The spectacle of two of the world’s best triathletes sprinting over the last 200m of a 51.5km event is a sight to stir the sporting soul.
This was a treat for thousands of enthusiastic fans who braved Auckland’s wind and rain last Sunday to cheer on the cream of the world’s male triathletes.
There had been some excitement for the home crowd in the bike leg, when Kiwi Kris Gemmell raced ahead to have a lead of nearly a minute at the start of the run. However, within a few kilometres he was caught by the big guns — Gomez, Brownlee and Riederer — and the placings would be decided in a mad dash to the finish.
After a 1.5km swim, a 40km bike ride and nearly 10km of running, Spain’s Javier Gomez made his move and sprinted into the lead.
However, world points race leader, Jonathan Brownlee, was not going to give up the chance of a world title easily. With 100m left on the blue carpet, Brownlee came up on his rival’s shoulder, but the Spaniard found an extra burst of energy and pulled ahead to take the victory by two seconds.
“I had a feeling I had something left on the last lap,” said Gomez. “So I waited for my moment and maybe with 200 metres to go, I said ‘okay now we go with everything as fast as I can’, and it worked well.”
For Brownlee, however, there was the consolation of taking out the men’s points title for the 2012 season.
A fitting climax to the triathlon season
It was a great coup for Auckland to be given the right to host the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Grand Final. The city welcomed the opportunity to showcase its waterfront and downtown area to the world.
After seven rounds in the ITU Series, this final event would decide who were the Elite Men’s and Women’s World Champions for 2012. On top of points gained in the earlier events, the grand final offered extra points for the winners and place getters
As well as the elite stars, the World Championships also featured children’s, junior, under 23, age group and paratriathlete events. In all, well over 3000 athletes were taking part, aged from 6 to over 80.
This was a huge event as the numbers showed:
- 25 million estimated global television audience
- $7 million estimated economic return for Auckland City
- tens of thousands of spectators
- 1000+ volunteers
- 12,00 water bottles handed out
- 10,000 bananas consumed by participants and officials!
German glory in the women’s final
The weather was fine and breezy on Saturday for the elite women’s race. Rachel Klamer from The Netherlands was first out of the water and on the bike, but the pack soon hunted her down.
Unfortunately one of the favourites, Australian Erin Densham, had been sick all week and had to pull out during the bike section. Winner of the two previous ITU events, Sweden’s Lisa Norden, was also struggling after being in hospital overnight with food poisoning. However she was still in the front group of eight for most of the run.\
Early in the last of the four running laps, German Anne Haug made her move and opened up a 50 metre lead that would take her to victory. Surprisingly, American Gwen Jorgensen caught the leading bunch in the last few hundred metres and in a desperate sprint on the blue carpet beat Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz to take the number two spot by just one second.
For Haug it was her first ITU victory and she was over the moon. “It was a perfect race and unbelievable!” she said.
Despite her overnight sickness, Norden finished a gallant fourth, enough to become the 2012 world champion. I’ve never dug so deep as that,” she said after the race. It’s the hardest race I’ve ever had.”
Kiwis out of the medals but some strong performances
There were no New Zealanders on the podium in the main world triathlon championship events. However, Andrea Hewitt, by virtue of her sixth placing in the grand final was third overall in the women’s elite rankings for 2012.
Other top ten finishes for Kiwis in the highly competitive races came from Maddie Dillon, fifth in the juniors, Kate McIlroy eighth in the elites and Simone Ackermann ninth in the under 23 event. The best placed man was Ryan Sissons with an eleventh placing in the elites.
Kiwi Nicky Samuels did take the ITU Aquathlon (1km swim/5km run) women’s title earlier in the week.
More international triathlons to come in Auckland
International Triathlon Union president Marisol Casado says there was widespread praise from athletes in all divisions for the Auckland event.
“They really love it, all of them, from elite to age groupers,” she said. “All of them told us this is the `truth triathlon.’ It’s very challenging and they are really delighted to come back.”
In particular, the challenge comes in the bike leg, where there are three significant climbs and three 180 degree hairpin turns on each of the eight laps.
Following on the success of this year’s world champs, there will be an ITU world triathlon in each of the next four years in the city of sails, starting with the 2013 opening event in April.