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Oceania triathlon champs all go

AN Olympic Games carrot and Oceania glory have the Aussies planning a golden assault on the 2016 Sovereign TriGisborne Oceania Championships here in March.

“We’ve been talking to Triathlon Australia and they told us they will probably bring a team of 50-odd,” event director and Oceania Triathlon Union president Terry Sheldrake told The Gisborne Herald this week.

“Craig Redman (Tri Australia’s high performance pathway national manager) told me they were coming to win all races, so the challenge is definitely there for Tri NZ.”

Sheldrake confirmed “absolutely and categorically” that the International Triathlon Union Oceania champs are all go in Gisborne for the weekend of March 19-20.

He described it as “a blue carpet” event and said it would be a great chance to showcase the region nationally and internationally.

The two-day festival will feature multiple races highlighted by the elite men’s and women’s races over the Olympic distance of a 1500-metre sea swim, 40-kilometre cycle and 10km run that will include the recently-opened Oneroa walkway.

These athletes will be gunning for a victory that is all but certain to bring with it a “wildcard” selection for the Rio Olympic Games.

Sheldrake said that while selection was not guaranteed — in the case in all Olympic sports, a country’s Olympic committee has the final say — it would be “very unfortunate” if the winners did not make it.

With this sort of incentive, Gisborne is set to enjoy top-quality racing last seen here at the successful Oceania champs in 2000.

That year, Peter Robertson turned on a stunning run leg to win the men’s race and fellow Sydney triathlete Melissa Ashton won the women’s title. Both described the victories at the time as the highlights of their careers.

Robertson went on to compete at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics, won world championship titles in 2001, 2003 and 2005, and a Commonwealth Games bronze in 2006.

Ashton became an ironwoman competitor, chalking up three top 10 finishes at the Hawaiian ironman.

Elite fieldsThe 2016 Oceania champs will again be based at Churchill Park, on a similar course to 2000, and Sheldrake predicts elite fields of 35 to 40 men and 30 to 35 women.

It will start on the Saturday morning with junior women’s and men’s sprint races (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run).

The elite and under-23 men’s and women’s races, featuring Gisborne’s own Tri NZ high performance triathlete Tayler Reid, will follow in the afternoon.

The action continues on Sunday morning with the Tri NZ age group sprint distance races, which are also selection events for the world champs in Cozumel, Mexico in September.

A fun race for teams and individuals — comprising a 300m swim, 8km cycle and 2km run — and a junior mixed team relay over the same distance will conclude the weekend race programme.

Sheldrake said there had been widespread support for the champs, particularly from Tourism Eastland, Eastland Community Trust and Gisborne District Council.

“The council has been fantastic to work with,” he said.

“There has been a really genuine effort to help us. Tourism Eastland has also been very good.”

Sheldrake and his team, including 20 outside officials headed by senior technical director Jackie Kenny of Brisbane, will be assisted by members of Eastland Triathlon and Multisport Club.

Tri NZ media services man Andrew Dewhurst will be MC. Sheldrake stressed it was an event for all to enjoy, from triathlon fans to those who know little about the sport. The compact nature of the course — the cycle leg comprises eight laps and the run leg five laps — makes it highly spectator-friendly.

Sheldrake, recently honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to triathlon, is delighted to be able to present such an event in his home town.

While it poses logistical challenges, such as transporting 60 to 70 bikes from Auckland to Gisborne, and the ever-present weather concerns, he is confident it will be delivered “in faultless fashion”.

The Aussies are coming for the triathlon, and have thrown down the challenge. Triathlon Australia picture