With the Olympics just over six months away, the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Series kicks off this weekend in Abu Dhabi. Several top ITU athletes, many still looking for Olympic qualification, will toe the UAE start line in hopes of a solid start to 2016.
Last year Abu Dhabi joined the WTS calendar and became the first Middle Eastern city to ever host a WTS event. This year, the city returns to open up the 2016 season, but this year the course will feature the standard 1.5 kilometer swim, 40-kilometre bike and 10-kilometre run distance. The elite men are set to compete first, but the women have a jam-packed start list full of talent that is sure to open the season in a blaze.
Six of the top 10 ranked men from 2015 are accounted for on the Abu Dhabi start list. Sitting at the top of the list is the Abu Dhabi reigning champion Mario Mola (ESP). While last year the course was positioned as a sprint distance, Mola charmed his way to a gold medal when he broke away from a small three-man pack in the final kilometres. In his final push, he recorded the fastest 5km run split in the history of the WTS, a record he maintained until he beat it himself later that year. Ending his season with the win in Chicago, he finished second overall in the Columbia Threadneedle Rankings.
South Africa’s Richard Murray had a phenomenal 2015 season and will most definitely continue his streak. Ranked fourth overall last year, he earned the bronze medal in Abu Dhabi last season. He then went on to win the New Plymouth World Cup, take third in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic qualification event where he secured his spot for the Olympics, win his second-career WTS race in Edmonton, end up third in Chicago and then finish his ITU season with a victory at the Cozumel World Cup.
While two-time World Champion and reigning Abu Dhabi victor Gwen Jorgensen (USA) is holding back from starting her season this weekend, compatriots Sarah True and Katie Zaferes are all squared away to compete and top the women’s start list. True was the second runner-up for the world champion title last season, after finishing third in the overall Columbia Threadneedle Rankings. She graced three WTS podiums in 2015, including her victory in WTS Stockholm. She also secured her spot to represent the United States in Rio this summer after placing fourth at the 2015 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Qualification Event. She’s got a new training approach this year, so look out for True and she mixes things up this year.
While Zaferes just nearly missed her chance to complete the three-woman team heading to Rio last season, make no mistake that the beginning of this season she will be battling to claim what is hers to lose. She had a groundbreaking 2015 season, reaching the podium in six WTS events. While she has yet to win her own gold, she claimed five silver medals, the first of which was right here in Abu Dhabi. So watch out for Zaferes to finally make her mark on the top of the podium this year.