Times Colonist

First the worlds, then Olympic podium for Canada’s top triathlete­s

Groves, Sweetland, Whitfield among B.C.ers chasing titles this weekend


VANCOUVER — Vancouver triathlete Lauren Groves has her sights set on hitting the podium two months from now at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

But she’s not overlookin­g this weekend’s assignment: laying down a quality performanc­e at the 2008 Vancouver BG World Triathlon Championsh­ips.

Her reasons are many. Vancouver is still home, though she lives and trains much of the year in Boulder, Colo. Her mom and dad will be watching her compete. And a good performanc­e here could move her move up in the Internatio­nal Triathlon Union rankings, maybe even into the top 10, which would mean a better starting position in Beijing.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Groves said of Sunday morning’s race in a telephone interview from Colorado. “It’s world championsh­ips so I want to have a big result, but my eye is on Beijing. I don’t have a finish goal for this race but I have mini-goals within the race.”

The women’s and men’s elite races, consist of a 1.5-kilometre swim, a 40-km bike and a 10-km run.

Groves, who finished eighth at last June’s Vancouver World Cup, said she wants to come out of the water with the leaders. That will enable her to be with the breakaway pack when the race enters its biking stage. That’s critical to success. If you’re too far behind after the swim there may not be enough speed in biking’s chase pack to get you into contention during the run.

“I’m hoping for a good finish this weekend because it could move me right up the rankings,” Groves said. “Last year’s World Cup gave me a preview of what’s to come and this will be a whole greater scale.”

That it will. About 3,000 athletes — including Victoria’s Kirsten Sweetland and Simon Whitfield — from 60 countries will test Vancouver in four days of racing that starts tomorrow morning with junior men’s and junior women’s races.

Bringing the world to Vancouver has been a dream of race organizers for more than 20 years. The ITU’s head office is in North Vancouver, and few settings are better suited for triathlon.

“Whenever I go away to places I say, ‘You know, I don’t know whose gods made English Bay but they were thinking of triathlon when they made it,’ ” said North Vancouver’s Loreen Barnett, ITU’s executive director.

“In other places there’s always something, the swim isn’t the right place, or something else, but this is perfect. It’s spectator-friendly.”

There have been hurdles. Organizers have had to get residents and businesses on side.

“Yes, there were very big obstacles,” said Barnett. “We wanted to be in the West End. We wanted to be at English Bay. But there are so many events that impact the residents down there. Winning the hearts of the local businesses and residents was key.

“We were under such a tight timeline last year when we produced the test event [June’s World Cup] that we didn’t do a good job with the community and they ended up not wanting us to come back. We’ve really tried to push the whole PR side to get the residences and communitie­s on side.”

The event has a $3.5-million budget. Most of the money comes from the ITU but the government of B.C. has put up $400,000 and Ottawa has added another $250,000. Vancouver’s Haywood Securities has kicked in $100,000. The hope is that this event will help make Vancouver a regular stop on the World Cup circuit. But that’s down the road. This weekend it’s about world supremacy for a year.

Not all of the world’s top triathlete­s are here. But Spain’s Javier Gomez, the 2006 and 2007 World Cup series champion and the 2007 world championsh­ip silver medallist, is expected to battle Whitfield. Whitfield, the 2000 Olympic gold medallist, finished second in the World Cup series last season. Portugal’s Vanessa Fernandes, the 2007 world champion, is favoured to repeat.

“Whitfield and Gomez, it’s going to be a rehearsal for Beijing,” said Barnett, who isn’t worried that some of the world’s big guns didn’t target Vancouver. “On any given day any guy in the top 20 can come through and have a great performanc­e.”

Groves and Whitfield have secured Olympic berths because of strong results over the past two seasons but this race is still the final Olympic qualifier.

Canada is well-placed in the ITU rankings and failing a major face-plant this weekend should earn two more berths in both the men’s and women’s races. Several Canadians need a top-eight finish here to meet Canada’s Olympic standard and earn one of the extra Olympic spots.

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