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Triathlon setting a true test of focus

21 August 2016

TRIATHLON: It was an idyllic setting, along one of the world’s most iconic beach strips.

While so many events have been played out to crowds of 50 per cent of less, there was a buzz as observers from all over the world lined the course.

Unlike competition at the Olympic Stadium and Deodoro, this was a world class event which cost nothing to see.

And as the best women triathletes on the globe peddled past, the cross-section of scenes and spectators was probably unique, even though this is a sport that, as part of the World Triathlon Series, takes its athletes to Abu Dhabi, London, Chicago, Edmonton, Cozumel, Stockholm, Hamburg and Yokohama.

In London in 2012 they ran or rode through Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace, down Constitution Hill and the Serpentine – the path of royalty.

In Beijing in 2008 they took to the vastness along a picturesque dam and the environment was almost eerily sedate.

Back in 2000 in Sydney, if the triathletes had a chance to look up, they would have marvelled at the sight of Opera House and the Botanical Gardens.

In Rio, it was different. This is triathlon carnivale-style.

While Australian competitors did us proud - Emma Moffatt finishing sixth, Erin Densham 12th and Ashleigh Gentle 26th  - as they endured their private agony, and a mental and physical test that perhaps, as an Olympic sport, is only surpassed by the marathon - interested spectators from many nations cheered and cajoled for more effort.

But, as well, thousands went about their business just metres away with little care or interest other than profiting from the sudden masses that have come their way.

Just a few metres from the athletes’ path is the famous Copacabana Beach, with scores of beach volleyball games going on, dozens of the Brazilian cocktail ‘Caipirinha’ being sunk, a local posing for pictures in front of his Disneyland-like sand castle, tanned bikini clad women and men in nothing but their brief bathers peering over the crowd to see what had happened to their local thoroughfare of any other day.

Look the other way and they sat outside the cafes while others peered out of their high-rise balconies at the race for gold below. Two Australian flags even hung over the railings to show their nationalistic support.

But the three Aussie women, during eight bicycle laps in one direction (just under 40km) and four running laps (10km) in the other after starting with their 1km swim, noticed none of it.

And that’s the surreal aspect and irony of this scene.

While their focus is purely the road in front, the clock, and the competitor ahead or just behind, the athletes are ignorant to their surroundings.

In one of the best known coastal meccas of the world, they were in their own world.

“Life for us is go to one of these great cities, book into your hotel, check out the course and then race,” said 31-year-old triple Olympian Moffatt, who is considering retiring at year’s end.

“Yeah, you do think about the fact you compete on these wonderful settings but you’re really not aware of what’s around you.

“You’re really not aware of your surroundings. You just focus on what’s ahead, especially on the bike leg – you can’t take your eyes off what’s happening for a moment.

“I actually want to go travelling one day and take it in,” she smiled.

“But the atmosphere was amazing though with the crowds.

“London was fantastic, too, because with the crowd and the fact they had some very good British competitors ensured that, whereas Beijing was out of the way and very quiet with spectators.”

As they passed on another lap on their bikes, crowds raising a cheer each time they went past and their progress being shown on a giant scene, the bustles continued.

After the medal presentation on a beachside road dais, the locals and visitors started to resume normal life, a roar from the sky shook their routines.

Five fighter jets put on a spectacular aerial display, flying low and loud directly over the finish line then circling for one more loop directly about the fort.

It’s perhaps the most unusual Olympic event, well away from the stadiums and patriotic throng that the previous 14 days had provided.

And when they have wound down our nation’s best, in just a few weeks’ time, do it on the streets of Cozumel all over again, except no Olympic medals are on offer but another iconic city, another excruciating physical test – and not a tourist brochure opened.

Neil Cadigan


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