Image: Delly Carr
Australian athletes with their sights set on next year’s Commonwealth Games will be out to impress when Canada hosts the 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) finale, beginning in Montreal this weekend and culminating in the World Triathlon Championship Finals (WTCF) in Edmonton.
Rounding out the team is Tokyo Olympian Jaz Hedgeland, Gold Coast’s Brandon Copeland in the men’s race, Jaz’s sister Kira Hedgeland who will make her WTCS debut alongside Natalie Van Coevorden, and Kelly Ann Perkins in the women’s race.
The Triathlon Australia competitors will be looking to bounce back following a frustrating Olympic campaign that saw the squad perform below expectations.
Under trying conditions, the squad put forth a gutsy effort to finish ninth in the new mixed relay format.
“It’s obviously a tough one to have a race like that where we struggled to make the top 10 but I guess that’s just elite sport, some days it’s there and some days it’s not,” said Birtwhistle post-race.
“Unfortunately, the team today was just a little bit off the pace. We gave it all we could.”
Fellow teammate and Gold Coast 2018 gold medallist Ashleigh Gentle believes the disappointment of Tokyo will spur the squad onto bigger and better things leading into the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
“We’ve got some amazing talent in Australia and I feel like we are just still developing it,” Gentle told Triathlon Australia.
“I see so much talent and I see so much drive and I feel like this is only going to make everyone stronger. I’m really proud of the whole squad.
“I think we’ll have big things coming in Paris.”
In recent years, Canada has been a popular two-stop shop for the world’s leading elite triathletes, with Montreal hosting the Eliminator Format over the Super Sprint distances and a 10-team Mixed Team Relay. Edmonton’s picturesque Hawrelak Park will be the Standard Distance World Series finale venue on August 21.
They will all be joined in the WTCF Australian Triathlon Team for Edmonton by NSW’s Luke Schofield who will step up from the World Juniors from 2018 alongside Hauser for the Under 23s World Championship which will also see Kira Hedgeland included as Australia’s lone female.
Copeland, the boy from Kingscliff on the NSW Far North Coast, who trains under coach Dan Atkins and alongside Hauser and the Hedgeland girls on the Gold Coast, will make his World Triathlon Series GF debut.
While the Sunshine Coast’s former lifesaving champion, Perkins will celebrate her selection in her first Elite WTCF team after her previous Under 23s inclusion.
Image: Delly Carr
2018 Gold Coast gold medallist Hauser, 24th in a tough Toyko Olympic debut, has been in Clermont, Florida, just out of Orlando training with Jaz Hedgeland, McShane and Copeland as they prepare for the Canadian two-stop.
“It’s been great to sustain the momentum of work post-Tokyo with a good little training group and it has really helped push past the disappointment and mixed emotions of my Olympic debut,” said Hauser from Montreal today.
“I want to give Montreal a red hot crack in which the format of racing really plays to my strengths.
“In 2019 I had my best WTS result here, finishing seventh and I’ll be aiming to improve on that and really push for a top-five this time around.
“The Mixed Team Relay on Sunday poses a great opportunity for Australia to get their swagger back (after a ninth-place finish in Tokyo) and produce a strong performance as well.”
And he had some words of encouragement for training partner Copeland.
“Brandon has been a long time trainer partner and friend of mine and I don’t think I’ve seen a more methodical and harder worker in training,” said Hauser.
“He deserves every success and opportunity he gets and with his Elite Grand Final debut in Edmonton, I think it’s his time (for him) to cash in on his consistency and cement his place amongst the elite, I believe he’s ready.”
For youngsters like Copeland, Perkins and Kira Hedgeland, the Canadian double-stop will be a major step towards bigger and better things in 2022 after impressive recent domestic results.
Perkins has made a real fist of her switch from surf lifesaving’s Ironwoman Series, despite spending a large amount of time sidelined with injury, with her most consistent season to date.
And her performance in the final domestic race of the season in Port Douglas, where she landed a win in the Oceania Triathlon Cup after splitting the Hedgeland girls Jaz and Kira in the Oceania Championship, landed her a place for Edmonton.
“That was (certainly) one of my better performances, that’s for sure, my third podium in the domestic season,” said Perkins.
“Making my senior elite team debut in Edmonton this year has been my major goal and the sprint distances certainly suits me.
“The swim is always crucial especially leading into the Commonwealth Games (next year) where the Brits are very strong in the swim and that’s really going to be the deciding factor for medals next year.
“At the moment that’s what I’m focusing on; trying to set my focus on Birmingham and a place on the 2022 Commonwealth Games team.
“It’s all about getting myself to become a strong swim, bike and run competitor so I have no weaknesses if I’m to make that team.
“Having three months out of the sport due to injury just 18 months after getting into it was really mentally tough for me; to really keep pushing to build myself back post that.
“It definitely hasn’t been easy; good results really make the struggles worthwhile and I can (finally) see myself having a real future in the sport.”
And for Copeland, he too has set his sights on Birmingham and is on the record as saying:
“For me personally I am sort of looking at 2022 Commonwealth Games and 2024 Paris Olympic Games, I think that is when I will be hitting my peak so that’s the real goal for me at this point.”
Image: Delly Carr
Friday, August 13 (Saturday 1:30am AEST):
Qualifying & Repechage, Super Sprint (WTCS Eliminator Format)
Saturday, August 14 (Sunday, 3:30am AEST):
Finals, Super Sprint (WTCS Eliminator Format)
Sunday, August 15 (Monday, 5:00am AEST):
Mixed Teams Relay
Australian Start Lists:
Men – Aaron Royle (NSW), Matt Hauser (QLD), Jake Birtwhistle (TAS), Brandon Copeland (QLD).
Women – Emma Jackson (QLD), Jaz Hedgeland (WA), Natalie Van Coevorden (NSW), Charlotte McShane (NSW), Kelly-Ann Perkins (QLD), Kira Hedgeland (WA).
Saturday August 21 (10:00pm AEST)
Australian Start Lists:
Men – Elite: Aaron Royle (NSW), Jake Birtwhistle (TAS), Brandon Copeland (QLD); Under 23: Matt Hauser (QLD), Luke Schofield (NSW).
Women – Elite: Emma Jackson (QLD), Jaz Hedgeland (WA), Natalie Van Coevorden (NSW), Charlotte McShane (NSW), Kelly-Ann Perkins (QLD); Under 23: Kira Hedgeland (WA).