By TERRY MADDAFORD

Sian Welch is carrying double hopes on to the world triathlon circuit this year.

The 33-year-old is the top women's seed for next month's New Zealand Ironman in Taupo, and later hopes to win a place in the US team for the inaugural Olympic triathlon in Sydney.

Until recently the aim was to join her husband Greg at the Olympics. As Australian No 1, Greg Welch was a certainty to line up in Sydney.

But a serious heart problem - diagnosed after an ironman last October during which his heart rate "went through the roof" - ended the career of one of the world's best triathletes. He has done no exercise for nearly three months.

Now he has become his wife's first coach.

"We are doing this [the New Zealand Ironman and the Olympic bid] together," said Sian Welch. "Our lives were turned upside down when the carpet was pulled out from under Greg."

Sian Welch, top of the ironman seedings ahead of New Zealand champion Karyn Ballance (nee Mills), who finished second behind Melissa Spooner last year, sees 2000 as possibly her last big year in the sport.

Juggling the demands of the ironman and the speed of the Olympic-distance triathlon has not been a major problem for the English-born, San Diego-based Welch, who won shorter races in South America last year before finishing in the top 10 in the famed Hawaiian Ironman.

The timing of the race here was perfect, she said. It would provide an ideal base for her training for May's US Olympic trials.

German Thomas Hellriegel heads the men's seedings from Switzerland's Olivier Bernhard and Kiwi Cameron Brown.