Triathlon: World-class field faces plunge into cleaned-up canal

Nick Harris
Wednesday 15 January 2014 02:23
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For Sydney Harbour, the stunning backdrop to the start of the Olympic Games inaugural triathlon, read the Manchester Ship Canal. There, tomorrow morning at 8am, the 22 women triathletes in their sport's inaugural Commonwealth Games event will dive into the water at the start of their 1.5km swim.

For the next two and a half hours some 100,000 people are expected to throng the streets of Manchester and the pavements of Salford Quays as the competitors cycle for 40km and run for 10km in their fight for gold. The event has purposely been staged on the final day to lend an air of spectacle. In Australia the route took in parks and sun-strewn boulevards and ended at the Opera House. Here it goes past the rear end of Old Trafford and finishes at the Lowry Centre. But the quality of the field is excellent and contains, in Jodie Swallow, a talented 20-year-old from Brentwood, a genuine home nation's chance to impress.

At 11am, the 35 participants in the men's event – also a world-class field, containing the Olympic champion, Canada's Simon Whitfield, plus three leading Australians, all former world champions, and England's Simon Lessing, the multi-titled former world No 1 – will dive in the water and get their race underway.

The Games organisers have gone out of their way to push home the message they will not be plunging in to filth. In a press statement headlined "Salford docks to give triathlon a clean send-off", we are told that Dock 9 of the Quays is actually cleaner now than the sea off Blackpool beach. Following the launch of a regeneration project in 1989, the former docks from the ship canal have been isolated and re-oxygenated by pumping in compressed air, like a giant fish tank. There are now huge levels of oxygen in the water – as there must be in the lungs of the phenomenal sportsmen who excel in this event. The oxygen breaks down all the pollutants and the area now has a thriving ecology.

It was reported this week that a clean-up scheme that started in Sydney Harbour ahead of the 2000 Olympics is now paying such dividends that a pair of giant whales have been hanging out there. Who knows what you might find in the ship canal a few years hence. Red snapper, perhaps, or barracuda, handy for the deep-fryer at a moment's notice.

The destination of the medals tomorrow is unlikely, on form, to be England. Lessing has said that his preparations have been dedicated towards this race, but there are stronger candidates. Whitfield, despite breaking both wrists in a cycling accident in April, will be there or thereabouts. The three top Australians – current world champion Peter Robertson, plus Chris McCormack and Miles Stewart – cannot be ruled out for an Aussie 1-2-3. New Zealand's Hamish Carter could also be in the frame.

In the women's event, the three Australians, Loretta Harrop, Michellie Jones and Nicole Hackett, have all been world champions at some stage. Canada's Carol Montgomery, a world-class runner, could be a danger. Swallow, a world university champion and junior European champion, has made great strides and will want to impress on home soil.

There are also the colourful no-hopers. Graeme Donaldson of the Norfolk Islands, for example, whose son, James, came last in the men's marathon last Sunday. And there is Dave Savage, who was born in Kiribati, who he represents, but lives in the West Country. He supports Southampton and has as much chance of winning as the Saints have of doing the double this season. Their participation will lend extra contrast on a day of plenty.

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