Three years ago Helen Jenkins left Beijing unsatisfied with her Olympic performance but yesterday she took care of unfinished business as she claimed her second career ITU World Championship title. By finishing in second place, she maintained her lead in the Triathlon ITU World Championship Series and was crowned the ITU Triathlon World Champion for 2011.
But New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt stole the show on the day, putting in her best race of the year to capture only her second series race title after Madrid in 2009 with a time of 1:58:26 – which was the exact same time that Emma Snowsill recorded to win the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal. And with Canada’s Paula Findlay an early withdrawal from the race, pulling out in the first lap of the bike, and Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz falling off the pace in the run, it was enough for Hewitt to move into the overall world championship silver medal position with 3836 points.
Jenkins, who won her first ITU World Championship in 2008, now joins company like Emma Carney, Michellie Jones, Karen Smyers and Emma Moffatt as women who have won two ITU world titles.
“That was a really tough day, I’m so happy. I just didn’t have it in the end to go past Andrea, it would have been awesome to take the win here but I’m just so pleased just to win the world champs again, amazing,” Jenkins said.
“Andrea just had a really big kick down the end that I couldn’t hang on to, I tried to go with it and then, my legs just went,” Jenkins continued. “It was a really tough day, the front group we all worked really hard on the bike and for once the breakaway stayed away and I think it shows that if we all do commit on the bike it can work…this is a course that you have to be strong over all three disciplines and if you’ve got any weakness, like you could see today, you just end up at the back of the race.”
“Last year I was so close to getting on the podium for the world champs series, so this year coming second, it just makes up for everything,” Hewitt said. “From the start of the run, I led the first km and then as soon as she passed me I just hung on to her and I knew I had a little bit more energy when it came to the last part, so I went for it soon as I came into the stadium.”
The battle for bronze in both the Grand Final race and the overall series standings was far from settled though, as both were decided in the final few hundred metres. In the race for the grand final podium, Switzerland’s Melanie Annaheim outsprinted Lisa Norden, Laura Bennett and Kate McIlroy to capture her first ever series medal.
“It’s just amazing, I have no words at the moment, just ‘wow,’” Annaheim said. “I like it hilly, not so much like London so it was a good course for me and just a great day.”
Groff’s 10th place was enough to put her 23 points ahead of Jackson, who was overtaken by Moffatt in the final few hundred metres to finish 12th. Groff finished with 2783 points to Jackson’s 2760.
“I am absolutely shocked, my first response upon crossing the finish line was ‘I just want to get to the medical tent’. That was a really really tough day, my coach is going to be so mad at me for running sub-par,” she said. “As of a few days ago I was contemplating, kind of calling it a season and I have to say I’m absolutely delighted I continued. My flight was delayed a day, but I waited the next day and got on the plane and raced and I’m just shocked, it’s nice to know that consistency pays off. I’m absolutely honoured to be on the podium with two such phenomenal athletes.”
The battle for places was on from the start in a fast swim as 70 women dove into the Shisanling Reservoir in the Changping district near Beijing. Jenkins quickly moved to the front, alongside teammate Kerry Lang they drove a fast pace, which splintered the group early. A total of 15 athletes exited together, including Jenkins, Groff, Hewitt, Annaheim, Mcllroy, Norden, Bennett, Liz Blatchford, Vicky Holland, Debbie Tanner, Kate Roberts, Alice Betto, Flora Duffy, and Tomoko Sakimoto. Only Holland and Roberts dropped off over the 40km bike leg.
A chase pack that included Moffatt, Jackson, Riveros Diaz, Snowsill and Nicola Spirig then couldn’t put any time on the lead group in the bike. Even with Spirig battling up front, the gap spread from 30 seconds on lap one to a two-minute difference at T2.
With that lead it was always going to be hard to catch anyone in the front group as Jenkins and Hewitt pulled away in the second lap to seal the top two positions in the Grand Final and overall ITU World Championship. But the tense battle then did emerge for bronze.
Riveros Diaz was still in that medal position in T2, but she ended up finishing in 42nd place, almost seven minutes down from the leaders as Groff moved into third overall and Jackson fourth. Riveros Diaz still held on to fifth place in the overall ITU World Championship standings, Findlay ended up sixth overall, followed by Moffatt, Bennett, Norden and Annaheim.
Liz Blatchford held on for eighth place, her best result of the season and remarkable considering that she is carrying an injury that prevents her from doing any consistent run training. The performance was testament to the hard work on the bike that helped the lead group establish over a two-minute gap from the chasing cyclists.
Jodie Stimpson was 34th, Kerry Lang 39th and Vicky Holland had problems on the bike that saw her drop from the lead pack to an eventual 57th.
The final race of the World Championships saw Gordon Benson finish 11th in the men’s junior event. He and Marc Austin (27th) are both just 17 and have two more years as juniors.
British Triathlon’s Olympic Programme Manager, Malcolm Brown summed up Britain’s performance this weekend. He said: “There have been some outstanding individual performances, and even those who have been having a bad day have flogged themselves for every position. It’s been an uplifting experience.”
He added: “We have three world champions with Matt Sharp in the U23 and the two seniors. It’s exactly the sort of position you’d want to be in going into an Olympic year.”
Elite women’s results
1 Andrea Hewitt, NZL 1:58:26
2 Helen Jenkins, GBR 1:58:40
3 Melanie Annaheim, SUI 1:58:58
4 Lisa Norden, SWE 1:59:00
5 Laura Bennett, USA 1:59:02
6 Kate McIlroy, NZL 1:59:04
7 Jessica Harrison, FRA 1:59:09
8 Liz Blatchford, GBR 2:00:11
9 Flora Duffy, BER 2:00:24
10 Sarah Groff, USA 2:00:37
For the final standings, head here http://www.triathlon.org/results/rankings/