LONDON (AFP) –
Two-time world champion Helen Jenkins will hope to get Great Britain off to a flying start when the London Olympics triathlon competitions begin on Saturday.
Jenkins, who said goodbye to her dog, Barney, and left her South Wales home for London on Wednesday, begins the British charge before brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee contest the men’s race, in which they are two of the favourites, next week.
At centuries-old Hyde Park, athletes will swim 1500m around the Serpentine lake, ride seven laps of the 6.1km (3.8 miles) cycle track — past Buckingham Palace — and race four circuits of the 2.5km, lakeside running course.
Jenkins, the current world champion, will be buoyed by huge crowds which are expected at the central London venue for one of the Games’ toughest events — and where she can make up for her bitter disappointment in 2008.
Four years ago, on the sweltering Olympic course outside Beijing, Jenkins was the newly crowned world champion but she slumped to 21st in the heat and humidity of the Chinese summer.
Now Jenkins is again the world champion, and the favourite after winning the Olympic test race over the same course last year. But she will face tough competition for gold.
Australia’s Beijing 2008 bronze medallist Emma Moffatt is in the field, along with her team-mates Erin Densham and Emma Jackson, plus New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt and Nicola Spirig, the European champion from Switzerland.
Olympic triathlons are also notoriously unpredictable. When the discipline debuted in 2000, Australians were supposed to take centre-stage at the Sydney Opera House course.
But in the event, Switzerland’s Brigitte McMahon outshone the hosts to win the women’s race, and Canadian outsider Simon Whitfield took the men’s title.
Four years later, Austria’s Kate Allen was the surprise women’s winner in Athens, while Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty took gold and silver for New Zealand in the men’s competition.
At Beijing 2008, Germany’s Jan Frodeno came from nowhere to pip Whitfield for gold after Alistair Brownlee’s early challenge faded, while Emma Snowsill finally claimed a first Olympic triathlon title for Australia.
The women’s event has been hit by selection wrangles, with Snowsill unsuccessfully appealing her omission from Australia’s team.
And Britain’s Liz Blatchford blasted the policy of picking “domestiques”, or support runners, after she missed out despite being ranked her country’s third-best triathlete.
Jenkins will also have to overturn a quirk of the triathlon record books which show that no runner has won both the test event and the Olympic race.
The men’s race takes place on Tuesday, with Yorkshire‘s Brownlee brothers the hot favourites.