Joanna Brown set to build on 13th place result, Paula Findlay 18th in World Cup return
HUATULCO, Mex.—Kirsten Sweetland has never been so happy about a 12th-place finish in her life.
Having not raced or trained to her fullest in more than eight months, the Victoria resident hit the start line and put down a solid outing as the qualification clock for the Olympic Summer Games is quickly counting down.
The 27 year old battled through the extreme heat and epic triathlon course in Huatulco, Mexico with many of the top names in the sport fighting for their Olympic lives to clock a 12th-place time of 2:16:41.
“I’ve had a really tough winter, and only had one month of proper training so I’m really happy with this result,” said Sweetland.
Dunked early in the 1.5-kilometre, two-lap swim, Sweetland rebounded after coming out of the water in the second chase pack – not far behind her fellow Canucks, Paula Findlay and Joanna Brown, who were in the first pack.
Executing a race strategy to remain conservative in the extreme heat, the three Canadians were part of a large group that formed in the second of eight laps on the 40-kilometre bike course that is known for its very difficult climb in the middle of each loop.
“I had a really hard time getting beat up in the swim, but managed to make my way back up to the front and rode well over the hilly course,” added Sweetland. “It was a very hot and humid race so I played conservative on the run because I really needed to get a score on the board. All things considered I’m definitely headed in the right direction.”
Switzerland’s Jolanda Annen captured her first World Cup title with a time of 2:14:06. Poland’s Agnieszka Jerzyk was second at 2:14:19, while Ukraine’s Yuliya Yelistratova rounded out the women’s podium in third place at 2:14:27.
While all three Canadian women looked strong heading into second transition after a punishing cycling course, the field quickly spaced out.
Joanna Brown, of Carp, Ont., finished behind Sweetland in 13th place at 2:17:15.
Brown was in good position on the swim, before taking in a gulp of water after battling with another athlete at the turn buoy. Brown battled back through the rest of the swim, and transition, to set herself up for a strong bike leg.
“I felt calm during the bike and concentrated on positioning and hydrating more than anything else. The descent of that hill is pretty nasty too with rough pavement and bumps which made for a tooth rattling experience,” said Brown, who was third out of second transition.
“I was feeling really good! Reality set in not long after the run started, and I jumped on the struggle bus from there on. I dumped cold water on myself every aid station and just tried to stay cool.
“The past few months have been amazing in terms of training and building confidence. I keep moving forward each week, which is such a huge relief after a few years of moving backwards! My biggest goal today was to get to the start line happy, relaxed, and healthy and I achieved that.”
The heat and lack of run fitness also played a factor in Paula Findlay’s return to racing for the first time in nearly one year. The Edmontonian was in the lead group off the bike, but fell back to 18th on the run, finishing with a time of 2:20:17.
But, today was a huge step forward for all three Canucks who have been ailing over the last couple of years – none moreso than Sweetland. Her story is definitely one of resiliency. With her career in jeopardy after battling a series of injuries over the last eight years, Sweetland has suffered her share of heartache.
She missed qualifying for two Olympic Games teams, and battled countless injuries and illnesses that have left her pondering her athletic future.
Once touted as Canada’s next great triathlete after building a resume that includes two victories, along with a silver and bronze medal on the World Cup circuit in addition to becoming the first Canadian woman ever to win a medal at the Junior World Championships in 2006, her Commonwealth Games performance in 2014 built on a breakthrough season where she had a handful of top-10 finishes on the World Triathlon Series that included her first ever bronze medal on the elite racing circuit earlier this month. But those celebrations were short lived as Sweetland found herself watching more races than she competed in over the last 12 months with another series of setbacks.
“Few people know just what I’ve been through so I don’t expect everyone to understand but I’m super happy right now. In fact I’ve never been happier for finishing 12th,” said Sweetland.
The World Cup continues on Sunday in Huatulco, Mexico wit the men’s race.
Top-Five Women’s Results:
1. Jolanda Annen, SUI, 2:14:06; 2. Agnieszka Jerzyk, POL, 2:14:19; 3. Yuliya Yelistratova, UKR, 2:14:27; 4. Alexandra Razarenova, RUS, 2:14:34; 5. Kaidi Kivioja, EST, 2:14:44
12. Kirsten Sweetland, Victoria, 2:16:41; 13. Joanna Brown, Carp, Ont., 2:17:15; 18. Paula Findlay, Edmonton, 2:20:17