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

220 Triathlon Magazine - - START -

“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.”

DANIEL SEEX

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