Irish triathletes ready to flex muscles on world stage
As the Vodafone National Series season starts to slow down at home, 278 Irish triathletes are preparing to compete in this week's world championships in London's Hyde Park, starting on Wednesday.
The tight-knit community comprises four team managers, one under 23 male, two senior elites, four paratriathletes and four junior elites, with the remainder made up of age-groupers across nearly every category. The group will be making history as the largest Irish sporting group ever to compete at a world games, across Sprint, Standard and Aquathlon events. Eighty six countries will be taking part of which Ireland has the sixth highest participation.
"We really are punching well above our weight," said Chris Kitchen CEO of Triathlon Ireland. "We have 8,300 registered members of TI, not far behind British Triathlon's 12,000 members, so pro rata we really are going at this sport full speed."
In fact, domestic racing has become so competitive that more and more athletes are happy to travel overseas and challenge the best in the world. Last Sunday's double success of Gavin Noble and Eimear Mullan at the Ironman 70.3 champions in Austria was the shot in the arm that many of these hopefuls needed in their final preparation.
The swim in the Serpentine, cycle and run through London was the location for the 2012 Olympic Games triathlon.
In the mix are elite seniors Aileen Reid, currently ranked 11th and Bryan Keane, ranked 46th, as they battle it out for the Grand Final of the series. Their season started in April in Auckland with mixed successes for both athletes over seven events.
Keane's career path to become an elite athlete in 2009 represented a successful talent transfer, having previously raced for Ireland as a professional cyclist and as a cross-country runner. Second in this year's Japan World Cup, he will be up against the Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan and Javier Gomez.
Reid's high-altitude training and a podium finish in Hungary in August illustrate a focussed approach. "Preparations for the grand final have been going well, with a healthy and consistent round of top 20 finishes in all seven races so far," she said. "The year has been a successful lesson in how to race like an elite athlete."
Brother and sister duo Russell and Rebecca White, under 23 elites from Banbridge, will go in the sprint distance, with Rebecca also going in the Aquathlon. Russell, who followed in Noble's footsteps by moving to Stirling has kept up his training with the Scottish elites while still being part of the Irish national squad.
With his European age group (25-29) Championship win and first overall in Alanya Turkey, Kevin Thornton is definitely a man with a plan when it comes to racing in London. He has been sweeping the boards back home in the National Series and a podium finish is well within his reach. Excited to be representing Ireland in a big event, he is hoping to do himself justice against such a competitive field.
Other podium hopefuls to watch out for are Maire Triona Keane (30-34 Standard), Elizabeth Lee (30-34 Aquathlon), Brian Harris (35-39 Sprint) and Scottish born Pete 'The Vet' Wedderburn (50-54 Standard) racing for Wicklow Triathlon.