Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins sent out a powerful message at the ITU World Triathlon Series in San Diego with an emphatic win in the second race of the season, with Olympic qualification providing real drama just behind her.
In perfect conditions, in triathlon’s spiritual home, Jenkins took her usual approach racing right from the gun, and led out the swim in 18:28. On the bike a small breakaway group of eight women formed in the early stages, quickly building a two-minute lead over the huge chase group which they were never to relinquish. The group included several athletes still fighting for Olympic qualification: Australia’s Erin Densham, USA’s Sarah Haskins and Laura Bennett, and Britain’s Vicky Holland were all looking to impress the selectors.
Despite some big names in the chase pack – including defending Olympic champion Emma Snowsill – the group was unable to catch the leading eight women and it was Jenkins who led out of transition and on to the run. Densham was right on her shoulder and when she overtook on the first lap with a relaxed, quick turnover it looked as though Jenkins would be the one to drop back, but running past the grandstand on the second lap, Jenkins moved back into the lead and powered away to build an impressive gap.
Behind, Haskins and Bennett were battling for the one place left on the USA Olympic team, with Sarah Groff and Gwen Jorgensen having already made the grade. Haskins had worked hard on the bike to try to break away, and the work seemed to have taken its toll as 37-year-old Bennett pulled away to build a 12-second lead by the midway point. By the final of three run laps it was clear that none of the top three were going to give any ground easily and Jenkins was able to pull away by a minute, with time to high-five the crowd as she reached the blue carpet. The win means that Jenkins, the defending ITU world champion, takes the lead in the World Triathlon Series rankings and she has met the criteria set out for Olympic selection, though the Great Britain Olympic triathlon team will not be named for several weeks.
After the race Jenkins said it had been “hard work” but the clearly elated Briton had enjoyed support from locals and from the British team. “I really enjoyed the run course, it was really cool,” she said. “There were so many people out there supporting, there were British coaches and support staff out there giving me splits and my husband [coach Marc Jenkins]. It was awesome.”
Densham faces tough competition from the likes of Emma Snowsill, Emma Moffatt, Emma Jackson and Ashleigh Gentle for her Olympic place but a win in Sydney at the start of the WTS this year has put her in a strong position. “I was hurting out there today,” she said after the race. “Ideally I would have taken a break after Sydney and not raced here but I had to push through, so I hope that’s enough [for selection].”
One athlete who knows she’s done enough is Laura Bennett, who was almost overwhelmed with emotion after her third-place finish earned her the final spot on the US team. “It’s tough when you’ve got to go up against a good friend,” she said of her battle with Haskins. “I put a lot of pressure on this day, and last year in London [when she missed out on qualifying] I just had a terrible day for some reason, I’m still not sure what happened. In the end it was a blessing in disguise because it made me change things that I wouldn’t have changed if I’d made the team.”
Bennett paid tribute to her husband, fellow pro Greg Bennett. “One of the best things that happened over the winter was Greg was going into an Ironman so he was my training partner. He helped me so much on the bike which helped me run faster. I owe so much to him, we’re such a great team and I really appreciate his support. I really wanted this, it’s so nice to get it.”
- Helen Jenkins (GBR) 1:58:21
- Erin Densham (AUS) 1:59:26
- Laura Bennett (USA) 2:00:11
- Jessica Harrison (FRA) 2:00:14
- Vicky Holland (GBR) 2:00:28
- Flora Duffy (BER) 2:00:46
- Anne Haug (GER) 2:00:50
- Sarah Haskins (USA) 2:00:56
- Emma Moffatt (AUS) 2:01:18
- Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) 2:01:33
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