HAMBURG, Ger.—Four of Canada’s best triathletes captured the world’s attention with a bittersweet fifth-place finish at the Mixed Relay World Championships in Hamburg, Germany on Sunday.
Recently named an official Olympic medal discipline for the 2022 Games, the mixed team relay is one of the most thrilling events in triathlon, with teams of two men and two women each completing a short-course triathlon (300m swim, 7km bike, 1.6km run) before tagging off to their teammate to take on the next leg. With its rapid and unpredictable format, athletes love it and spectators enjoy it both onsite and on television, making it one of the most spectacular formats of the circuit.
The first major international test since being welcomed to the Olympic lineup didn’t disappoint on a wet and rainy day at the largest triathlon in the world that takes athletes down the streets of the old trading city lined by more than 100,000 fans before ending in front of the historic setting of Hamburg City Hall.
Amelie Kretz (Blainville, Que.), Tyler Mislawchuk (Oak Bluff, Man.), Joanna Brown (Carp, Ont.) and Alexis Lepage (Gatineau, Que.) were running away with a World Championship medal in what shaped up to be a two-team battle for gold with the Americans in the anchor leg following a monster swim from Lepage which propelled the Canadians into top spot heading home.
But the 23 year olds luck quickly turned for the worse when he crashed on the bike after his back wheel slid out from him in the first lap on the slick downtown streets of Hamburg.
Losing valuable time on the Americans at the front, Lepage gained his composure and got back onto his bike, but not before opening the door for Australia, Great Britain and the Netherlands to get back in the race, setting up a five-team hunt for the medals out of transition two.
Lepage dug deep to keep the Canadians in the mix until the final kilometre of the race. When all was said and done, the Canadians were forced to settle for fifth spot with a time of 1:23:04 – just 17 seconds off the podium.
“It was a good performance today, but I’m a bit sad. We had the podium. I know we can be there and run with the best. I know I could have done more, but I guess unexpected stuff like this happens,” said Lepage, whose bike arrived in Germany just before the race. “When I got back on my bike I tried to stay positive, bike as fast as I could to get back to the American but I had to save some energy.
“In the first 500 metres on the run I was confident I could sprint for the podium, but realized I had destroyed my legs trying to get back into it on the bike and didn’t have the running legs. Unfortunately the podium didn’t happen today, but it is still a fifth place and the team did a great job and should be very happy.”
The Australian team were crowned mixed relay World Champions with a time of 1:22:38. The Americans snagged the silver at 1:22:42, while the team from The Netherlands won the race for the bronze with a time of 1:22:47.
The two young Olympians on the Canadian squad – Amelie Kretz and Tyler Mislawchuk – set the tone for the red and white. Both building back their fitness after injuries following the 2016 Games, the 24-year-old Kretz put the Canadians in 13th place after the opening leg before Mislawchuk put down a steady effort, picking off the best names in the triathlon world in all three disciplines. Mislawchuk, 22, tagged off to Joanna Brown in sixth spot, 15 seconds back of the leaders.
The 24-year-old Brown, who has enjoyed a breakout season with two World Cup podiums this year, maintained her position on the swim before tackling the hairpin turns and slick streets like a machine on the bike, moving into third before second transition. Brown grabbed one more spot on the run before her day was done, sending Lepage diving into the Alster River in second place.
“It was really fun and a hard day. Yes there may be a bit of disappointment because for a while we thought we were going to be top-two, but we have to be really proud to have finished fifth. This is a good result for a really young team and demonstrates our potential,” said Brown, who leaned on her experience racing mixed relay formats last year while competing in the major league triathlon series.
“The race would have been different if Alexis didn’t crash because those two guys would have stayed away. It may be a bit frustrating but everyone gave it everything we had and I am just so proud of how we handled ourselves as a team.
“Our team learned so much today – especially how much hurt you have to put yourself in to come out with the result you want. We are still building as a team and we are only going to get stronger. This is an exciting day for Canadian triathlon.”
Canada’s best finished at a Mixed Team World Championships came in 2009 when the team led by Simon Whitfield won the bronze in Des Moines, Iowa. This is the best finish for the nation since the event was moved to Hamburg.
Canada will host the next two World Triathlon Series races in Edmonton, July 28-29 followed by Montreal August 5-6.
Top-Five Mixed Relay World Championship Results:
- Australia, 1:22:38; 2. United States, 1:22:42; 3. Netherlands, 1:22:47; 4. Great Britain, 1:22:52; 5. Canada, 1:23:04