Two-time Olympian, Emma Moffatt, qualified for automatic selection at the Gold Coast WTS race in April, making her the only Australian triathlete to ever represent at three different Olympics (winning a bronze medal in Beijing). While she is racing at Yokohama this weekend, she can race comfortably without the Rio monkey on her back.
The remaining places are discretionary spots and while this race is the last opportunity for selectors to witness athletes’ potential greatness, this race is not a cut and dry automatic qualification. Ultimately though, with a tough task ahead for the selection committee, all eyes will be on how this weekend’s race plays out.
So who are the five remaining women putting it all on the line this Saturday in the hopes of keeping the Olympic dream alive?
1. The favourite - Ashleigh Gentle
Gentle is currently ranked fifth in the WTS, and happens to be the highest ranked athlete toeing the line this weekend. Her best performance this season was a second place at the Abu Dhabi WTS race earlier this year. She also raced in Yokohama last year to finish in second place behind the 2015 WTS champion, Gwen Jorgensen, and a step ahead of fellow Australian Moffatt. Her performances and ranking surely push her to the top of the list as the favourite in the minds of selectors.
“Olympic qualification has been on my mind for a while now, and these final stages of selection have come around so quickly,” Gentle said. “Knowing that it could all come true has made it feel extremely real. It’s made me push really hard to do my best to be there in Rio.”
“Putting on the green and gold at the Olympics is one of the most special things an athlete could ever do. It’s in a league ABOVE it’s own. To be there takes amazing talent and hard work, and I’ve really come to appreciate being amongst so many competitive and amazing women in the past few years. If I were to be there it would definitely be the biggest achievement of my life. I am so determined.”
Gentle is far from what her name suggests once the race siren blows. She is a beast on the bike and often works at the front of the chase pack to reclaim valuable time from the swim, and put herself into contention on the run.
2. The rising phoenix - Erin Densham
Densham flies under the radar as she unfortunately hasn’t produced Olympic worthy performances of late. However, Densham is the Queen of performing in the eleventh hour. If the last Olympics preparation is anything to go on, then you’d be crazy to discount Densham.
In the lead into the London Olympics in 2012, Densham jumped through every hoop and kicked every goal even when the goal posts were moving to claim her spot on the Australian Olympic team. She then came home with a bronze medal in quite possibly one of the most exciting races we’ve witnessed. She dug herself a huge hole to get to London, and after the event had to take a big step back from the sport to recoup, recover and climb her way back out of that hole.
She also did a similar thing to reach the Olympic team in 2008, winning in Ishigaki to jump onto the team at the last stage of selections. If Densham podiums this weekend, she will throw a Thor sized spanner into the works for selectors and they’ll have no option but to consider the 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist. Can she rise like a phoenix from the ashes in Yokohama
3. ‘She’Scot it in her - Charlotte McShane
Originally from Scotland, McShane immigrated to Australia in 2005 and eventually changed her focus from long course racing to short course (WTS style) in 2010 under the wing of Coach Jamie Turner. In 2013 she was ranked 20th in the WTS, while also taking out the U23 ITU World Championship event in London. She can perform on a big day.
Most recently, McShane finished an impressive top 10 at Abu Dhabi at the start of the year, and just outside of the top 10 at the grand final last year in Chicago – where Australians Moffatt, McShane and Gentle finished 12th, 13th and 14th respectively. She has probably been more consistent than others, and unfortunately took a right hook to the jaw during the Gold Coast race, which put her off her game. There is every chance she can show selectors that she is worthy of one of the spots on the team, but clearly, so can the other women
4. The newcomer - Gillian Backhouse
The 2014 U23 ITU Duathlon World Champion is still relatively new to the world of WTS racing, with her first start at a WTS event in 2014 in Chicago. 2015 was her first full year of racing in this series and she has proven that she can swim and bike with the best in the business.
She was the top Australian at the Rio Test Event last year, finishing in 13th place overall, just missing out on an automatic qualification spot. She landed on the podium at the Edmonton WTS last year as well. Impressive, but this race was a sprint distance (half the Olympic distance format). Most recently she unfortunately DNF’d at the Gold Coast automatic selection race.
Backhouse is an athlete on the rise at this level of racing, and will need to prove on Saturday that she is not only on the rise, but she is ready to represent her country at the Olympics
From left field, selectors could also look at Backhouse as a strong athlete to help others on the Australian team on race day. With a strong swim and bike, she could work with her fellow country-women and set them up for a strong run and potential podium position
Will selectors look at Backhouse on her own merit or consider her as a team player in this “individual” sport?
5. Rabbit out of a hat - Emma Jackson
While Jackson is actually the youngest in this group, she does have both Commonwealth and Olympic Games experience. Jackson finished an impressive eighth at the age of only 20 at the London Olympics in 2012!
In the same year that Gentle won the Junior World Championship, Jackson was winning the U23 World Championship back in 2010. So while she’s the youngest, she has plenty of experience and top results to her name.
However, Jackson has struggled with injury in the past year, but is under the watchful eye of coach Joel Filliol who has a strong stable of athletes on his roster.
A top 10 performance at WTS Stockholm last year showed signs that Jackson was on the comeback trail, but, Densham outshone her there, finishing in sixth to her ninth place. Unfortunately with no stand out performances of late, Jackson will have to pull a rabbit out of a hat this weekend and prove that injuries are behind her if she has a chance of Olympic selection again.
There have been plenty of opportunities for the younger athletes to step up in between Olympic years, but can they step up enough to earn a spot on the team this weekend? Or can Densham join Moffatt as the other Australian triathlete to represent at three Olympics?
Either way, in the days after this race each athlete will know their Olympic fate, and on May 23 when the Olympic team is officially announced, so will we.
Hands up who doesn’t want the job as a selector?
Race start is Saturday 14th May at 10:00am JST (11:00am AEST)