Photos: Simon Dawson Photography

By Kent Gray/
Saturday’s World Triathlon Cup Wollongong is awash with athletes desperate for the most precious commodity in short course triathlon – Olympic Qualification Ranking points. For others, the lure of Paris is a consideration but not all consuming.

Tag Olivia Thornbury to the latter group. The Invercargill doctor-in-training knows a start at the XXXIII Olympiad is a long-shot given that her Otago Medical School studies currently take precedence over triathlon.

But the 25-year-old equally appreciates anything could happen between now and the individual women’s race in Paris on July 31. With that in mind, Thornbury intends making the most of every start, Saturday’s sprint in “The Gong”, as the locals call it, included.

You can watch World Triathlon Cup Wollongong on World Triathlon’s streaming service with coverage of the women’s race from 3pm and the men from 5pm NZT (Check listings).

Thornbury has done a good job of keeping her name in lights despite limited starts in the past year. Last year she had a top-10 at World Cup New Plymouth, medalled at a European Cup race in Holten and was unlucky not to progress further than 44th at her WTCS debut in Hamburg which doubled as the World Triathlon Sprint Championships.

Last weekend in Taupo she finished 4th at the continental standard distance championships, just pipped by established Kiwi No.2 Ainsley Thorpe after an absorbing tussle at Wharewaka Point. Incredibly for someone nearly six years out of the junior (U19) ranks, it was Thornbury’s debut over the 1500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run distance and a mightly impressive one at that.

It came after she started 2024 with a bronze medal at Oceania Cup Wanaka and finished a place behind Thorpe again at World Cup Napier in 9th. Thornbury wasn’t overly happy with her 26th at World Cup Hong Kong in March but gets another shot, admittedly in a deeper field, in Wollongong.

“Yeah, Paris is in my head in the background [but] I’m not putting too much pressure on that, sort of just focusing on what I’m doing and ticking off each race,” Thornbury told in Taupo.

“Wollongong next weekend, which will be an awesome World Cup. Sounds like it’s a really cool place, so looking forward to that. And then, yeah, looking to put some plans together for the rest of the year.”

Whether those plans include Paris, perhaps even in a reserve capacity, remain to be seen. In World Triathlon’s latest Olympic Qualification Rankings Thornbury is the fifth best Kiwi behind Thorpe, Kiwi No.1 Nicole van der Kaay, Brea Roderick and Eva Goodisson.

Her World Triathlon Ranking of 92nd, a jump of 34 places post Taupo, rates her 4th of the Kiwi women behind van der Kaay (34th), Thorpe (37th) and Roderick (71st). Roderick perhaps stole a march on Thornbury with her results last year when she replaced Thornbury at WTCS Montreal and never looked back.

But this Oceania season at least, the head-to-heads have gone in Thornbury’s favour: Roderick was 8th, 17th and 6th in Wanaka, Napier and Taupo respectively compared to Thornbury’s 3rd, 9th and 4th.

Critically, Thornbury’s run splits in any race this summer have only been surpassed by Thorpe through a Kiwi only lens, and only just. Thornbury was nearly a minute faster than Roderick for the 10km in Taupo, and over 5km she was 55 and 41 seconds quicker in Wanaka and Napier respectively. They’re all invaluable data points for the New Zealand selectors and certainly speaks to Thornbury’s potential for LA ’28 if she isn’t involved in Paris is some capacity.

Thorpe’s 10km split in Taupo was 36:13 to Thornbury’s 36:16. It sets up nicely for what will be Kiwi subplot within the wider context of Wollongong where Wanaka winner IIaria Zane (ITA), world No.12 Rachel Klammer (NED) and Emma Jeffcoat (AUS) add class to the 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run test.

“Ainsley and I ran the whole way toe to toe [in Taupo], just couldn’t quite work together and catch those Aussies ahead,” Thornbury said of the eventual Aussie 1-2 of Ellie Hoitink and Richelle Hill.

“Unfortunately she [Thorpe] pipped me at the end. I sort of thought that would happen, but I just gave it my all and, yeah, I was on my limit.

“But never mind. I’m really happy with my run and where things are progressing… really happy with that performance.”

In addition to Thornbury and Thorpe, New Zealand will have three men on the startline in Wollongong.

Tayler Reid will look to continue his ascent up the Olympic Qualification Rankings after leapfrogging 12 places to 38th on the back of his runner-up finish to Aussie star Matt Hauser in Taupo. If Reid can sneak into the top 30 before the May 27 deadline, New Zealand could well have three men in the startline in Paris.

RELATED: Reid soars in latest Olympic Qualification Rankings after Taupo silver

In Wollongong, Janus Staufenberg, Thornbury’s partner, and Saxon Morgan, will look to build on their 6th and 11th places in Taupo.

Morgan suffered a cramp attack early on the run which cost him a number of places and most definitely a third successive top 10 to go with 5th place at the Oceania Sprint Championships in Devonport and 10th at World Cup Hong Kong. The 23-year-old Cantabrian will look to respond in Wollongong before taking a race break ahead of a seven-week stint in Europe from late May.

“Never had it before,” Morgan said of the painful cramp. “Maybe it was a nutrition problem on the bike? Hopefully never again!”

Oceania Standard Distance champion Hauser will start in the No.1 bib in Townsville.

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