Andrea Hewitt paid an emotional tribute to fiance Laurent Vidal after winning her first ITU World Triathlon Series in six seasons at the 2017 season-opener in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Vidal, a former triathlete who finished fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, died of a heart attack aged just 31 in November 2015.
The Frenchman, who had been forced to retire in April 2014 after suffering a cardiopulmonary arrest during a swimming training session, instead turned to coaching partner Hewitt – who has also featured in the triathlon at the last three Olympics where she has finished seventh (2016), sixth (2012) and eighth (2008).
“I’m definitely dedicating this to Laurent,” the 34-year- old Hewitt said of Vidal – who she had been due to marry in early 2016.
“Laurent always told me I had everything. I had the dedication, I had integrity, I had talent, he told me probably the one thing I was
missing was emotion and I didn’t show it most of the time. There was so much emotion (today). Coming here and winning, I’ve got no words.”
It was a first time on top of the podium at a WTS race for Hewitt since the 2011 Grand Final in Beijing – a result that saw her claim second place overall. She was also runner-up in the 2015 series and has finished third three times too (2009, 2012, 2014).
Despite suffering such a personal trauma, the Christchurch native stated that competing has helped her cope.
“I love triathlon and this is what I do,” she added.
“To keep going, for me, that was the normal route. There was no talk of giving up, there was nothing else for me to do.
“I have to pay tribute to (training partner) Maddie Dillon who’s been beside me the last year and knows exactly what I’ve been going through, so I just want to say thank you to her as well as my friends and family.
“There were so many changes last year. I had a lot of support though and I’m really thankful to the people around me.”
'If I was going to lose to anyone I'm glad it was to Andrea and a sprint finish!' @jodiestimpson congratulates the 2017 champ @andreahewittnz #WTSAbuDhabi #InAbuDhabi #triathlon #unitedbytriathlon #swimbikerun #worldtriathlon#weekend #UAE #fitspo . " إذا كنت سأخسر أمام أحد فإنني سعيدة أنها آندريا" - جودي ستيمبيون تهنئ بطلة ٢٠١٧ . #في_أبوظبي #ترايثلون #ترايثلون_أبوظبي #ترايثلون_يجمعنا
Hewitt claimed a breath-taking triumph at Yas Marina Circuit, digging deep in a pulsating sprint finish to burst past reigning Abu Dhabi champion Jodie Stimpson in the final 10 metres.
The veteran kiwi was around 15 seconds down after emerging from the swim – two laps on two separate legs around Yas Marina.
Spain’s Carolina Routier led at the that point but was quickly swallowed up by the likes of Hewitt and Stimpson.
As the field headed onto the iconic Formula One track for the 40km cycle, a breakaway group of nine started to form, led by Stimpson and Australia’s Gillian Backhouse.
Nine became four as they swapped the saddle for their trainers, with the winner looking like it would come from one of Britian’s Stimpson, Hewitt, Austria’s Sara Vilic or Rachel Klamer of the Netherlands.
Klamer eventually fell back during the final four laps of running, with Hewitt triumphing in thrilling fashion ahead of Stimpson, while Vilic was able to reflect on a first-ever WTS podium seven seconds behind.
“It was such a close race with Jodie, we were neck and neck out of the water and rode really well together and we were side by side in the run too,” added Hewitt.
“I think she was quicker on the uphill but as we came into the flat we were side by side. I’ve always got confidence I can win. I didn’t know how Jodie was going to go. She led from 400m to go and I just hung on and timed it perfectly.”
Congratulations to the 2017 ITU WTS Abu Dhabi champion @andreahewittnz as well as @jodiestimpson and @saravilic and all the elites racing today. What a gripping day of racing! 🏊🏼♀️🚴🏻♀️🏃🏻♀️ نهنئ بطلة سباق سلسلة الترايثلون العالمية في أبوظبي 2017 أندريا هيويت ونهنئ كذلك جودي ستيمبسون وسارة فيليتش اللاتي فازتا بالمركز الثاني و الثالث في سباق النخبة ونهنئ معهما جميع الرياضيات اللواتي شاركن في سباق النخبة اليوم. ياله من يوم مذهل!
Stimpson, 28, was upbeat with her performance despite being pipped on the line.
“Maybe I went too early, I don’t know. That was all I had, I had nothing else left to give, there was no more speed left in my legs. Second was all I had and I’m happy with that,” she said.
“I was stronger on the uphill but Andrea was the stronger on every lap coming into the flat section and I know she’s renowned for her sprint.
“I was at full stretch when she came past and I had no chance. If I was going to lose to anyone in a sprint finish today I’m glad it was Andrea because we worked really hard on our bikes.”
Three years ago the Emirati weighed just shy of a whopping 200kg, thanks in large part of a regular fast food diet that would often see him consume three triple whopper burgers in one sitting.
His obesity was so alarming he required surgery because he was struggling to walk. However, it was just the wake-up call he needed.
The 32-year-old lost 100kg in 12 months and is now preparing to compete in the Olympic distance of the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
Kasim will undertake a 1,500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run around the event’s revamped Yas Island route – the same distance that the elite male and female athletes will be competing in.
It comes a month after Kasim completed the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in a very respectable time of five hours and eight minutes, having only entered three weeks beforehand.
“If I can do it anyone can, and this is what I want to do. I want to inspire others to do the same,” said Kasim, who is head of corporate communications for a government sector in Dubai.
“I was obese, I accepted that. My life has completely changed since I started training when I was 29. I lost the weight so it’s like since I turned 30 I’ve entered a new life. The lesson I’ve learnt is nothing is impossible and start small. No matter where you start.”
Kasim puts his transformation down to coach Marcus Smith and his team at Dubai-based gym Inner Fight, where he started taking up CrossFit in a desperate bid to shed the pounds.
“I am willing to support anyone. It changed my life and I hope I can change others’ lives,” added Kasim, who joked the Dubai Marathon was “the longest run of my life”.
“My friends have since started losing weight and training. I have a friend who was 220kg and he was only 22. He started coming to the gym with me. He has lost 40kg in a few months already.”
As well as dedicating himself to training, transforming his diet dramatically has also been key for Kasim.
“Before I would eat white bread for every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he adds.
“I would have a sweet with every meal, whether it was fruit or cake, chocolate and sweets. Dinner would mostly be fast food or eating out at a restaurant.
“I would go to a fast food restaurant in the evening and would have three triple whopper burgers. So nine burgers altogether. Sometimes I would eat two but if I did not feel satisfied I would eat three. A minimum of two and maximum of three, with one or two portion of fries.
“Now I eat maybe a boiled egg and banana for breakfast. At lunch half a kilo of salmon or grilled chicken with salad or quinoa. For dinner lentil soup, nothing too heavy, perhaps chicken breast with sweet potato.
“Hydration was a big point too. I would not drink a lot of water. People think if you drink water you put on weight. You should drink three litres per day or four to five if you’re doing exercise.”
The 33-year-old Spaniard is a record five-time World Triathlon Series champion and he won three successive series’ between 2013-15.
However, he was usurped as king by young pretender Mola, 27, a year ago, a season on which decorated Gomez does not look back fondly.
Besides being denied a fourth title in a row, the Galicia native also missed out on last summer’s Olympics when he broke his elbow just over a month before the Rio Games.
Although many would have been left broken, especially as Gomez was one of the favourites for triathlon gold in Brazil after winning silver at London 2012, the veteran admits it gave him some perspective.
“It was really frustrating. It was just a normal training day and 300 metres from my house and I fell off the bike. I was going very slow, it didn’t seem to be a bad crash but I had the ground with my elbow and I broke it and there was no time to recover for the Olympics,” recalled Swiss-born Gomez.
“It was sad but a few days later I accepted it. It’s part of the sport when you do it for so many years. I had a great time and some great success but it was just one of those times I wasn’t successful and I had to recover and get back stronger than before. I tried to deal with it that way.
“I’ve won so many titles and big races so it gave me some perspective of things. It was not a great situation but it’s part of life and sport and you have to deal with it. I’ve had setbacks in the past and the fact I overcame them made me a better athlete and stronger so I’ll take this last one the same.”
Gomez is one of the leading elite male contenders for the season-opening World Triathlon Series race in Abu Dhabi, with the men racing on Saturday around the new location of Yas Island, but Gomez insists Mola is the man to beat.
“I was happy for him being world champion. He was on the podium for three years before finally stepping up to first spot, so he deserved it,” Gomez said of his younger opponent, who was third behind Gomez in 2013 and runner-up twice to him in 2014 and 2015.
“I’m good friends with him but of course when I’m racing against him I’m trying to beat him and he’s the world champion so he’s the one to beat at this race, and I’ll try my best to do so.”
Jodie Stimpson, meanwhile, feels this year’s elite women’s series will be one of the most widely contested in recent memory, but the Briton is determined to claim victory after a “devastating” 2016.
The 28-year-old double 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medalist has fond memories of Abu Dhabi, having claimed victory in the UAE at the same event a year ago.
However, after such a promising start, her 2016 season then went into a tailspin, losing out on selection to the British triathlon team for last summer’s Olympic Games to Non Stanford, Helen Jenkins and Vicky Holland, before an Achilles injury then ended her campaign.
She’s back at the scene of what turned out to be her sole 2016 highlight this season as 2017 opens with the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi tomorrow.
And Stimpson is determined to put her year of hell firmly behind her.
“Missing Rio was absolutely devastating and I was driven then to prove a point,” admitted Stimpson.
“It gave me motivation to finish the season well, but then I had a devastating injury. I don’t think everything else could have gone wrong.
“That was the worst thing, missing Rio when I was so close to it. But I did all I could do, I have no regrets, I just wasn’t good enough. I think that’s why it was easier to come away from it. I did my best and just didn’t make it.”
Stimpson has a perfect opportunity to start the season on the right foot in the UAE capital. Reigning series champion Flora Duffy pulled out of the season opener on Tuesday with a hip injury, while several opponents are taking a season off to start a family.
One of those is American Gwen Jorgensen, who was back to back series champion in 2014 and 2015 and also won gold in Rio.