By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
While Tayler Reid and Nicole van der Kaay prep for Super League Triathlon’s atypical Saudi Arabian decider, Tri NZ’s other power couple are in Japan quietly determined to rachet up the heat on their much-vaunted compatriots as Paris 2024 Olympic Games selection looms.

Otago Medical School students Olivia Thornbury and Janus Staufenberg are part of a five-strong Kiwi contingent racing World Cup Miyazaki on Saturday  (TriathlonLIVE.tv from 12.50pm NZT).

As it is for teammates Dylan McCullough, Saxon Morgan and Eva Goodisson, the sprint distance race on the island of Kyushu is a critical experience and Paris qualification points gathering exercise.

RELATED: Dylan McCullough itching for World Cup Miyazaki return

Diving into post-grad medicine this year has been no cinch, not while also trying to juggle elite-level training with the busy academic workload. It’s also been tricky trying to secure top-level race starts coming out of the pandemic so both are keen to up the ante in Japan.

“Of course, it’s always in the back of the mind,” Thornbury said when asked if the 2024 Olympics are on the radar.

Photo: @janosmschmidt @worldtriathlon

“It’s pretty soon now so we’ll see what happens. We can always take a year off or two in between [studying]. Next year is similar to what we’ve just done in terms of being at Uni and content learning but a couple of years later we do placement so it could be a good time to take some time off and concentrate on triathlon 100 percent.”

Saturday’s races will be the couple’s first starts since Staufenberg finished an eye-catching 11th  in his second World Cup start and Thornbury an eye-opening 44th on debut at Huatulco in Mexico in July.

They’ll kick on from Japan to Asian Cup Ipoh on November 26, making the most of the Continental Cup race in Malaysia to drag themselves up the world rankings. Staufenberg, 23, is currently 156th and Thornbury, 24, 230th.

“A lot of the focus this year has just been trying to find the points to get on to start lists so we’ve been kind of choosing and picking where we can get on starts lists so we can slowly progress up the world rankings,” said Staufenberg.

“This year it didn’t quite work out for us to go to Europe because we didn’t have the points … we would have ended up sitting there and not being able to race as much so hopefully next year we can look to get over there and do some more races.

“I’d say with Covid slowly disappearing, the Australia-NZ season is already looking way better so we’ll definitely target that [to collate points for European starts later].”

As a Mt Aspiring College old boy, Staufenberg is sure of plenty of support at the Friday night, February 17 Oceania Cup sprint race set to start the elite 2023 domestic calendar and headline the wider Challenge Wanaka weekend. There is also a Conti Cup and the alluring Oceania Mixed Relay Championship in Taupo on Feb. 25-26 plus the return of World Cup New Plymouth on March 26.

But the ‘Kiwi Summer of Tri’ is for later. Right now, the focus is on Japan. Staufenberg has warmed up by winning the New Zealand 10km road running title in early September but is glad to be back at it in the three disciplines.

“We went to Mexico in the end of June, that was pretty good to get a second World Cup in. Happy to come 11th , yeah, and just keen to build on that in Japan really,” Staufenberg said.

“The training’s been going well, making the best of it down in Dunedin’s winter, getting the hours in. For me probably a limiting factor is just getting some more of those race experiences…just refining the process on race day, especially getting use to that swim environment. There’s no way you can replicate it except for being in races. “

That’s certainly the case for Thornbury who admits getting “beaten up” during her debut World Cup swim in Mexico.

“Disappointed to travel so far and not be able to execute a race I know I am capable of and worked so hard towards. It’s not all bad. I’ve learnt loads and had a lot of fun along the way!” Thornbury said on social media afterwards.

The race in Mexico came a week after the former Verdon College (Invercargill) student made her debut in the Mixed Team Relay at World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds. New Zealand, featuring Hayden Wilde, Reid, Andrea Hansen (nee Hewitt) and Thornbury finished 12th, adding fuel to Thornbury’s fire.

“I’m similar to Janus, just [need] race experience. Lining up on the start line over and over and getting used to that feeling. Confidence is a big thing,” said Thornbury.

“I want to put down a performance [in Japan] I’m proud of to be honest. The training has been going really well so If I can put something together on race day that would be awesome, top-10 would be fantastic but we’ll see what happens. I can only do what I can do but I’ll be giving it my all.”

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