New Zealand's Olympic triathlon ambitions are reaching the sharp end with the opening world championship series race in Sydney next month.

It is the final opportunity for New Zealand's leading triathletes to join world No1 Andrea Hewitt and secure an automatic spot.

Finish as top New Zealander inside the top eight in Sydney on April 14-15 and join Hewitt: that's the objective, although the qualifying process will run until the end of May.

There are four more significant points-earning races for the New Zealand contenders - two world championship races, in San Diego on May 10-12, and in Madrid on May 26-27; and two lower-tier World Cup races in Ishigaki, Japan, on April 22 and Huatulco, Mexico, on May 6.


Seven New Zealand men line up in Sydney - double Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty, Ryan Sissons, Kris Gemmell, Tony Dodds, James Elvery, Clark Ellice and Martin van Barneveld - with four women turning out, Hewitt along with Kate McIlroy, Nicky Samuels and Debbie Tanner.

The women's field is high calibre; the men's is minus the three top-ranked athletes of last year, Spain's Javier Gomez and British brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.

National coach Greg Fraine is considerably more optimistic about New Zealand's prospects of a full hand in both races in London than he was midway through last year.

New Zealand's men are fourth among the group of eight nations entitled to three places in London; the women sit seventh, but should be all right.

Sissons, Docherty and Gemmell are sitting 24th, 25th and 26th on the Olympic rankings and will be favoured to get the trip, provided they hold their form and fitness.

McIlroy is No18, Tanner No30 and Samuels No37, so that scrap looks tighter.

An unlikely worst case scenario is two men and two women lining up at the Games, but Fraine is confident.

"We've got a plan of where the guys are racing until the end of May around how to accumulate points," Fraine said last night. "So now it's up to the guys and girls to race to a level that's well within their reach. If we race to that level we will secure our spots."

Fraine expects a clear picture will have emerged after the Sydney race on who New Zealand's three preferred candidates will be. He has a theory on why there are worries whether New Zealand will carry on a fine recent Olympic tradition in London.

The sport's international calendar has changed. Now there are a small number of big-ticket races, where previously there had been about 20 World Cup events.

Podium finishes in softer fields were reasonably common. Now the heavy hitters turn up to the top tier events.

Still Fraine retains faith in New Zealand's prospects and is delighted with Hewitt's progress.

She will turn out in the opening World Cup event, at Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast this weekend.