On the eve of the inaugural Super League Triathlon event on Hamilton Island, athletes have all had a chance to look at the course, size up their competitors, and set their eyes on the first prize of $100,000.
Super League Triathlon yesterday assembled its roster of champion athletes in Hamilton Island in one room for the first time for the race technical briefing and slot draw for starting positions.
While the atmosphere was light-hearted with plenty of chatting, one could also see alliances and strategies forming. Alistair Brownlee sat with training partner Richard Varga; Javier Gomez had his coach and Mario Mola on either side. Brownlee and Gomez have not raced each other since WTS Leeds in June of last year, with Brownlee coming out on top.
Positions on the starting pontoon and in transition will be determined by finish order for Days 2 and 3 of Super League Hamilton Island, but for Day 1 they are assigned by slot draw. Each athlete was called to the front by their jersey number, where they then picked another athlete’s number out of a jar and assigned a slot on the pontoon to them.
Due to the current in the Hamilton Island Marina where the swim will be held, the best position is slot #24 where the outside current gives assistance. The worst is slot #1 because the athlete will be fighting the current. But who you’re standing next to on the pontoon may be just as important because you can draft off them and conserve energy.
The younger athletes seemed more inclined to give other athletes a disadvantage. Henri Schoeman put aquathlon champion Ben Shaw in #3. Siggy Ragnarsson put Gomez in #11, which is right in the middle of the fray where he will more likely be bogged down. Jorik van Egdom bucked the trend and awarded Olympic bronze medalist Henri Schoeman slot #21, saying, “I’m in a good mood.”
Super League Triathlon expert commentator Emma Frodeno said, “I think we’re going to see some of the young kids come out of the woodwork and sort of give these ones that we know a run for their money. We’re going to see some of the lesser names in bright lights.”
Kristian Blummenfelt put speedy swimmer Dmitri Polyansky in slot #1, while Mola put Jake Birtwhistle in #2.
Birtwhistle said, “It’s not ideal, but I think I’m around a couple of good swimmers so I’m going to jump on and get towed around for a little bit. [Mario and I] have not spoken since he picked that slot for me.”
Mola had been given slot #5 by Gomez, which explains why he put Birtwhistle in a poorer position. He added that had he been in Gomez’s place he would also have put him in a similar spot. “We are used to picking out our own spots and not doing someone else’s but I guess it’s part of the game,” said the Spaniard. “I was not trying to make anything of it but I thought Jake’s going to be on my left so it’s good.”
Gomez said pontoon position would not matter anyway. “We’ll all swim fast to the first buoy, and we are not too many anyway so number 5 could have been any other.” While slot #5 should put Mola at a disadvantage, strong swimmers Igor Polyanskiy and Josh Amberger are in slots #4 and #6 respectively which will give him the benefit of a draft if he can stay with them.
Brownlee got the luck of the draw, picking himself out of the jar. He took advantage and put himself in slot #24 right beside Varga.
The Englishman is looking forward not just to the racing, but also the unprecedented sports entertainment approach Super League Triathlon has taken. “We’ve been pushing for a long time for our world series to be more like this. I’ve been talking for a long time about the need for triathlon to be more consumer-friendly, more interesting and different for the athletes to race, more about creating entertainment and interesting content. And Super League Triathlon is definitely leading the way.”
Richard Murray’s name has come up quite often when the athletes talk about who to watch out for. But the South African has a pretty relaxed approach to the coming racing. He said, “If you push the boundaries here on the island it’s gonna swallow you up. You need to save energy for the last 20 or 30 minutes on Sunday. If there’s nothing left, then you’ll be in big trouble.” He claimed to be at only 85% of his season’s fitness, but believes his 85% can still beat someone’s 100%.
One athlete who has gone under the radar is Schoeman, but this climate and this course are right in his wheelhouse. “I’m very fortunate that I come from Durban, South Africa, it’s not as humid but it’s hot like this. I’m a small guy, I might handle it better than the other guys.” He is also a good climber on the bike, and would have preferred more of the race to be uphill.”
Super League Triathlon co-founder Chris McCormack has been speaking with the athletes all week and says they’re all excited but apprehensive. “They’ve never done this type of stuff before -- talking about recovering between the three days, how the formats are going to work work, how they’re going to lose or gain time in certain areas,” he said. ”It’s going to be very dynamic racing. For the triathlon lover, it’s very different from anything they’ve ever seen before, and for the person who’s never seen triathlon before, it will be absolutely epic.”
With racing commencing tomorrow, Super League Hamilton Island is bound to deliver plenty of drama and action.
Super League Hamilton Island will be broadcast live on www.superleaguetriathlon.com on 17-19 March 2017 from 1700 AEST.