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OLYMPIC FEATURE
THE RACE TO LONDON
By John Martin
The calendar might have just turned to 2011, but the eyes of the USA Triathlon Sport Performance staff and its National Team Program athletes have long been focused on 2012.


The London Olympic Games are still nearly 20 months away; however, the clock is ticking on the International Triathlon Union’s Olympic qualification process and has been since last June. The goal in the lead up to the Games is the same as it has been since triathlon made its Olympic debut in Sydney — secure the maximum number of spots for the United States — three per gender.


Despite the fact that the U.S. is the only nation to have a full complement of athletes on the starting line in every Olympic triathlon, each Olympic quad presents a new series of challenges. It’s the job of USA Triathlon to navigate these challenges and make sure that the athletes who hit the water in Hyde Park in 2012 are positioned to give the U.S. the best shot at bringing home some hardware.


While the ITU’s annual World Championship Series rankings may receive more publicity and determine who gets a healthy bonus check at the end of the season, it’s the organization’s Olympic Qualification List that serves as the most important tool in determining just how many athletes each nation is on pace to send to the Games.


“Half of the battle for these guys is understanding all the different rankings,” said Katie Baker, USA Triathlon’s National Team Program Manager. She handles the yeoman’s task of keeping all the U.S. athletes up to date on where they sit in the rankings and helps them shape their race calendars with the ultimate goal of being on the starting line in London.


The ITU breaks its qualification process into two periods: June 1, 2010-May 31, 2011, and June 1, 2011-May 31, 2012. Over these two years, athletes race for all-important Olympic qualification points in ITU World Championship Series events, ITU World Cup events and ITU Continental Championship events.


The quest for these points is of the utmost importance to all athletes, even those with a solid spot in the rankings like National Team member Sarah Groff, who is seeking her first Olympic berth. Groff was comfortably ranked No. 16 in the Oct. 18, 2010, edition of the Olympic Qualification List.


“At this point, I feel pretty confident that I will be ranked high enough on the Olympic Qualification List to be eligible for our Olympic team. That being said, I cannot afford another year of injury and illness like I experienced in 2010,” said Groff, who rebounded to post three straight top-12 finishes on the WCS circuit late in the season.


Groff is one of five U.S. women ranked in the top 42 of the Olympic Qualification List as of Oct. 18, 2010. Laura Bennett, who had a fantastic finish to the 2010 season, leads the way in the No. 5 spot.


On the men’s side, Matt Chrabot sits eighth, followed closely by Jarrod Shoemaker in 10th; however, they are the only U.S. men currently ranked in top 60.


Like Groff, Chrabot, who says he is already developing new training and race strategies and plans, is well positioned heading into 2011, but he knows there is still work to be done.


When asked if he can ever feel comfortable with his positioning on the qualification list, he responds, “No, but sitting at No. 8 at the year-end feels safe and cozy for now. Then I realize I have 18 months left until the qualification period ends. I have no plans on slacking off or slowing down at this point.”


Each athlete will count his or her top six finishes in the period ending on May 31, 2011. The top eight performances will count from the period ending on May 31, 2012, because “if you have kind of a late bloomer or someone who is getting into the game a little later, they’re not at a complete disadvantage,” Baker said.


At the end of the second qualification period, the maximum total of three starting spots will be allocated to the first eight nations to have three athletes eligible.


Athletes can earn a spot for their countries through ITU Continental Championships, the ITU World Olympic Qualification Event and the ITU Olympic Qualification List — in that order.


While the ITU Olympic Qualification List ultimately comes into play, U.S. athletes will have an opportunity to automatically secure a starting spot for their country in a pair 2011 events. If an American finishes in the top three of the 2011 ITU World Olympic Qualification Event — the London WCS event on Aug. 6-7 — then the U.S. will lock up a spot for the Games. Additionally, the U.S. can secure a spot if an athlete not ranked among the nation’s top three on the Olympic Qualification List wins the Pan American Games title on Oct. 23, 2011, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Julie Ertel claimed a spot for the U.S. women for the 2008 Beijing Games in this fashion.


From there, the nations in the running for a third Olympic spot will turn to the Olympic Qualification List to look for their third-ranked athlete. Depending on which athletes secured spots via the London event and their ITU Continental Championship, the countries with the eight highest-ranked No. 3 athletes per gender will have assured themselves of having a full complement of athletes. Also important to note is that an athlete can only secure one spot for his or her country.


58 USA TRIATHLON WINTER 2011

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