International Outlook: The Olympic Competition

By Kim McDonald | Aug. 02, 2016, 7 a.m. (ET)

Rio Triathlon Test Event
The Games will host a total of 110 Olympic and 60 Paralympic triathletes.

Predicting the likely Olympic triathlon medalists can be tricky business. History has shown the only certainty in the unpredictable Olympic draft-legal format is that there will be surprises.

Take, for example, two-time ITU World Champion Helen Jenkins from Great Britain, the favorite to win gold on her home soil four years ago. She ended up a disappointing fifth in London. Or five-time ITU World Champion Javier Gomez from Spain, a pre-race favorite to win at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He finished off the podium behind Jan Frodeno of Germany, Kiwi Bevan Docherty and Canada’s Simon Whitfield after a furious sprint to the finish, but came back in London to secure an Olympic silver medal.

Are this year’s performances any guide? Many of the top Olympic qualifiers who obtained their spots last year won’t peak until the Olympics. And many of the athletes who this year moved up in the ITU World Triathlon Series rankings and raced their way to the last Olympic spots probably left their best efforts behind and may not look so dominant come mid-August. Nevertheless, here are some top international contenders likely to give Team USA a battle for medals in Rio.

THE WOMEN

Andrea Hewitt (NZL): A consistent podium finisher in big races who knows how to put herself in contention and dig deep on the run, Hewitt comes to her third Olympic Games motivated to medal after the untimely death of her coach and fiancé Laurent Vidal. She finished sixth at the London Olympics and in the top three in the year-end WTS rankings (‘14, ‘15).

Non Stanford (GBR): The silver medalist at last year’s Grand Final in Chicago, Stanford is also a proven performer on the Olympic course. She was the runner up to Jorgensen at the 2015 Rio test event.

Flora Duffy (BER): An exceptional cyclist and versatile athlete who won the 2014 and 2015 XTERRA World Championship, Duffy has steadily improved in the ITU rankings. She competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and could be a key player in an upset if she gets in the front pack on the bike.

Helen Jenkins (GBR): The 2008 and 2011 ITU World Champion had been plagued by lower-leg injuries but appears to have regained her winning form. At ITU World Triathlon Gold Coast in April, Jenkins ran away from the lead pack and became the first triathlete since 2014 to beat Jorgensen, who had won 12 straight WTS races.

Nicola Spirig (SUI): The defending gold medalist took time off after London to have a child and in March underwent surgery on her left hand after a bike crash in Abu Dhabi, but don’t count her out. She’s a talented performer who knows how to win.
 
Andrea Hewitt
  Non Stanford
  Flora Duffy
  Helen Jenkins
  Nicola Spirig


THE MEN

Alistair Brownlee (GBR): The defending Olympic gold medalist and two-time ITU World Champion has not raced much over the past year due to injuries and a recent ankle surgery, but don’t count him out.

Mario Mola (ESP): Spain’s rising star has been on a winning streak in this year’s World Triathlon Series after winning last year’s World Triathlon Grand Final and typically dominates the run, which will be key due to Rio’s flat course.

Jonathan Brownlee (GBR): Like his brother Alistair, the London bronze medalist has not raced much over the past year but is motivated to improve his placing and Alistair will no doubt show him how to do that.

Richard Murray (RSA): The South African finished third in last year’s Grand Final and the Rio test event race and has been a consistent podium finisher in recent years.

 Alistair Brownlee      Mario Mola      Jonathan Brownlee      Richard Murray


PARALYMPIC TRIATHLON

Paralympic triathlon will make its debut in Rio with three medal events for men and women. International athletes to watch include Stefan Daniel (CAN), who won the ITU World Championship in Chicago last year in the men’s PT4 division as well as the ITU World Paratriathlon race in Yokohama earlier this year, Kate Doughty (AUS), the winner of the women’s PT4 division in Yokohama, and five-time ITU world champion Bill Chaffey (AUS), winner of the men’s PT1 division in Yokohama.

Stefan Daniel   Kate Doughty   Bill Chaffey