Tyler Mislawchuk took victory in the men’s Tokyo test event that in contrast to the women’s race the day before was almost completely drama-free.
There was no shortened run course, no disqualifications for contrived ties and no discussion over whether performances would counted towards Olympic qualification criteria or not.
And three days shy of his 25th birthday, Canadian Mislawchuk could celebrate early as he outstripped Norway’s Casper Stornes in the closing stages to take the tape in 1:49:50 and the biggest win of his career.
New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde finished third, with Jonny Brownlee, who would have guaranteed his Olympic selection with a podium, in fifth, 37sec behind the winner.
Tom Bishop was the next Brit home in 15th place with Alex Yee experiencing a testing race throughout as he came in 4min 10sec adrift in 33rd.
“That’s the biggest race outside the Olympics for me,” Mislawchuk said. “I cannot believe it. I thought: ‘I may never have a chance to win a big race like this again. so I have to take it now.’ It’s a good omen and now I know how to prepare for next year.”
Conditions were overcast and windy, and with water and air temperatures at 29 degrees – unlike the women’s race where the run was halved to 5km – worries about heat stress for the competitors subsided, meaning the full Olympic distance could be contested.
Also in contrast to the women’s race, a clutch of the big names in the World Triathlon Series were absent, including the top four in the rankings.
Neither series leader Vincent Luis of France, second place and reigning champion Mario Mola, nor fellow Spaniards Javier Gomez and Fernando Alarza, were present.
Factored into the decision to stay away was staying fresh for the WTS Grand Final in Lausanne in a fortnight, because while Katie Zafares already has one hand on the women’s trophy, the men’s competition is tighter.
Diving into the waters of Odaiba Bay, Commonwealth champion Henri Schoeman was quick to take the initiative. The South African was first to complete the 1,500m swim, with Brownlee 9sec back in fourth, Bishop 48sec in arrears with Yee another 9sec adrift.
While the gaps at the front were large enough to forge a breakaway group on the bike, no-one was able or willing to push on enough and by the end of the third lap of eight, Bishop and pre-race favourite Jake Birtwhistle were back with the leaders that contained over half the 67-man starting line-up.
Yee and South Africa’s Richard Murray were two that hadn’t made it, over 1min behind in a much smaller chasing group and desperately in need of making inroads ahead of the run.
Yee’s breakthrough season had started with a win in a World Cup race in Cape Town, before finishing runner-up to Mola in Abu Dhabi and running through for an impressive fifth place in Yokohama, but he was finding life much tougher here.
The much-fancied Kristian Blummenfelt crashed out with two laps remaining, and WTS Bermuda winner Dorian Coninx also failed to finish the 40km bike leg.
On to the run and Wilde, Mislawchuk, who made his first WTS podium in Montreal in July, and Stornes, last year’s WTS Bermuda winner, opened a gap over the first 5km, with Brownlee 24sec behind running toe-to-toe with Norway’s Gustav Iden.
Backing up from a win in the previous WTS race Edmonton, Brownlee’s first at elite level since 2017, he went in with hopes high of the necessary podium that would cement his Olympic spot.
But it wasn’t to be as the front three pulled further clear, until a late sprint from Stornes was bettered by Mislawchuk and the Norwegian could not respond.