Photos: World Triathlon

By Kent Gray/
New Zealand’s dream of having three men toe the start line at the Paris Olympics will go down to the qualification window wire after a tough day for Team NZL at the World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) season-opener in Yokohama.

A “medical” DNF for Dylan McCullough and 24th place for Tayler Reid, combined with a unexpected men’s podium of American Morgan Pearson and Aussies Matt Hauser and Luke Willian, has all conspired to see the Kiwi duo slip down the Olympic Qualification Rankings.

Ainsley Thorpe’s 22nd in the earlier women’s race, ahead of an off-key Nicole van der Kaay in 41st, offered some Kiwi cheer in Japan but the spotlight invariably fell on the men given the tight race to be among the 55 starters for the individual men’s race in Paris on July 30.

For New Zealand to secure three slots for Paris, McCullough and Reid also need to be in the top 30 of a rankings list that currently features Hayden Wilde in 2nd place. The Kiwi No.1 has already meet the secondary qualification criteria for the XXXIII Olympiad.

That made Saturday especially agonising for Reid who needed to finish 23rd to advance his cause by replacing the worst of the eight counting results an athlete can use in the second year of the qualification period. Instead, by the margin of the three seconds he finished behind 23rd placed Hungarian Mark Devay, Reid’s projected ranking is set to slip from 28th to 35th.

McCullough’s withdrawal on the second lap of the 10km run means he’s likely to fall from 26th to a projected 30th. That’s right on the bubble with, at best, two races to run before the Paris qualification window closes on May 27.

It all means the next 48 hours will be pivotal as Reid, McCullough, their respective coaches and Tri NZ’s High Performance team carefully calculate next moves.

There are two obvious options open to the Kiwis. Both are on the start list for WTCS Cagliari on May 25, two days before the window closes. Alternatively, they could opt to race World Triathlon Cup Samarkand next Saturday.

The Uzbekistan race offers the carrot of good standard distance points and a weaker start list while Yokohama carries the stick of an even stronger men’s field than Yokohama with Wilde and Alex Yee making their WTCS season bows in Sardina, along with a number of nations using it as a last chance qualifier.

McCullough and Reid could theoretically race both Samarkand and Cagliari. However, given Reid’s heavy race schedule to even get himself in the mix for the top 30, and concerns over an ankle niggle for McCullough, it’s likely both will choose one or the other.

Tri NZ has to make a call on Samarkand by noon Monday so watch this space.

By virtue of it’s Mixed Relay ranking, Team NZL has already qualified a team for Paris which means it is guaranteed two slots each in the men’s and women’s individual races. If either one or both of McCullough and Reid finish outside of the top 30, the decision on which of the duo will join Wilde in Paris will be made by an independent selection panel before being sent to the NZOC for ratification.

Pearson won his maiden WTCS title by attacking Willian early on the last lap of the run. Hauser overtook his countryman for silver late on but savoured signalling his regular WTCS room-mate home as it meant Willian not only had his first WTCS medal but a start secured for Paris.

Willian is projected to soar from 41st in the Olympic Qualification Rankings to 24th, Pearson from 52nd to 27th, and Marten van Riel from 47th to a dangerous 33rd after the Belgian claimed 6th in Yokohama. Throw into the mix a number of improved scores from those who went into Saturday close to McCullough and Reid around the top 30 bubble and the heat is undeniably on the Kiwis.

Reid raced gritty as is his trademark. He was 18th out of the water, three places behind McCullough, but made up all those spots with a slick T1. The Gisborne 27-year-old then rode near the front of what morphed into a 50 strong group on the bike before an accident on the final lap of the 40km ride splintered the field.

The Kiwis both fortunately avoided the mayhem and Reid ran 31:14 for the 10km to narrowly fall short of his 23rd or better target. Pearson, by comparison, scorched home in 29:11.

After quickly falling off the pace, it’s probable McCullough sagely opted to withdraw to save himself for whichever of the races he chooses in the next fortnight. was seeking confirmation of this overnight.

Like Pearson, Frenchwoman Leonie Periault won her first WTCS gold medal with an impressive 33:01 10km split, running away from countrywoman Emma Lombardi who eventually settled for third behind fast-finishing American Taylor Knibb.

Van der Kaay and Thorpe were 44th and 46th out of the water, 48sec and 51sec down respectively. It meant they missed the main bike group and were in for a tough morning.

Thorpe responded best. After being 27th out of T2, she made up five places with a 34:28 10km split to finish 03:41 behind Periault. It was the Aucklander’s 6th best result at WTCS level on paper but even more impressive given the depth of the field in Yokohama and all the Paris ramifications.

Van der Kaay finished 05:51 adrift. A 36:31 split from the known runner highlighted that is just wasn’t the Taupo 28-year-old’s day but the women’s race at the Olympics, it must be remembered, is set for Paris on July 31, not in Yokohama on May 11.

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