Tokyo test event: 5 things we learnt
1. Duffy holds the key. Two-time ITU world champion Bermudan Flora Duffy, who hadn’t raced at this level for over a year because of injury, provided a timely reminder of how she dictates women’s triathlon racing. A case in point is that as one of the best swimmers and the strongest cyclist, Duffy’s presence means the Olympic race is likely to be decided by a breakaway – even on a flat course such as Tokyo. The only caveat to this is Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig, who races sparingly, but can perhaps match Duffy’s power on two wheels, and has the potential to bring a chase pack back into contention. The Spirig factor aside, the knock-on consequence for selectors, not least the British, must be a further leaning towards triathletes who can make the front pack.
2. British qualification is no clearer. Despite the criteria for Olympic qualification being incredibly tough – primarily podiums in both the Yokohama World Series and Tokyo test event – there was still potential for it to sort out a couple of spots. But with no top three finishes in Yokohama, none on the men’s side in Tokyo, and the disrupted format in the women’s race, nothing, as yet, has been confirmed. On one hand it shows the strength in depth, particularly on the women’s side, but the risk becomes that competing triathletes have to peak twice in 2020, first for a further attempt to qualify and then the Games themselves. And as history has shown, that is not an easy task.
3. Tokyo too testing? Being part test event, part Olympic qualification event has worked well in the past for pre-Olympic action, but there were almost too many unknowns in Tokyo, which meant the testing part was rigorous, but the qualification aspect a lottery. While there was much brouhaha in the wider media over the disqualification of Jess Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown for a contrived tie, the more critical part was providing clarification for the triathletes over whether, and by how much, their performances would count towards individual qualification. Vicky Holland, for example, knew that a podium guaranteed her a Tokyo 2020 spot. The race being cut to a 5km run ripped that chance away, yet she still produced the fastest run split, coped impressively with the heat, and, after the DQs, finished third. Does that help or hinder her chances? As the reigning world champion said: “I wouldn’t want to be a selector.”