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Triathlon: A big dilemma for selectors

Andrea Hewitt has qualified for Rio but how to fill the other spots – if at all – is a puzzle, writes Andrew Alderson.
Nicky Samuels is a strong cyclist. Photo / Getty Images
Nicky Samuels is a strong cyclist. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand Olympic Committee selectors face a dilemma to decide which triathletes to send to the Rio Games.

It follows yesterday's results from the Yokohama world series event. In the women's race, Andrea Hewitt finished fourth, Simone Ackermann 20th and Rebecca Spence 21st. Nicky Samuels was second out of the swim but failed to finish the run.

Ackermann and Spence spent periods at the front of the bike leg on a tame course which was flat and wide in topography. The peloton bunched up and, with no key breakaways, the race swung into the stronger runners' favour.

American Gwen Jorgensen, the 2014 and 2015 world series champion, dominated the run to win by 1m 18s. Hewitt was 13s further back.

In the men's race, Spaniard Mario Mola won by 15s with Kiwis Ryan Sissons (+44s) and Tony Dodds (+2m 10s) finishing ninth and 28th respectively.

That creates a conundrum for the NZOC with no Kiwis - other than the already-qualified Hewitt - in the top eight. New Zealand has qualified Rio spots for three women and two men but two top eight finishes was deemed the minimum qualification standard barring extenuating circumstances.

Those circumstances can include recovery from injury, or working as an Olympic domestique for Hewitt or Sissons. Shane Reed helping Bevan Docherty earn bronze in Beijing is one example of the practice at Olympic level.

Hewitt has had myriad podium finishes in World Triathlon Series events; Sissons finished in the top eight at Stockholm and Abu Dhabi over the past nine months.

The NZOC need to decide whether to allocate their quota.

The next best Rio contenders are Samuels in the women's and Dodds in the men's because each has had a top eight finish in the selection period. However, both have been waylaid by injuries in the past year.

If the NZOC cede their qualified positions, it could make Hewitt and Sissons more vulnerable to opposition challenges in Rio.

"There are a few options remaining," Tri NZ high performance director Graeme Maw said. "The selectors can consider a place for a team role, which would become part of an athlete's terms for selection rather than picking somebody and then negotiating."

Samuels is a former national road cycling champion, but Maw says all options need consideration.

"Rebecca Spence rode really hard in Cape Town to pull the leaders back while Simone Ackermann has been near the front of every world triathlon series swim."

The domestique concept does not sit easily with Samuels, in what is essentially an individual sport.

"I don't really like that word because everyone is earning their right to compete at the Olympics, but I don't want to hinder other people's races for their country because New Zealand needs that medal," she said.

"I think Andrea and I have that chance after we were both on the grand final podium in 2014, the peak race of that year.

"I hope they [the selectors] look back on that. It was Commonwealth Games year and I wasn't selected at the start [Samuels subsequently won an appeal over her omission] but by the end of the year, I was on the podium. We've done it in the past."

Samuels suggested strong cyclists could be valuable on a relatively hilly Rio course because it offered the potential to generate or contain breakaway groups.

Hewitt was ambivalent on the domestique option.

"Triathlon is an individual sport. I'm racing by myself. You're not on the bike with a partner, but teamwork can help. Two or three is better than one ... but I'll leave that to the selectors."

The final triathlon selection is on May 23.

- Herald on Sunday

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