From Tim Heming in Dubai
All things equal come Friday morning and Jodie Swallow will once again be the hunted – emerging first woman from the water as a pack of the world’s best triathletes try to bike and run her down.
It’s been that way for years. Swallow’s swimming prowess is virtue of the hard graft of an early morning pool routine back home in Brentwood, Essex that eventually led to a career in multisport and a place on Great Britain’s 2004 Olympic team.
But now at 33, it’s not just the impressive swim splits, bettering so many of the professional men, that stand out, it’s her insatiable drive and motivation to still excel at a sport she has spent 20 years mastering.
Swallow arrives at Challenge Dubai from a fifth success at South Africa 70.3, which followed arguably her most successful year in triathlon: Third at the big money Hy-Vee 5150 race in Iowa, second at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, fourth at the Ironman World Championships, and another third in Challenge Bahrain.
“It’s a lot easier to do what I’m doing now than what I used to do,” she says. “I didn’t used to eat properly and was in a bad relationship. This is what I love doing, so I can go and do it day-in, day-out, whether racing or training and go full out.”
Swallow is now happily settled in South Africa with partner and fellow professional triathlete James Cunnama, who is also racing in Dubai. “In comparison to what I’ve been through, I’ve a great life and I’m always grateful. But I’ve still got to prove to myself and others and I’ll keep pressing until I’ve fulfilled that.”
Swallow rarely picks an easy challenge and the pro women’s field in Dubai numbers 24, high by middle and long distance standards. Chief amongst it is Challenge Bahrain champion Helle Frederiksen, who showed when winning in December that if she’s in contention coming on to the run she’ll be extremely hard to beat.
Frederiksen arrived looking relaxed and ready from a long stint in Lanzarote, and in conditions not unlike Bahrain, the flat, fast course mean she’s again a favourite. The Dane beat Swallow in both Hy-Vee and Bahrain last year and as part of the successful Uplace-BMC team does not lack confidence.
Where Swallow may get some assistance though is in the arrival of Daniela Ryf. The Swiss triathlete, runner-up in Kona on her debut in October, has the swimming and biking ability to forge from the front with Swallow. With a 20-metre draft rule in operation, they may force a break that sticks, allowing enough of a time buffer coming into T2.
From a British perspective, other notable contenders include Leanda Cave, Susie Cheetham and Alice Hector, but Swallow remains the standout – and she’s hungry for success.
“Kona is always my big one,” she admits, “I’d like to nail that one. And then the Triple Crown and Ironman 70.3 world title. And I could keep adding to that list…”
Challenge Dubai is the first of three middle distance races in the Middle East hosted by the Challenge Family. There is $1,000,000 on offer for any triathlete who wins all three.
For our preview of the men’s race, head here. Challenge Dubai gets underway at 6.45am local time (2.45am UK time) on Friday 27 February. We’ll be covering all the action live on our Twitter feed, and will have race reports online shortly afterwards.
Who do you think will win Challenge Dubai? Let us know in the comments!