Asia Sprint Triathlon Champs swing Olympic New Flag races

by Ben Eastman on 09 Apr, 2024 10:01 • Español
Asia Sprint Triathlon Champs swing Olympic New Flag races

The Asia Championships over the sprint distance saw a pair of dramatic races as Junjie Fan (CHN) and Meiyi Lu (CHN) won the gold medals for the home team. Both Fan and Lu bided their time throughout the race before unleashing decisive attacks on the run. After Kazakhstan took double gold at the 2023 iteration of the event, this time round it proved to be China’s day in Dexing.

Rounding out the men’s podium were Takumi Hojo (JPN) and Yunxiang Ma (CHN). The remaining women’s medals were claimed by Miyu Sakai (JPN) and Sarika Nakayama (JPN).

The Olympic implications

The Asia Championships also had a significant impact on the race to the Paris Olympic Games.

After finishing 4th in the men’s race, Jason Ng Tai Long (HKG) has swept through 10 places in the world rankings. He now sits in 40th place overall. Crucially, he has overtaken his Olympic New Flag rival, Ayan Beisenbayev (KAZ).

Beisenbayev, the 2023 Asian sprint distance champion, could only manage 20th in Dexing. As a result, he gained no places in the world rankings and remains in 45th. Ng holds a 79 point advantage over Beisenbayev, however such a slender lead could be overturned in the course of a single race.

In the women’s event, a 7th place finish for Bailee Brown (HKG) saw her make up ground on the current occupant of the Asian female New Flag berth, Ekaterina Shabalina (KAZ). Shabalina opted against defending her title and the action at the weekend has seen her drop to 53rd in the world rankings. At the same time, Brown moved up 8 places to 63rd.

With only 10 places and 144 points splitting the two women, Brown could still leapfrog Shabalina before the end of the qualifying window. Both of the Asian New Flag places will thus be very much up for grabs over the coming weeks.

Shake up in South Africa

Meanwhile, further New Flag intrigue was on offer at the Nelson Mandela Bay Africa Cup. The key drama came in the women’s race. Vicky Van Der Merwe (RSA) won her fourth straight African event of 2024 and gained 14 places in the world rankings. She now sits in 52nd, coincidentally a single place ahead of Shabalina.

Van Der Merwe has therefore consolidated her hold on the African women’s New Flag place. Her closest rival is Amber Schlebusch (RSA), who finished 2nd in Nelson Mandela Bay. The gap between the two women, though, stands at 30 places and Van Der Merwe has since received the selectorial nod from the South African federation.

The Africa Cup may have also had an important effect on the European women’s New Flag race as Sinem Francisca Tous Servera (TUR) claimed the bronze medal. Tous’ performance has seen her gain 2 places in the world rankings and puts her in 51st. Moreover, it buys her vital, if possibly temporary, breathing space over her rivals for the European New Flag slot.

What they had to say

The Asian men’s champion, Junjie Fan, noted the conditions in Dexing made for a challenging race. “Because it rained yesterday, the road would be very slippery today. I was almost falling down on the dam twice, because my rear wheel slipped.” He added, “The water temperature is the same for all athletes, not only do I feel that the water temperature is low. Under the same conditions, it’s fair for all athletes.”

With regards to passing Hojo, the silver medallist, on the run, Fan noted, “For running, it’s better to run at your own pace. You can’t run too fast in the first lap, and if you run too fast, you may not have energy in the second lap.”

The women’s champion in Dexing, Meiyi Lu, was satisfied with how her race unfolded. “Because Dexing is the first race of this year and I have done well in winter training, coupled with the sprint distance competition, so I can better leverage my speed advantage. For running, because I spent a year and a winter training, I am not very clear about my opponent’s strength. My plan was to lead the first lap, but not run at full speed, so I could know the distance between my opponent and me. If they were very close, I don’t need to run at full speed. If they can’t even keep up with me on the first lap, I’ll just start accelerating from the first lap. But in fact, they’re very close, so if I accelerate too early on the first lap, I’ll probably be surpassed later on.”

Elsewhere, Vicky Van Der Merwe was thrilled with her current form and Olympic prospects. “I’m just so happy and thankful that all the hard work that I’ve put in has paid off! A year ago no one would have bet on me for the Olympics and now I’m the favourite - winning all 3 of our Olympic Selection races!” As for the race itself she added that it “was tough but great.”
“I received a penalty (first one ever!!) for a false start which I had to serve in T1 of course, so I really had to sprint to make the first pack! Our group worked really well together and we soon dropped 2 girls… on the run, I broke away pretty much from the start, which was tough as each lap was straight into a block headwind alone while the other girls ran in a group. I didn’t feel great on the run but still super happy with the result!”

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