Triathlon: Samuels upset she 'sacrificed' own race

By Lucy Ibbotson

Nicky Samuels runs across the Olympic Rings during the run stage in the women's triathlon at Hyde Park. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Nicky Samuels runs across the Olympic Rings during the run stage in the women's triathlon at Hyde Park. Photo / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand triathlete Nicky Samuels has spoken of her frustration after she "sacrificed" her own race at the London Olympics in a fruitless attempt to help team-mate Andrea Hewitt win a medal.

The team tactics were stipulated in a contract between Triathlon New Zealand and team members Hewitt, Kate McIlroy and Samuels, who were 6th, 10th and 35th, respectively, in the women's Olympic triathlon race last month.

In an email sent to supporters this week, Samuels questioned the strategy - which required her to hold back in the race to help her team-mates, yet failed to deliver medals for New Zealand.

"It was disappointing for me to think how much work I had put in throughout the year preparing, qualifying, preparing again and then just watch it all happen right before your eyes and you can't do anything about [it] - this was very frustrating for me," Samuels wrote.

"I am also not sure I would commit to work as a team again if that was going to be the result, no medal for triathlon and New Zealand and a 30-plus finish for me wasn't ideal. I felt I sacrificed my own race and am disappointed with that."

Tri NZ national coach Greg Fraine said the agreement between the three women and Tri NZ was made about a month before the Olympics as "part of the requirements" of the triathlon high performance programme.

"There was no mention of sacrificing anybody prior, but if the situation came that the three of them could combine to make a stronger alliance or a stronger unit that was the agreement," Fraine said.

"If someone [from New Zealand] was in the front, they would not actively chase or combine with other athletes from other nations to chase down the front group.

"They all agreed that that was in the best interests of themselves to work together and in the best interests of achieving a medal for a New Zealander."

Samuels said her poor swim leg in London saw her exit the water about 15 seconds behind the main group, alongside some of the fastest runners in the field.

"Runners which the New Zealand team ... had discussed heavily during the build-up to the Olympics," she said.

"I am not a huge one for team tactics as I like to control my own destiny and race as hard as I can to the end. However, in this case we were to set the race up for Andrea to run into a medal spot and all agreed and signed a contract for it."

She said she was "forced to sit back and disrupt the chase pack" to prevent them catching the front group during the bike leg, leaving the race "perfectly" set up for Hewitt, who ultimately lost ground on the run leg and fell out of medal contention.

Samuels acknowledged she let herself down in the swim, and "sometimes it does take a team effort to win medals in this hugely competitive sport".

Fraine stood by the tactics, despite none of the trio making it to the podium.

"I still believe that the best way to approach this is to have three people who are working as a unit because they can all benefit," he said.

He felt for Samuels, who had been performing well in the swim leg in the months leading up to the Olympics.

"And to her credit she stuck by the agreement."

Samuels leaves her parents' home in Whangarei today for races in China and South Korea before returning to Wanaka for a month's training ahead of the world triathlon series grand final in Auckland next month.

- Otago Daily Times

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