With the Grand Final of the ITU World Triathlon Series fast approaching, precious WTS rankings points are at stake at the penultimate stop in Yokohama this weekend. Andrea Hewitt (NZL) returns from a short break in racing, making the women’s competition more fierce than ever. In contrast, while key players in the men’s race are missing, racing will be anything but lacking as athletes gun for important points.
This year, athletes will start with a two-lap 750m swim in the sea near Osambashi pier. An Olympic distance race, the bike and run legs start and finish in Yamashita park and in and around Yokohama’s waterfront. The bike snakes around the giant Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris Wheel, while the run will take athletes around the Kanagawa Prefectural Government Building.
Following the London 2012 Olympic Games, previous WTS series leader Andrea Hewitt (NZL) opted to sit out the Stockholm race in lieu of recovering from the Games. However, after her lead slipped to Olympic bronze medallist Erin Densham(AUS), Hewitt returns to WTS racing in Japan with her eye on a world championship. Yokohama has done Hewitt well in previous years, with the Kiwi winning in 2011 and collecting silver in 2009. Her podium history, hunger to regain the top ranking, and fresh racing legs could make Hewitt incredibly dangerous.
However, Hewitt will face severe competition for that No. 1 spot on the leaderboard. Densham has been unstoppable this season, having made the podium in all but one race since March. Her only slip was in Stockholm, but her fifth-place finish was good enough to give her the top WTS ranking by 470 points. While the Aussie has yet to race in Yokohama, her form this year makes her a serious threat for the podium. Densham won’t be the only Aussie contender in Yokohama with Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) and Emma Moffatt (AUS) set to start as well.
Lisa Norden (SWE), who has been on fire since her silver medal in London, will also line up in the Japanese coastal city. Norden won the last WTS race on home soil in Stockholm, which moved her into fourth place on the charts. Like Hewitt, Norden has experienced great success on the Yokohama course, having won in 2009.
The host country itself will feature a deep pool of talent with 2012 Olympians Mariko Adachi, Juri Ide, and Ai Ueda ready to dazzle their compatriots. Last year, huge crowds poured out to support the athletes, which will no doubt assist the Japanese in their vision for glory.
Other dangerous competitors include Sarah Groff (USA), who returns to competition after just missing a medal in London. Hewitt’s teammate Kate McIlroy (NZL), who recorded a bronze medal performance last year, is one to look out for. With the absence of Olympic gold medallist Nicola Spirig (SUI) from the start list, look forAnne Haug (GER), who sits in fifth in the rankings and recently finished fourth in Stockholm, to push the pace to improve her ranking. Although Barbara Riveros Diaz (CHI) experienced a disappointing finish in London, she returned to form in Stockholm with a third place finish and will be a name to look for in Yokohama.
While the women’s race sees the return of top competitors, the men’s race is void of its top two ranked athletes. Though Jonathan Brownleesits with more than a 500-point lead, he opted not to race in Yokohama, which could be risky with several men gunning for his spot. In an equally risky choice, men’s second-ranked Alexander Bryukhankov(RUS) pulled out from Yokohama, giving room for No. 3 Javier Gomez to overtake the number two slot.
Although Olympic silver medallist Gomez sits 380 points behind Bryukhankov, he could capitalize on the opportunity to score his first victory of the ITU season. With Alistair Brownlee (GBR) missing from the line up, as well as out of contention for the world title, Gomez will undoubtedly be looking to reclaim the world title, and hence critical points in Yokohama.
Similarly, Sven Riederer (SUI) will take advantage of the opportunity to add points to his fourth-place ranking, as well as the French duo of Laurent Vidal and David Hauss. Dmitry Polyanskiy (RUS), who recently won the Tongyeong World Cup, will jockey with the group for a higher position as he wears number three on the start list in Japan. Polyanskiy will have strong assistance from his Russian teammates, as his brother Igor Polyanskiy will line up alongside him, as well as Ivan Vasiliev and Denis Vasiliev.
Last year Joao Silva (POR) broke through for his first series victory with an impressive performance and he is back to defend his title. His best performance this year was finishing 9th at the London Olympic Games.
The women’s race will go off first at 8:05am local time on Saturday 29 September. The men’s race will get underway three hours later at 11:00am. Follow all the events live through with timing and text updates, attriathlonlive.tv. You can also follow along on Twitter at twitter.com/triathlonlive.