A seven-strong group of Tokyo Olympians and Paralympians will spearhead a wider group of 16 Australians who will line up in Saturday’s World Triathlon Series races in Yokohama.
Ten Elite athletes will kick start the next phase of the WTCS season with the added incentive of automatic Commonwealth Games nomination on the line.
The top placed Australians in the top ten in both the men’s and women’s Elite races in Yokohama will join Matt Hauser and Sophie Linn (winners of last month’s Gold Coast Triathlon nomination race), on the Birmingham nomination list.
Yokohama is traditionally one of the longest-running races on the circuit, an Olympic-distance challenge that is fast, flat and technical and provides a perfect chance for athletes to see exactly where they are after an extended off-season.
Hauser, with the selection pressure off, will line up in Saturday’s race alongside his 2018 Games team mates, fellow Mixed Relay gold medallist and Individual silver medallist Jake Birtwhistle (TAS) and Luke Willian (QLD), with Luke Bate (NSW) on his WTCS debut and Brandon Copeland (NSW) completing the men’s group in the 52-strong field of heavy hitters.
While Linn will sit out Yokohama, as she prepares for Birmingham, the women’s field will see Gold Coast podium finishers Kira Hedgeland (WA) and Charlotte McShane (VIC) joined by fourth-placed Natalie Van Coevorden (NSW) and Tokyo pair Jaz Hedgeland (WA) eighth on the Gold Coast and the returning Emma Jeffcoat (NSW).
The World Triathlon Para Series race will feature PTVI Paralympian Jonathan Goerlach (NSW), named this week in the four-member Australian PTVI Commonwealth Games Paratriathlon team for Birmingham.
A Yokohama group that will be missing Goerlach’s Birmingham team mate, Para track and field transfer athlete Sam Harding (ACT), who will make his Para-tri debut in Birmingham but forced out of Yokohama with Covid-19.
Goerlach will have fellow Tokyo Paratriathletes PTWC Nic Beveridge (QLD) and PTS5 David Bryant (WA) racing along with PTS3 Justin Godfrey (NSW) and PTS4 Liam Twomey (VIC) and Jeremy Peacock (VIC).
Hauser says he’s feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle the World Series this year, knowing his automatic nomination for Birmingham has alleviated the pressure.
“I can go into this weekend full steam ahead with Birmingham in mind and while Olympic (Standard) distance hasn’t traditionally suited me, and although this first half of the year is geared towards the Commonwealth Games (Sprint), this race is an important part of my development as an athlete leading into Paris in two years time,” said Hauser, who can’t wait for the season ahead and hoping for a great curtain raiser.
While for Brandon Copeland, who is relishing being part of Australia’s Olympic Program Head Coach and Podium Centre coach Joel Filliol’s group, the challenge lies ahead after last month’s Gold Coast Triathlon, where he was fourth to Hauser, Birtwhistle and Callum McClusky.
“For me since Gold Coast it has been all about doing a solid block of race specific work to set myself up for the race this weekend,” said Copeland.
Kira Hedgeland said her Yokohama focus has centred on the technical bike course that Yokohama offers.
“We made a technical course (in training) to focus on the skills and accelerations that will be needed to tackle the Yokohama course,” said Hedgeland.
Filliol has been impressed with Kira’s progress saying: “She’s got the right mind set and vision, she’s really a fierce athlete and brings a lot of determination to the daily process and that has been really positive. It has been important to get to know her and I know she will move on quite a lot this year.”
McShane has had an encouraging start to the season with solid races in Devonport, Mooloolaba and the Gold Coast, saying: “To be consistently competitive amongst my compatriots these past few months has been a positive affirmation - as I know the Aussie women’s team is world class.
“My aim is to continue to build and Yokohama is the next step in that build so I’m excited to see what eventuates.”
While her long-time friend and former training partner Van Coevorden has been in similarly strong form, she decided to head back to her European training base post her Gold Coast race to put the finishing touches to her Yokohama preparation.
“After Gold Coast, I went back to Portugal to prepare with my squad,” said Van Coevorden.
“It’s been a pretty intense block of work but we have worked on being both in the best physical and mental state of mind knowing there is a chance of an automatic spot this weekend.
“Since we started the year, the focus in training load has been on Yokohama so I feel the best prepared I could be and race ready after some domestic race preparations.
“A successful, healthy and consistent winter of work is the best possible start to the year that I could have asked for.”
Filliol admits that late start to the season has been a challenge for all and (working on) how best to deal with that.
“It’s important that the athletes get back out there on the international circuit as Australian athletes have done over all these years; it’s about filling up that race bucket again – a bucket that quickly got emptied out these last couple of years,” said Filliol.
“Having time to develop and race and get that feedback that you get from going and racing against the best and going back to your training process and then back out there with what you learned at an improved level.
“That is really important for all our athletes this year – it’s about refilling and Yokohama in one respect is part of that Commonwealth Games process that also has that wider Paris 2024 narrative.
“This is just the start of getting back out there and that’s important for all of our athletes in a season that really has two parts.
“The first half is really up to the Commonwealth Games and then there’s a gap for two months before it restarts again in October through to the WTCS Grand Final in Abu Dhabi.
“We are building towards the first chapter and that’s to get back out there, get back on the horse and race – a number of our athletes haven’t raced too much ..they didn’t race much last year so that’s going to be so important to get back out there and mix it up internationally.
“Overall, there is a lot of work to do but there is a great opportunity to move forward now – it’s really about closing the chapter of the post Tokyo period and now looking forward to Paris with some adjustments made, based on lessoned learned.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for all of us in the program to be more effective and ultimately to support the athletes to perform better.”
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