Oceania Championships Preview

Oceania Championships Preview

By Paula Kim on 08/03/11 at 3:36 am

At this weekend’s 2011 OTU Oceania Triathlon Championships in Wellington, Andrea Hewitt (NZL) is the favourite to defend her elite women’s title, but it will mean more than before as this will be the first ITU event in New Zealand since the Christchurch earthquake.

Hewitt was in Wanaka on a training camp with the rest of New Zealand’s elite triathletes, when the devastating earthquake first hit her hometown on February 22. She spent the afternoon frantically contacting family. Luckily, they were unscathed as both Hewitt and her partner Laurent Vidal (FRA) tweeted during the crisis.

But over 150 people died in the natural disaster and Christchurch was still officially in a stage of emergency this week, and Hewitt told a website it had given her perspective.

“Some things happen which you can’t control,” Hewitt said.  This weekend, the 28-year-old has something she does have a little more control over – the Oceania championships.

The Wellington course is based in the centrally located Waitangi Park and will start when athletes dive into the harbor for one 1.5km triangular lap. The fairly flat bike leg then circles downtown Wellington, with just one 750m climb and a hairpin bend on descent, with the capital’s famous wind gusts proving the biggest handicap.  The run is a flat, non-technical course that will suit those who go flat out from the start.

Hewitt triumphed in the women’s field last year and the Gold Group member looks hard to beat on paper. But a host of young up-and-comers are set to challenge her, including new Gold Group athletes Vicky Holland (GBR) who beat Hewitt in Takapuna just a few weeks ago, last year’s Mooloolaba World Cup winner Vendula Frintova (CZE) and the 2010 Junior World Champion Ashleigh Gentle (AUS). Along with Hewitt, New Zealand could score a pair on the podium with Debbie Tanner (NZL) also in contention.

Beijing Olympian and 4-time World Cup winner Kris Gemmell (NZL) will headline the men’s field. Tony Dodds (NZL), who won the ITU Oceania Cup sprint event at Kinloch earlier this year, Clayton Fettell (AUS) and Jamie Huggett (AUS) are the other contenders. But don’t be surprised if a little team work helps the Australians to invade the podium, there are 34 Aussies entered in the elite men’s field - compared to just 10 from other nations.  There are also more athletes from Christchurch in the men’s field including James Elvery, Cameron Goldsmid and Dylan McNeice.

Only athletes from the Oceania region are eligible to win the Oceania titles, but athletes from other countries are eligible to race and win prize money. This year, the Oceania championships are important as each ITU Continental Championship also carries Olympic qualifying points with it. This race could also be a glimpse of early World Cup form, as many athletes are expected to go on to compete at the first ITU World Cup of the season, in Mooloolaba, on March 26 and 27.

It’s the third time that the New Zealand capital has hosted the Oceania Championships and Wellington also hosted the 1994 ITU Triathlon World Championships.

The women’s elite race starts at 10:30am, followed by the men’s at 11:45am on Saturday, March 12. Results will be available on www.triathlon.org.

Find more details about this event - 2011 Wellington OTU Triathlon Oceania Championships