By Kent Gray/
With fingers crossed for an incident-free final 24 hours before the start gun, Ainsley Thorpe is finally destined to arrive at a World Triathlon start-line in race trim on Saturday.

The 24-year-old Cambridge-based Aucklander is the sole Kiwi racing World Cup Tongyeong and will enter the hilly Olympic-distance test in the picturesque southern port city of Tongyeong-si as prepared as she has been all season.

After crashing out of the Toyko Olympics, suffering another spill in a bike race in Tokoroa last May and then having her Birmingham Commonwealth Games campaign completely skuttled by a bout of COVID-19, Thorpe deserves a little luck heading into the lunchtime race (live on from 11.50am NZT).

“There’s been lots of up and downs,” is Thorpe’s philosophical summation of her year to date.

“I was injured at the start of the year, found a little bit of form in the New Zealand races and then had two weeks out with stitches after crashing in May…stupid potholes in New Zealand.”

That incident delayed her departure to Europe and forced a DNF at World Cup Arzachena in Sardinia, Italy later in May. “I came back too soon and DNF’d. I wasn’t ready to race.”

Thankfully, there have been more encouraging results post COVID with 14th and 12th places at World Cup’s in Bergen and Valencia respectively the past two months. Those races, and a decent block of training, give Thorpe hope of a showing more representative of her ability in South Korea in what will be an important first Olympic-distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) examination at World Cup level.

“I haven’t had a massive block [of training] with no interruptions so this is my first race that I’ve had a month where I’ve actually been able to train. Nothing went wrong for a whole month which hasn’t happened for a whole year.”

Thorpe was about to head out for race course recce when called and it shaped as an important sighter too given the hilly nature of the Tongyeong course. You wouldn’t have blamed her for snuggling up under her hotel room duvet instead, wrapping herself in metaphoric cotton wool to ensure she makes it to the start-line sniffle free and unscathed given her rotten luck the past 18 months.

But Tongyeong is an important dress rehearsal for the World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) season finale in Abu Dhabi next month so Thorpe is keen to grasp every opportunity.

“Its key to step up to Olympic distance at a World Cup level and see where I’m at. I’d like to do a WTCS Olympic distance sometime soon so this will be a good stepping stone for that.

“I’ve been training pretty well swim, bike and run so hopefully I can just put it together in a race.”

Thorpe will decide after South Korea if she’s ready to race WTCS Abu Dhabi, critically over the Olympic distance and another ranking points opportunity as she eyes the Paris Olympic Games test event in late August next year. She could just as easily bypass the UAE and instead opt for a small break before Christmas to launch herself into the ‘Kiwi Summer of Tri’, most probably making her major 2023 bow at World Cup New Plymouth on March 26.

Either way, 2023 is going to look different for Thorpe who is eyeing a “calendar that is crazy already”.

“I think the mistake I made this year was trying to race too much and not getting in enough training to be able to race properly, especially since I didn’t get a big block in before going to Europe after my accident.

“I think we raced every second week for a month and with COVID in the middle of that and all those interruptions…so I think next year I’m going to do my calendar a bit more sensible and have it a bit more spread out so I can get the training in as well.”

Thorpe concedes she has “kind of moved on” from the disappointment of crashing out of the Olympics after the women were forced to race in a “cyclone” in Tokyo while other sports postponed for the day. Missing out on Birmingham altogether was tough too.

“It would have been interesting to see how I would have gone. I was swimming well so I definitely would have been in the race… it would have been good to see where I was at with my running cause I did the World Cups [in Bergen and Valenica post the Comm Games] before coming home and they went much better than how I started the season.”

After all the physical and emotional trauma of the past 18 months, you must be desperate for chance to combine a uncompromised build-up and race performance together at the highest level?

“Yeah for the sake of my Mum and Dad too,” Thorpe said with an exasperated giggle. “They’ve just constantly watched stuff go wrong so it will be nice to actually get a good race in.

“Even this race, points contribute getting to Paris 2024, towards that big goal so if I do all the races right, the goal will come.”

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