Australia will send a strong and large team of athletes for the upcoming Sovereign Oceania Triathlon Championships in Gisborne, to be held on March 19 and 20.
With Oceania titles on the line, ITU ranking points and perhaps most importantly, possible wildcard spots at the Rio Olympic Games, the Aussies are serious about the trip to the East Coast and are bringing with them a posse of athletes in all elite age groups, from Juniors (U19) to U23 and the elite events.
Bernard Savage, Triathlon Australia National Performance Director says there are multiple reasons for bringing a big team to Gisborne.
"The Oceania Championships are an important part of our overall strategy in the race to Rio and to capture maximum positions is of paramount importance. It is definitely important to lock in the automatic quota spots. It makes life easier if you don't have to rely on chasing points all around the world. But it's not the only strategy. We're going to Gisborne to be competitive, that's the nature of the game. This race will be no different. Our athletes are winners and I guess there are no better contests than the Trans-Tasman variety. It brings out the best in both countries, especially in an Olympic year."
The event is being run by the Eastland Triathlon & Multisports Club in partnership with TMS Sport Promotions Limited. Event Director Terry Sheldrake says the sheer size of the Aussie team will ensure an international flavour to racing, but also depth in all events, including the exciting mixed team relay for the Juniors on the Sunday afternoon.
"The response from Australia has been superb and we look forward to hosting them here in Gisborne and having them experience the beautiful scenery and people of the East Coast.
"In sport there is nothing like a Trans-Tasman battle and we will see this across the entire weekend, with the green and gold clashing with the black and white of New Zealand and a sprinkling of other nations that will be represented."
Savage says Australia will bring athletes from all levels of their HP Programme, each with their own goals and objectives while in Gisborne.
"We will have an overall team of 53 across Elite, Under 23s and Juniors. It will be made up of Olympians, World Champions, members of our Olympic Shadow Squad, National Talent Academy and Oceania and Australian champions as well as an exciting selection of our "generation next" who have been identified for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
"Our key athletes will include dual Olympian and 2008 Beijing bronze medalist Emma Moffatt in the Elite Women's field and in the Elite Men's field, Aaron Royle, who has secured an automatic nomination for this year's Olympic Team with his top ten place in the Rio Test Event. Add under 23 World Champion Jake Birtwhistle and the likes of recent Devonport Oceania Cup winner Marcel Walkington and rising star Emma Jeffcoat as well as defending Junior Oceania champion Matt Hauser and Australian Junior Series leader Sophie Malowiecki and it rounds off an exciting group."
Not surprisingly for the green and gold, the first focus is to win, but they have a wider agenda with a long season of racing ahead.
"Our goals are always to win, that's part of our DNA. There are Oceania Championships on the line and they are prestigious titles. As the defending champions across all events we are keen to maintain Australia's Oceania dominance. It will also be a key indicator for many of our team and our coaches as to where the athletes are positioned at the start of what will be an exciting year of racing at all levels. For some it will climax at the Olympics, for others it will be the World Championships and for many the WTS, World Cups and Continental Cups. It will form a springboard to bigger and better things."
The weekend of racing is not just about the elites though, with Sheldrake highlighting the offering of races and options for all-comers to come along and be a part of the action.
"Saturday sees the elite races and Oceania Championships events for Juniors (morning), Under 23 and Elite, with the Junior Mixed Relay for the Sunday afternoon as athletes join together for a fun and action packed relay format.
"Sunday morning however is for everyone else, the weekend warriors, the age group athletes and the beginners - there is a race for everyone to take part in and enjoy the event first-hand - whether experienced or a first timer.
"We have a short distance fun event that anyone with a bike, a pair of running shoes and some swimming goggles and togs can be part of - you don't need all the fancy gear for this one, you can also enter as a team if you like. As well as that we have age group racing over the sprint distance offering qualification spots for the ITU World Age Group Championships in Mexico later in the year."