New Zealand will have six athletes lining up in the latest ITU World Series event on Australia's Gold Coast this weekend, with Braden Currie on debut at WTS racing in the men's and Andrea Hewitt, Nicky Samuels, Simone Ackermann, Rebecca Spence and Rebecca Clarke all racing in the women's event over the standard distance, in what is effectively the only time New Zealand's leading women will race together in the lead up to final Rio nominations.
For Samuels it marks just the second race back in 2016 after missing the entire 2015 campaign through injury as the former world number 5 continues her return to the top level of the sport. Samuels has eyes on Rio and while Gold Coast offers a chance to further meet the Olympic qualifying criteria (a top 8 in WTS racing), the Wanaka athlete is focused more on race execution and hitting key targets as she continues her return to full race fitness.
Hewitt has already earned her spot in Rio and continues her 2016 campaign after a strong start with a silver medal at the Quality Hotel Plymouth International ITU World Cup in New Plymouth. Gold Coast is another high quality hit out and a chance for Hewitt to again get back into racing mode and mix it in what is a star studded women's lineup.
Ackermann, Spence and Clarke are all looking to post strong results to prove their worth to the selectors and to put their names in the frame for possible Olympic Games nomination in a race that will be full noise due to the Australians, British (and others) using the event as an outright Olympic Games qualifier.
Indeed with New Zealand's top men not racing on the Gold Coast it is a chance for all of our leading women to race together in what will be a hugely competitive event, due to the quality of the field but also to the Olympic qualification being applied to the event by some of those leading countries.
In the men's race Braden Currie will be the sole Kiwi and knows that this is 'last chance saloon' time for the multi-talented former Coast to Coast winner. His pursuit of a place at the Rio Olympics was always a long shot, but that hasn't stopped the gritty Wanaka athlete from giving it his absolute best.
Currie has been on a something of a steep learning curve as he has attempted the transition to ITU racing, it is one that he readily admits may have been tried in too short a space of time to be realistic, but he has not left any stone unturned in that time.
"I have no regrets about this process," he says. "I know I have become a better athlete mentally and physically. The challenges that this style of racing has made me face, should set me up well for the future. I relate it to my first season of racing in China and Mongolia four years ago, When you just feel so far out of your comfort zone and you really are on a fine balancing point of giving up and failing completely you find some strength from somewhere even though it has been beaten out of you and you just keep going."
After finishing first Kiwi home at the Oceania Championships in Gisborne, Currie was given that lifeline of a start in Gold Coast, at which point he made the call due to a slight illness to skip the ITU New Plymouth World Cup in favour of one last tilt this weekend.
"I know once I get there I will be excited but it still seems pretty daunting right now to be racing against the Brownlee brothers, Mola and the other 70 of the world's best triathletes. But day by day I seem to get a little bit back and feel a little bit better and I have the faith that everything has unfolded exactly as it should have and that this is either how it will end, or how it will begin!"