2019 Tokyo Olympic Qualifier, took 4th at the 2019 Grand Final in Lausanne, won the 2018 Lausanne World Cup, took 3rd at the 2019 WTS Bermuda.
Fernando Alarza, 30, Spain
Alarza falls behind fellow Spaniard Mario Mola and ahead of recent performances of the elder Javier Gomez. Right now, Alarza took 4th at 2021 WTS Leeds (Good) but 14th at WTS Yokohama (NSH) and 27th at the 2020 Hamburg Wasser World Title event (BAD).
Jelle Geens, 28, Belgium
You can make cases for and against Jelle Geens of Belgium. Against, he DNF at 2021 WTS Leeds. For, Geens went 2nd at 2021 WTS Yokohama with a super spectacular 29:38 run. Showing he is no one shot wonder, he took 3rd at the 2020 Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon Championship.
Marten Van Riel, 29, Belgium
History: 6th at the 2016 Rio Olympics, 9th at the 2019 Grand Final in Lausanne and, to his discredit, 36th at the 2019 Tokyo Olympic Qualification Event. Current: 3rd at the 2021 WTS Leeds with a 30:23 3rd best run and 7th at the 2021 WTS Yokohama with a 30:04 run.
Jacob Birtwhistle, 26, Australia
Strong run, good in heat. Highlights: 1st at the 2019 WTS Hamburg, 1st at 2019 WTS Leeds, Lowlights: 21st 2021 WTS Leeds, DNF WTS 2021 Yokohama, 26th at 2019 Grand Final Lausanne, 11th at the 2019 Tokyo Qualification Event.