The 2021 World Championship season kicks off this weekend with WTS Yokohama, and it also serves as a crucial event for Olympic Qualifying for several countries. This is particularly true for the powerful contingent of U.S. women.
The COVID pandemic wiped out much of the Olympic qualifying process, leaving a 30-day time bloc – May 15 through June 14 – as the window inside of which most race-specific qualifying will occur. While several countries will not include Yokohama in their Olympic qualifying calculation, the U.S. will be there in force.
Olympic qualifying was frozen last March. The World Triathlon events that took place at the end of the 2020 season, including the World Championships, did not count toward Olympic rankings.
The restart of the Olympic qualification period will mean that athletes will have opportunities to compete in a total of 6 events, including World Triathlon Championship Series Yokohama and Leeds, and World Triathlon Cups in Osaka, Lisbon, Arzachena and Huatulco. All will take place during this 30-day window.
The Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event held on Aug. 14, 2019, was the first auto-selection event for the U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team. 2019 World Champion Katie Zaferes crashed out on the bike, and Summer Rappaport earned automatic selection to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team by finishing 5th. She met two criteria to earn this Olympic spot: she was the top American; and she finished inside the top-8 overall in the women’s race. So far, Rappaport is the only U.S. athlete to have locked in her spot on the team.
At stake for U.S. women in Yokohama is a potential second Olympic slot. As with the prior Tokyo event, an Olympic slot goes to the first U.S. woman to finish who has not already qualified. But this time, she must finish among the top-3 overall. Katie Zaferes is the favorite, or at least a co-favorite. Taylor Spivey stands 4th in Olympic qualifying points, and while the recent 2020 WTS World Championship Grand Final at Hamburg does not count toward Olympic selection, the Taylor Spivey placed 4th, and Zaferes 5th. Also in the hunt for U.S. Olympic selection team are Taylor Knibb, Tamara Gorman and Kirsten Kasper. All of the above will be competing at Yokohama.
No U.S. men finished in the top-8 at the first Olympic Qualifying race at Tokyo in August 2019 (the highest-placed U.S. man was Matthew McElroy in 16th place). The top U.S. man, if he finishes among the top-8 at Yokohama, will earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Triathlon team. A second U.S. man could also qualify at this weekend's Yokohama race, but for that to happen, both U.S. men would need to finish among the top-3 overall. U.S. Olympic contenders in the men's field racing in Yokohama this weekend include Morgan Pearson, Ben Kanute, Eli Hemming and Kevin McDowell.
If Yokohama does not result in 2 U.S. men inside the top-8 finishers, the USA Triathlon Athlete Selection Committee may nominate at their discretion up to two athletes per gender.
The U.S. men will be sure to qualify 2 men but a 3rd slot will depend on performance on races this month. The U.S. women are guaranteed 3 slots. Any remaining slots not filled in the two auto-selection events and not named as early discretionary nominations may be selected at the discretion of the USA Triathlon Athletes Selection Committee after June 15 – a day after the close of the Olympic Qualification Period.
If you have remaining questions about the U.S. Olympic selection process, you can find it detailed here. The complete Olympic roster of U.S. men and women will be announced June 15.
Below is where some other countries stand.
The UK has already chosen its three women – Georgia Taylor-Brown, Jess Learmonth and Vicky Holland. Left out was sensational runner Beth Potter, who has scored several triathlon victories. She is on high recent form, but she entered the triathlon world too late for the Great Britain Olympic Qualifying process. Great Britain has also chosen Jonathan Brownlee but the other two slots for the men are up in the air. Close observers of the country’s Olympic Qualifying procedures expect that two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee could be a captain’s pick, ruling out either super runner Alex Yee or Thomas Bishop who, unlike Alistair, will be competing at Yokohama.
Jacob Birtwhistle and Ashleigh Gentle are already named to the team. Still in the chase are Natalie Van Coevorden, Emma Jacxkson and Jaz Hedgeland and Aaron Royle and Lue Wilian. Van Coevorden, Jackson, and Royle will be competing at Yokohama.
Surest Olympic shot will be two-time WTS World Champion Vincent Luis, also competing at Yokohama in order to ensure 3 slots for a powerful slate of French men that include Leo Bergere, Dorian Coninx and Pierre Le Corre, all of whom will be racing at Yokohama.
Cassandre Beaugrand and Leonie Periault will be competing at Yokohama as well.
The powerful Spanish men likely to own the three Olympic slots include Mario Mola, Javier Gomez and Vincente Hernandez - but only Fernando Alarza and Antonio Serrat-Soane will be competing at Yokohama.
Gustav Iden, Kristian Blummenfelt and Casper Stornes will be competing at Yokohama.
There is already heatburn among some Kiwis as Tayler Reid – ranked 56th in Olympic Qualifying points – was named to the initial Triathlon team while Sam Ward – ranked 16th, was left off.
No arguments here as two-time ITU - WTS World Champion Flora Duffy – who won the 2019 Tokyo Olympic preview race – is a sure Olympic choice but will not be competing at Yokohama.
The Yokohama race will also feature many top Olympic or aspiring-Olympic paratriathletes. Top U.S. athletes to watch here are Aaron Scheidies, Kendall Gretsch, Melissa Stockwell, Jamie Brown, Kelly Elmlinger, and Howie Sanborn.
How to Watch
Watch it all at TriathlonLIVE.tv on a by-month or annual subscription; and on FloTrack with a subscription.
Women’s race time: 9:16 p.m. ET on May 14/10:16 a.m. local time on May 15
Men’s race time: 12:06 a.m. ET on May 15/1:06 p.m. local time on May 15
Paratriathlon race time: 5:50 p.m. ET on May 14/6:50 a.m. local time on May 15