Veteran two-time Olympian Aaron Royle will return to the World Triathlon Championship Series in Leeds this weekend which will also see Birmingham-bound Commonwealth Games rookie Sophie Linn make her Series debut at 27.
Leeds had been a regular hunting ground in the celebrated 32-year-old Royle’s stellar career after being based in the northern England triathlon capital.
His first WTCS for 2022 will be his sixth appearance at Leeds in the Championships Series – his best finish coming in his debut Olympic year of 2016.
For 27-year-old Linn, the surprise packet of the 2022 Australian season, Leeds will see her make her WTCS debut after she earned an automatic Commonwealth Games nomination with her victory in the Gold Coast nomination race in April.
Based in Colorado after emerging from an elite swimming background in South Australia and a running scholarship to the University of Michigan, Linn, who has seen her career stalled by the impacts of Covid-19, is excited by her opportunity.
Australia’s Olympic Program Head Coach, Joel Filliol has Royle as part of his squad alongside 2012 Olympian Emma Jackson who is also on the start line, and is excited to see Linn on the performance pathway – finally.
“Both Aaron and Emma have had delayed starts to their seasons and are looking forward to getting back into top level races,” said Filliol.
“And they know it’s a long year until end of November to Abu Dhabi (and the WTCS Grand Final).
“As for Sophie, Covid-19 interrupted her career progression and competition chances, so she will be looking to take advantage of these opportunities across Leeds, Montreal and Hamburg into preparation for Birmingham.
“Sophie has a pedigree with athletics and (she has the) potential to improve quickly this year as she builds her experience.”
Royle will be joined by his fellow Tokyo Olympians Jake Birtwhistle and Matt Hauser along with 2018 Commonwealth Games representative Luke Willian and emerging Gold Coast-based youngster Brandon Copeland in a men’s group full of experience and youthful exuberance.
And on Birtwhistle, Filliol said the Commonwealth Games silver medallist from 2018 is healthy and motivated post his hard fought 14th in Yokohama.
“Jake has had a good (altitude) training camp in Font Romeu, so he is looking forward to all the races coming up across the WTCS with both Leeds and Hamburg’s very strong fields," said Filliol.
Hauser, who secured automatic nomination for Birmingham with his Gold Coast win in April, dug deep to secure his best ever WTCS finish in Yokohama finishing fourth behind Tokyo medallists Alex Yee (GBR) and Hayden Wilde (New Zealand) and he will be looking to keep the momentum going in Leeds.
“Yokohama was a great relief for me, I feel success at the World Series level has been a long time coming for me and to finally have a solid performance has given me confidence leading into this year, also being the Olympic Distance triathlon which I haven't had a great deal of experience or success in,” said Hauser, who will relish the return to the Sprint distance (750m swim; 18.4km bike and 5km run) around Roundhay Park.
“And I've grown up racing Alex and Hayden and their progression to the top has been astronomical.
“They've been an inspiration to me to try and follow in their footsteps and keep up with the rise of the strong cohort that has come through.
“They will be the ones to beat at Comm Games and I'm going to do everything to make sure I'm in a position to do just that.”
Yee and Wilde will again headline the men’s Elite field in Leeds with the top 10 from Yokohama in the firing line.
While in the women’s field, Jackson and Linn will be joined by the Hedgeland sisters, Tokyo Olympian Jaz Hedgeland and emerging sister Kira Hedgeland with Australia’s best placed 2021 WTCS performer Natalie Van Coevorden rounding out the five Elite females.
In an exciting change to the Mixed Team Relay, run under new rules unveiled for the runway to the Paris Olympics that will see a change in order, with the males leading off and third and the females second and last.
Tokyo’s Mixed Relay started with a female athlete and ended with a male athlete with the reverse planned for the Mixed Relay over the next two years leading into Paris.
Australia’s Mixed Team Relay in Leeds on the Sunday of competition will be a great starting point says Filliol, “we are focused on our individual progressions, for each athlete doing their best to make improvements – it’s a new year, a new team and a new opportunity.
“We can focus on our own processes and see this as a key learning point with the new relay format in the build up to 2024.”
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