The post-London timing—plus the challenging course—will make for a tough battle at Auckland’s ITU Grand Final.
Approaching today and tomorrow’s ITU Grand Final in Auckland, there are two factors that have added difficulty to the race: the course will be one of the most difficult on the circuit, and the lingering exhaustion from the Olympics has some of the top athletes wondering how they’ll fare.
Many of the athletes leading the points for the Barfoot & Thomson ITU World Triathlon Grand Final were also top contenders in London. Whereas they would normally be fresh and focused on the Grand Final, the exhaustion that comes with a full Olympic campaign wore a lot of them down physically and mentally.
Bronze medal winner and top-seeded ITU athlete Erin Densham decided to make this race her last of the year. “I was going to stretch it out and do Xterra World Championships next weekend but I’ve had enough for the year,” she says. “Part of it was because I want to end on a high note, part of it was because I want it over and done with quickly, but I’m looking forward to it. Let’s see if I can end on a high note.”
Given that her last few years were filled with injuries, illness and heart surgery, Densham is happy with what she calls her “best year ever.” “I’m surprised I’m actually still able to be here now,” she says. “If you asked me [a few years ago] if I would I make the Olympics and would I race the Grand Final in Auckland, I would’ve said no.”
Javier Gomez noted that “you don’t train with the same motivation, after the games you’re always a bit down,” and Bevan Docherty admits he’s been struggling with motivation the last month.
“I was talking to Hunter [Kemper] after Dallas two weeks ago and he said, ‘you’re crazy man, why are you still going?’ but it’s my hometown,” Docherty says. “I love to support this race. And who knows, I think with a lot of the guys, they don’t know where they’re at. They wouldn’t normally push themselves this long into a season as well. I think a lot of people are going into this race thinking, ‘I hope I have a good race—but who knows!’”
Docherty tried to “keep the ball rolling” and stay positive during training by remembering how fun the test event race was last year. “It was such a fun event racing at home and it is what’s kept me going,” he says. He was also instrumental in designing the course, specifically the hilly eight-loop bike course.
“I’ve always wanted courses like this,” Docherty says. “Personally, to me it’s been quite frustrating the limited hard courses the series has had. It makes us all a bit tougher and is certainly more spectator friendly.”
Jonathan Brownlee also seems happy with a challenging course. “I like hard courses like this and we’ve always asked for hard courses and I think one of the great things about the world series is that you can experience different courses,” Brownlee says. “You can have a flat course in San Diego and then to come to Auckland and have hard hilly course, great. I think it suits me, it suits triathletes who are good swim, bikers and runners.”
Lisa Norden, who sprinted to a memorable photo finish to win silver in London, says the difficulty of the bike will challenge the run.
“I definitely think this bike course is going to make a big impact on the run, it’s not going to be a fast and furious run like you are bunched up together, but you will get that spread-out field where everyone is fighting for their survival to the finish line,” she says. “I’m very excited about the course and having that kind of hard race to finish off with, it’s very fair bike course for everyone.”
“This is a race in New Zealand in my home country so it means a lot to me to do well here, just like last year, I came here and it was the end of the season but I picked it up and won it on this course,” Hewitt says. “This type of course suits me as well so hopefully it will be a good one.”
Densham says she’s always enjoyed tough courses, especially running on one. “This is one of the harder ones that I’ve seen on the circuit, so that’s really exciting actually,” she says. “Plus it’s at the end of the year—they couldn’t have put it at a harder time, really. It’s going to keep the run honest.”