Australia is the only country able to send six triathletes to Tokyo, boosting hopes of a return to the podium for the first time since 2012.
Quota numbers were finalised over the weekend, with results falling Australia’s way at the World Triathlon Cup in Mexico, while Queensland young guns Jaz Hedgeland and Luke Willian earned maximum points by taking out the Oceania Triathlon Championship in Port Douglas.
World No.5-ranked Jake Birtwhistle and No.13 Ashleigh Gentle, who were part of Australia’s 2017 world champion mixed relay team, have already been ratified for nomination, while the other selections will be revealed next week.
That means Australia will be at full strength in both the men’s and women’s fields, as well as the new mixed relay, which will feature two men and two women from each country racing over a short-course triathlon (300 metre swim, 8 kilometre bike, 2 kilometre run) before tagging their teammate.
The event is rated our best chance, with Australia’s last of five medals, a bronze won by Erin Densham in London.
Triathlon Australia’s performance director Justin Drew said Australia’s depth in the field could give the country an edge in the mixed relay, with other countries possibly hit by injury or illness.
“It’s been quite the ride to qualify three men and three women, and we are the only country in the world to do that,” Drew said.
“It gives us some protection around relay performance, which is obviously a major priority for Australia.”
“Given the impact COVID will have on the village, competition rules, and the late athlete replacement policy, having those six athletes provides us an advantage over other nations.”
Hedgeland’s win confirmed Australia had earned three female quota spots – and even though Willian also won it was still mathematically possible for Australia to drop out of the top 30.
Australia veteran Aaron Royle withdrew from the World Cup in Mexico in the early stages with illness but some surprise international results meant he remained at 30th in the world rankings and Australia six points clear of the United States, who were also looking for maximum quota spots.
Drew was full of praise for both Hedgeland and Willian, who along with Royle, Emma Jeffcoat, Natalie Van Coevorden and Matt Hauser, are vying for selection.
“Luke had sustained a cut in his foot off the back of last week’s crash at Runaway Bay but he managed to put together a great run to set up that final quota challenge,” Drew said.
“Those athletes had an opportunity and they got it done … now we line up Tokyo.”