All eyes will be firmly fixed on the top prize at the 2019 Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event this week, as a 10-strong Australian squad prepares to put their best racing forward with automatic selection to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on the line.
While the race gives athletes their first chance to test the course ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games next August, sights will be set on taking out top honours with the first Australian male and female to finish on the podium will be nominated by Triathlon Australia to the AOC for next year’s Games.
Tasmanian Jake Birtwhistle will be donning the number one in Tokyo this week, after what has been his most successful season to date with two World Triathlon Series (WTS) titles under his belt. Birtwhistle will be looking to leave it all out on the course come Friday, as he aims for selection in what could be his debut Olympic Games team.
Joining him on the starting line will be 2016 Commonwealth Games teammates, Matt Hauser and Luke Willian, with 2016 Rio Olympians, Aaron Royle and Ryan Fisher rounding out the Australian male contingent.
Speaking to Triathlon Australia, Hauser said that Tokyo provides a perfect opportunity to showcase his skills ahead of a critical 12-months for the sport.
“Now it’s down to the pointy end of the season, I can’t wait to get to the Tokyo test event and show the Aus team selectors what I’ve got to offer,” Hauser said.
“To experience the course and conditions of what could possibly be my debut Olympic Games race in 2020 is an amazing opportunity.”
“It will be a hard race to gain automatic selection in but I’ll give it everything and showcase my form over the Olympic and hopefully MTR formats.”
Despite the absence of WTS stars Vincent Luis (FRA), Mario Mola (ESP) and Javier Gomez Noya (ESP) from the start list, securing a podium finish won’t be any easier for the Australians. Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Henri Schoeman (RSA), in-form Belgians Jelle Geens and Marten Van Riel, and tireless British runner Alex Yee make for a highly competitive field, with the Australians needing to excel in all three legs to secure a medal position.
In the Elite Women’s field, Emma Jackson is eyeing up her second Olympics berth in eight years, following her remarkable return to elite competition after several years of injury.
With her recent debut win at last month’s WTS Edmonton under her belt, as well as a strong result at WTS Montreal earlier this season, Jackson has shown she’s still capable of pushing her opponents right to the finish line.
Speaking to Triathlon Australia, Jackson said that she’s ecstatic to have the opportunity to represent her country in the Test Event.
“It’s been a rough couple of years with not being able to train or compete at the level I know I am capable of, but I finally feel I’m on my way back to being the best athlete I can be,” Jackson said.
“Being selected to compete at the Test Event for the 2020 Olympic Games and named on the World Championship team is something I don’t take for granted, and is always an honour when given the chance to race for Australia.”
Ashleigh Gentle will also be looking to produce a strong result in Tokyo for the Australians, after her emphatic return to form at WTS Edmonton last month saw her walk away with bronze. Gentle will be aiming for her second Olympic team selection, after making her Olympic debut in Rio.
Jaz Hedgeland will toe the starting line on Thursday after recording impressive results over recent months including 9th at WTS Montreal and 7th at WTS Edmonton. While Natalie Van Coevorden and Emma Jeffcoat will also have their sights set on making their first major Games debut after strong performances at several World Cup and Mixed Team Relay events.
A world-class field is set to push the Australian women to the limits as they race in search of automatic selection. A full-force British team of Georgia Taylor-Brown, Jess Learmonth, Vicky Holland and Non Stanford, combined with the USA’s unassailable Katie Zaferes and consistent performer Taylor Spivey sets the agenda for a highly competitive race. While Canadian Joanna Brown and France’s Cassandre Beaugrand will also make for some tough competition for the Australians.
Following Individual Elite Racing on Thursday and Friday, the Australian squad will back up their performances with the Mixed Relay (MR) on Sunday. With a number of experienced Mixed Relay athletes headed to Tokyo, including 2019 MR World Championship bronze medallists Jake Birtwhistle, Emma Jeffcoat, Aaron Royle and Natalie Van Coevorden, the Australian side will be looking to retain their number one world ranking in Tokyo.
2019 Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event
Elite Women – Thursday 15 August 7:30AM LOCAL | 8:30AM AEST
Elite Men – Friday 16 August 7:30AM LOCAL | 8:30AM AEST
Mixed Relay – Sunday 18 August 8AM LOCAL | 9AM AEST
Natalie Van Coevorden
Photo Credit: Tommy Zaferes | ITU Media