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Trew's Olympic Watch: Let's dream a little...
Posted by: Steve Trew
Posted on: Thursday 26th June 2008


Tags  Alistair Brownlee  |  Helen Tucker  |  Hollie Avil  |  Olympics  |  Steve Trew  |  Tim Don  |  Will Clarke


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So now we actually know who's going to the Games for Great Britain in 45 days time. Helen Tucker's stunning victory at the World Championships may well have turned the wisdom of the cogniscenti on their heads and made for some rapid re-evaluations of individual athletes' chances. But let's not start bigging up Helen and touting her as an Olympic medallist; that's purely unfair and puts unwanted pressure on her. Indeed, as Helen more than ably demonstrated at Worlds in Vancouver, on any given day in any given race ... anything can happen.

Let's also not put Helen down. The circumstances that led to her even being on the start line in Vancouver would put even my triathlon fictions to shame. She overcame amazing (not an exaggeration here) difficulties and setbacks to be even racing this season.

And now she's won Worlds; eat your heart out!

Helen and Hollie Avil make up our British women's team while Alistair Brownlee, Will Clarke and Tim Don (veteran status!?) take the three men's slots. Why two women yet three men? Well, Britain's world ranking wasn't quite good enough to be allocated three women's slots and much of the reason for Helen being at Worlds at all was to try to raise that ranking and help Liz Blatchford to get to Beijing. And it was so close, truly so close.

To put this into perspective, it should be said also that Australia. surely one of, if not the, powerhouse over the last 20 years, has only managed two slots for their men.

"The old order changeth,
Yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one custom should corrupt the World".

Something like that, anyway!

And if the World of triathlon is changing, surely that is more than ably demonstrated by the British contingent. Tim Don is going to his third Olympic Games! Who said triathlon was just a passing phase, that it wouldn't last. I certainly haven't done my research here, but the only other name that springs to mind to be on their third Games is 2000 winner Simon Whitfield. Who am I missing? Good man, Tim. No, better than that, fantastic, absolutely fantastic.

"Age cannot wither (him),
Nor custom stale (his) infinite variety".
(Sorry for the change of sex, William Shakespeare)

And if Tim has achieved that mythical veteran status, (on your knees and genuflect you guys..) how do we place Alistair Brownlee at 20 years old and Hollie Avil at 18 years? I raved about Hollie in a previous article for this website, and nothing has happened to make me change my mind; youth, inexperience, lots to learn; all that. Oh yes, and her results on her World Cup starts? Oh yes, forgot about that...

As with Helen, let's not fall into the temptation of making Hollie an Olympic favourite; but also as with Helen, let's give her the respect she deserves because you know that the competing triathlon world certainly will.

Alistair Brownlee: he wins Worlds (second time actually) and then says, "Oh, I did alright out there; it felt OK". I bet it did! Add an U23 Worlds to a previous junior title, stir in an Olympic slot, and I bet it felt OK.

Will Clarke, coming off of a Commonwealth Games already (as is Helen Tucker) and that multisport Games experience does give you an advantage. It's great being at a triathlon World or European Championships but when you see all the other sports around it creates a much bigger picture and puts a lot of things into perspective.

So... Tim Don, very much the "old man" of the team in his late twenties (I have tremendous memories of Tim as a junior athlete gradually working his way through the ranks before that memorable victory at Junior Worlds in Lausanne back in 1998 when Simon Lessing also won the senior version for Great Britain).

Helen and Will in the early twenties (and what a devastating impact Will has made in his three years racing as a senior, many athletes take those three years just to settle in at the new level), and Hollie and Alistair as youngsters! Britain must, surely must, be going in these Olympic Games with the youngest contingent of triathletes of any country? Prove me wrong someone!

Britain have had amazing success at World Championships over so many years in all categories, but we have not yet, at the two Olympic Games so far, had a major impact. Is Beijing going to be the one that breaks the mould?

Maybe, maybe, maybe... But we said we wouldn't apply the kiss of death to our athletes, so who is likely to feature?

If we look at how both senior races at Worlds developed both this and last year, it's obvious that the way the race (indeed, any race) pans out will have significant impact on who is likely to be in the frame. In the women's event both times there has been a break on the swim and the hammer going down at the start of the cycle section. This year Helen and Sarah Haskins were prepared to take the hurt and break and build on that; last year the strong American impact ensured that Emma Snowshill (AUS) was too far back off of the bike to be able to catch Vanessa Fernandes (POR) although she did take silver in front of Laura Bennett's bronze. (An apology here, I called the race saying that the American athletes worked as a team unit and kept the bike pace high so that Laura Bennett could sit at the back and save her legs for running... I was wrong! No teamwork there, just the way it panned out).

So, can we expect a swim and maybe a bike break at the Olympic Games? Hesitantly I say yes, and hesitantly I say it will create big advantages for our two athletes, Hollie and Helen with this scenario. Both can swim with the lead pack, both are prepared to work their butts off on a hard-working bike group, and both can run off a hard bike. The smart money will go on Snowshill and Fernandes of course, and maybe Bennett if it develops as our little fantasy wants it to; but we have seen how different the Olympics are. Indeed, we saw a most unusual finishing slot for Fernandes at this year's Worlds. And now Haskins has made the US team; potentially another good omen for Helen and Hollie.

Haskins is a front-end triathlete, willing and able to push the swim and the bike, but significantly her running this year has come on more than a couple of notches. With Haskins in the field, it is likely to be an "honest" race. Athletes working from the start on all three disciplines and not relying on a big run after a pack swim and bike.

Strange things happen in the big races. How many people out there put money on Dan Unger to win Worlds in 2007? Maybe just a few based in Hamburg, almost certainly no-one else. And Gomez was the man who paid the price for that unbelievable surge of adrenalin that took Unger to a most unexpected (think "Helen Tucker" 2008 here) World title.

Not too many would have put money on Kate Allen running down Loretta Harrop in the 2004 Athens Games, but she did and she is now the reigning Olympic champion; and has qualified to defend that title in Beijing. Kate is originally from Geelong (my favourite city), just west of Melbourne and qualifies to represent Austria by marriage and residency. Kate came off a long distance triathlon background to take that Olympic title and is back for Beijing.

Will there be a swim break in the men's event? Or a bike break? Attempting to pre-guess race scenarios, particularly in the Olympic Games can, and will, make fools of us all. But, but, but, is there a likelihood of any men getting away? There's always that likelihood but in contrast to the women, to this observer, it seems unlikely that there are enough men swimmers willing and able to make that early break. Getting away on the bike has become increasingly unlikely in the men's races at ITU World Cup level. How many came off the bike together at this year's Worlds? Thirty? Forty? So maybe the run isn't exactly a lottery, but the chances of winning may be cut drastically if you aren't a proven runner. The British men had three in the top ten at last year's Worlds, and all three for the Games can certainly run well off of any bike discipline, easy or hard. They've proved it and they've done it.

But so can Gomez, so can Docherty, so can Whitfield (that WOULD be a fairy tale, wouldn't it? Win your second Olympic title eight years after the first... Did Ed Moses do it at 400m hurdles? My mind says yes, but my mind plays tricks with memories. Maybe I just wanted him to...


Steve Trew About the Author

Steve Trew has decided that it is OK to play the “IF” game in one particular area; that of age. However, everyone knows that triathletes are like good wine; the older the better. Steve can be reached for coaching and for training camps on [email protected] He is still taking his chances, still coaching, still writing and still commentating. We think it’s about time he got a real job.


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