Four of Canada’s top triathletes joined forces to post a hard-fought fourth-place finish in the thrilling Mixed Team Relay at the Commonwealth Games on Saturday in Gold Coast, Australia.
A young and highly-talented squad consisting of Joanna Brown (Carp, Ont.), Tyler Mislawchuk (Oak Bluff, Man.), Desirae Ridenour (Cowichan Bay, B.C.) and Victoria’s Matt Sharpe mixed it up against many of the greatest names in the sport to place fourth for the second-straight time at a Commonwealth Games with a time of 1:19:35.
“It was very hard. I wish I could have held on until the end, but I just couldn’t get there fast enough,” said Sharpe, who also anchored the Canadian squad to a fourth-place finish at the 2014 Games.
Recently named an official medal discipline for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games, the mixed team relay lived up to its billing on Saturday as one of the most exciting, spectator-friendly events in triathlon – with teams of two women and two men each completing a short-course triathlon (250m swim, 7km bike, 1.5km run) before tagging off to their teammate to take on the next leg.
The 25-year-old Brown, who became just the fourth Canadian triathlete ever to medal at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday when she won the bronze in the women’s individual race, took the opening leg for the Canadians. Brown came out of the quick swim in third spot. Heading into the heart of the Gold Coast for the two-lap bike course, the talented Canuck battled hard to keep her position, but eventually dropped to the back of the chase pack as the leaders from Australia and England broke away. Coming into transition two in fourth spot, Brown struggled to get her shoes on before heading out for the 1.5 kilometre run in sixth. She picked up one more spot on the field before tagging off to Mislawchuk.
“I’m so proud of my teammates today. I felt like I let them down a little bit at the beginning there. I had nothing left when I started, but we gave it everything we had,” said Brown. “We have a really strong team and I love competing with them. There are just a few little things that we need to fix.”
Determined to redeem himself after a disappointing individual race, Canada’s 23-year-old Mislawchuk quickly made a statement in the swim where he picked up two spots in the water while clocking the third-fastest time in the group. A clean and fast transition propelled him onto the bike course where he scrapped it out with Ryan Sissons of New Zealand over the two laps. With a battle for the bronze ensuing, Mislawchuk held fifth spot for the Canadians at the completion of his leg.
“This sport is full of small per centages. Little mistakes are what will make the difference in a race. It doesn’t sound like much but the little things all add up,” said the Olympian Mislawchuk. “I love triathlons and I love the mixed relay. I’m disappointed like everyone else, but we gave it 100 per cent and were just a bit off.”
It was 18-year-old development athlete, Desirae Ridenour, who caught the world’s attention with a gutsy effort. The National Performance Centre athlete guided by coach Jono Hall picked up a spot on the field following a strong swim. After turning one of the quickest transitions onto the bike, Ridenour rode with New Zealand’s Andrea Hewett until midway through the second lap when she charged ahead into third. Emptying the tank in a steady run, Ridenour dropped back into fourth before she was done, but moved the Canadians up one spot heading into the anchor leg.
“It’s pretty tough. We gave it our best and we just missed the podium,” added Ridenour.
With Australia and England setting a rapid pace up front, Canada’s medal hopes were in the hands of Matt Sharpe.
Sharpe had his work cut out for him to catch New Zealand for the final spot on the podium. The 26-year-old held the fourth-place position in the swim before charging onto the bike course after a lightning-quick and smooth transition.
With Commonwealth Games champ, Justin Birtwhistle, dusting Alistair Brownlee and the rest of the field in the anchor spot to lead the Aussies to a gold medal in a time of 1:17:36, Sharpe continued to hunt down the Kiwis.
England finished 52 seconds back of the leaders in second at 1:18:28.
Canada’s Sharpe pushed hard to close the gap to third after a solid bike and steady run but ran out of real estate, crossing the finish line in fourth.
“I wish I could have been there at the end and I’m a bit frustrated I couldn’t get up there, but we have some time to learn from this and come back stronger,” said Sharpe.
Sharpe and the Canadians finished seven seconds behind New Zealand who claimed the bronze medal position with a time of 1:19:28.
With increased depth in the athlete pool, the mixed team relay is a core part of Triathlon Canada’s high-performance strategy heading towards the 2020 Olympic Summer Games. Mislawchuk and Brown were part of the Canadian squad who finished fifth at last year’s Mixed Team Relay World Championships in Hamburg, Germany. Canada’s best finish at a Mixed Team Relay World Championships came in 2009 when the team led by Simon Whitfield won the bronze in Des Moines, Iowa.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games are taking place April 4-15, 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia, with 70 participating countries and more than 4000 athletes taking part.