Triathlon: Home run gives Jenkins an edge on Hewitt

By Steve Landells

Andrea Hewitt (left) and Helen Jenkins (centre). Photo / AP
Andrea Hewitt (left) and Helen Jenkins (centre). Photo / AP

A shy, softly-spoken Scotswoman is most likely to stand in the way of Andrea Hewitt's quest for gold in the Olympic women's triathlon on August 4.

The quiet Helen Jenkins may not exude the outward confidence of a typical sporting champion but she unquestionably boasts the formidable record of one.

Rarely out of the top three on the global circuit, the Scottish-born, Welsh-based race favourite was rewarded for her consistency by securing the 2011 ITU World Championship Series - one place ahead of Hewitt.

Significantly, Jenkins, world champion in 2008, romped to a decisive victory on the Olympic course in Hyde Park last summer - with Hewitt some 20 seconds adrift in sixth.

"It does give me confidence to know that I have the performance inside me," she said of her victory there last August. "I've got a good record there, with three top three finishes in a row, so I must be doing something right."

A respectable junior, injuries badly hampered her early progression as a senior. It was after linking up with her then-boyfriend, now husband Marc, as her coach five years ago that she started to flourish. He is best remembered for carrying his broken bike on his shoulder for 2km at the 2004 Olympic triathlon, the race in which Hamish Carter memorably took gold. Jenkins wound up last in Athens but, although injuries have wrecked his own career, his wife has benefited from his wealth of experience.

"As a former triathlete, he has as good knowledge base," she explains. "He writes the training and he trusts me to stick to it. Sometimes I might say, 'I'm not sure if I should be doing that,' but generally he'll say to stick to the plan and he's probably right."

However, Jenkins has entered the Olympics carrying the heavy burden of favourite before. In 2008, she emerged as a world-class performer, securing two top three finishes in the World Cup and landing the world title in Vancouver. She went into the Beijing Olympics as one of the medal favourites but had a shocker - trailing home 21st.

"It was a funny season for me," admits Jenkins. "I hadn't raced the previous year and I started racing in January just to win points to get into the selection races. By the time I got to the Olympics, I just didn't have enough endurance to make it through a whole season. It was very disappointing. I was just happy to make the Olympic team in 2008. It is very different this time."

This time, there will be no excuses. British Triathlon have decided to ignore the claims of better ranked athletes to select Lucy Hall, a swim-cycle specialist, as part of their three-women squad. It is clear Hall will sacrifice her own chances and play the role of domestique, setting up Jenkins' quest to become the first British athlete to snare a triathlon medal.

Whether this will enhance the 28-year-old's chances of victory in the hurly-burly of elite competition remains to be seen, but Jenkins is adamant the course will suit the pure speed athlete.

"It's a really flat, fast course," she explains of the route through historic inner London. "You are not going to get away with it if you are feeling a bit off. An athlete cannot rely on their strength to pull them through. Speed is going to be key."

Jenkins cites her main dangers as Hewitt, the three Australians (Beijing bronze medallist Emma Moffatt, Erin Densham and Emma Jackson, with Beijing gold medallist Emma Snowsill controversially not selected for London) and Canada's Paula Findlay, who has been struggling with a hip injury.

Yet she insists a winner could emerge from anywhere in one of the most unpredictable events on the Olympic programme.

"It is an endurance sport that will last around two hours, so there are a lot of things that can go wrong in that time," she explains. "It is so hard to get everything right on the day when you are balancing three sports. I can only do the best I can and hope that my best is worth a gold medal."

- Herald on Sunday

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