Yokohama is a popular stop on the ITU World Triathlon Series circuit, but expect international arrivals to be even busier than usual this week as a number of New Zealanders join triathletes from all around the world arrive for one last shot at earning Olympic rankings points in what is now a mad scramble for places on the start line in Rio.



Andrea Hewitt has already been named to the Rio team (the first athlete from any sport) and Ryan Sissons earlier this year met the qualifying criteria to earn a nomination to the NZOC, but others such as Tony Dodds (Wanaka), Nicky Samuels (Wanaka), Rebecca Spence (Auckland) and Simone Ackermann (Cambridge) know that this is the last chance to impress.



A number of those Kiwis have met some of the Olympic qualifying criteria, but would love nothing more than a second top 8 performance this weekend to further enhance claims for a Rio nomination.



Dodds though is taking a more relaxed approach after admitting he was perhaps a little too result focused last time out in Cape Town.

"This is just my second time here in Yokohama but I love it, the Japanese people are great and very accommodating. I put a lot of pressure on a result in Cape Town and that was definitely a problem for me but I have come here on the back of some really good sessions and ticked off everything I need to do so I am coming here to have fun and relax and let the race take care of itself. I am happy with where I am at for sure."

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Dodds says that appearances can be deceptive, despite being at or near the lead out of the water and off the bike in his previous races, he knows there is improvement in the swim and bike, as well as the run which is taking longest to come back.

"The run is the last thing to come but even the swim and bike have been ridiculously hard for me, you might not see it on television but I am in excruciating pain and they haven't actually been that good, but on those bad days I can still make the front bunch and break away which has been a real positive. But I am still waiting to tick off the three disciplines in the one race, it has taken a little bit more time to get back than I thought, this is my third race in just over 8 months so I am looking forward to it."

One of the improvers on the ITU scene this season has been Rebecca Spence. A former age group world champion, Spence has been back on the international stage for just over 12 months now and with recent placings of 15th (Quality Hotel New Plymouth World Cup), 31st (Gold Coast WTS) and a WTS career best 13th (Cape Town WTS), the Aucklander feels she is starting to find her feet again in the sport.

"I am happy with where I am at, I am with a relatively new squad now and my training has changed completely from really long slow stuff to basically the exact opposite which is what I need now, the long stuff was good to get my mind right but now I am in a good head space I can follow the coaching (Jamie Turner) plan and be around other athletes and cope with it all."

Spence returned to the sport just over 12 months ago after a five year hiatus. The former junior world champion was essentially burned out and had to walk away from the sport for her own good, her enjoyment was gone. Coming back has been challenging, but not as tough as she thought it could have been.

"To be honest I have found it a lot easier than I thought it would be. I kind of jumped straight back into where I left off - it is easy enough to jump back at a middle level, but to jump up to the top level is going to be extra - years' work. I don't want to be great this year or next year, I want to progress really well and get to my peak and don't want to rush it, that will take time if I rush I will end up in the same place I was last time.

"Rio is on the radar, but I think if I am realistic my potential is beyond there, I am not going to go to Rio and be top three, it is experience and a learning curve and looking further ahead. I would not turn it down though, that would be crazy and you would question what you are doing in the sport. But if I focus directly on that as a goal I might miss my potential overall - that is too close and too narrow minded for me at the moment."

What then are the goals in Yokohama this weekend?

"If I have a good swim and really good run, with my fitness levels at the moment I will be very happy. Obviously I want to beat the other Kiwi girls - that is no secret, if I perform to a level that I know I can, regardless of the result I will be happy."

After essentially burning out and leaving the sport behind in her early twenties though, Spence knows what her number one priority is at all times.

"Number one for me though is to love what I do, if I don't then I will end up hating the sport like I did last time, it doesn't matter how hard you train if you hate the sport you will never be a champion, you have to genuinely love it."