AN OLYMPIC CONTENDER?
Despite the depth in British women’s Olympic-distance racing, two-time Kona runner-up Lucy Charles is eyeing up a place at Tokyo 2020
“No IM champ has gone on to win Olympic gold. It would reverse engineer the tri mould”
The strength in depth of British women as Olympic medal contenders has never been higher. Led by world champion Vicky Holland, a case could be made for seven women to vie for a place at Tokyo 2020 – all with a chance of a podium. But could Lucy Charles, runner-up in the Ironman Worlds in the past two years, who has never taken part in a World Series race, also be in the mix?
The Hertfordshire athlete is just 25 years old and has approached British Triathlon to ask whether the door was ajar for a pilot role in the British set-up. The response was that given the inclusion of the new Mixed Relay, pilots are no longer a priority. But this doesn’t preclude Charles being one of three outright picks, and should she race – and win – a predesignated event early next season, she’ll be granted an automatic start in the Yokohama leg of the World Triathlon Series in May.
It’s been selected by British Triathlon as one of two early qualification races for Olympic selection, along with the test event in Tokyo, and means there’s a road map – albeit a tough one – to follow. Few triathletes step from long-course racing to draft-legal competition with any measure of success. In fact, no Ironman champion has gone on to win Olympic gold. It would be reverse engineering the tri mould.
Yet Charles is a special case. Prior to becoming a triathlete, Charles was an open-water swimmer with a goal of the London Olympics, and in this year’s Ironman World Championships she claimed the 19-year-old swim course record. On the bike, only Daniela Ryf is stronger, and while Charles’ Ironman marathon times continue to improve, a better indicator would be her 5km parkrun time that was lowered to 16:46mins in August.
Of course, there’s far more to short-course success. Technical skills and the ability to deliver and cope with surges on the bike would be new challenges, as would concluding with a fast 10km – critical, particularly for Tokyo 2020, where the pan-flat bike course all but negates the chance of having a large time buffer into T2.
And it’s on that final leg where Jodie Cunnama, a 2004 Olympian turned successful Iron athlete, feels it could be a leap too far. “For newer runners, it’s far harder to keep that gnarly threshold speed over 10km than 5km,” she says. “One-hundred percent devotion to the task could get Lucy in the Olympic team, but by that stage the element of surprise in cycling away for 40km would be gone and she’d be quickly hunted down by a very fit and ready pack.”
Charles agrees but remains upbeat about her chances. “I’ve run a 34min 10km, which isn’t bad, but probably where I’d get left at the end. It’s a longshot, but I’d love to give it a go.” And the final decision will be taken with ‘big boss’ Reece Barclay, Charles’ coach and partner, with the two due to wed in December. “If we do it, we’ll take it seriously. If not, we’re doing well in Ironman, so can’t really lose.”