Ireland’s top elite triathletes are feeling positive ahead of the opening round of the World Triathlon Series on March 7th.
The global series, watched by 250 Million people last year has been expanded for 2015 with stop-offs in Abu Dhabi, Auckland, the Gold Coast, Cape Town, Yokohama, London, Hamburg, Stockholm, Edmonton and finally the Grand Final in Chicago at the end of September.
Rio Olympic Qualification opened in May of 2014 and will run until May of 2016, but with an athlete’s best 14 results to score, the 2015 World Triathlon Series will play a pivotal role in the selection of triathlon’s elite. Just the top 55 male and female athletes based off the International Triathlon Union’s Olympic Simulation Ranking will make the grade meaning Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls will be travelling the world in search of points.
Triathlon Ireland’s previous best was at the London Olympics where Aileen Reid and Gavin Noble qualified, however for 2016 there is an opportunity to quality three, maybe even four slots.
Derry native, Aileen Reid finished eighth in the World Triathlon Series in both 2013 and 2014, including silver in the 2013 Grand Final and fifth in the 2014 Grand Final. She is truly among the elite in women’s triathlon but will be targeting a further step up in the world rankings along with some World Series podium finishes in 2015.
This weekend see’s Reid wear number 5 on the start list with World Number 1, Gwen Jorgenson going in as the top ranked athlete and hot favourite. 2015 is the first time the International Triathlon Union’s World Series has visited Abu Dhabi so it is somewhat of an unknown for the athletes. The course consists of a 750m swim, four lap 20km bike and two lap 5km run, all relatively flat but with plenty of 180 degree turns to sap the legs of energy for the run.
On the men’s side, there are three Irish triathletes with their sights firmly set on Olympic Qualification, Bryan Keane, Conor Murphy and Ben Shaw.
Cork man Bryan Keane is the top ranked Irish male and currently lies inside the qualification zone at 54th on the Olympic Simulation Ranking. He has started the season in flying form with a 3rd and 4th in two early season Continental Cups in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
“Training has been going well and I’m not carrying any injuries. Sure you’re always going to be pushing in training and looking for more but I can’t complain!”
Conor Murphy is a former Age Group European and World Champion and made his début on the World Series last year. He’s recently joined a new training squad and is rising through the rankings at speed. Murphy currently lies just outside the top 100 on the ITU Points list but has an opportunity to make progress following the first race.
Murphy recently piped World Number 41 Cameron Good in a warm up race in February, showing his potential to leapfrog up the rankings.
“My début in the World Series in Auckland where I finished 22nd was the highlight of 2014 but my goal for 2015 and beyond is to qualify for the Rio Olympics.”
“Training has been going well here in San Diego, I’m freshening up nicely so I’m looking forward to some fast racing in Abu Dhabi.”
Ben Shaw, at just 22 years of age is among the youngest competitors racing at World Series level but is also recognised as being among the most aggressive in his racing style.
Shaw finished 56th in the 2014 edition of the World Triathlon Series, but with a solid winters training under his belt will be hoping to make a step up this season and move towards securing an Olympic Qualification slot. Shaw will not be racing in Abu Dhabi, opting for Australia’s Mooloolaba World Cup on March 14th followed by the Auckland leg of the World Triathlon Series on March 28th.
Abu Dhabi features a predictably stacked field with Olympic Champion, Alistair Brownlee the only notably absentee. His younger brother Jonny could be considered more of a sprint specialist but there is likely to be stiff competition from 2014 World Champion Javier Gomez, fellow Spaniard Mario Mola and a whole host of other names.
Watch the action via the BBC Red Button on Saturday, March 7th from 12noon or at www.triathlonlive.tv.
Highlights available on BBC Two, March 9th from 2:45pm.