The Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2019 ignited the World Triathlon Series on Friday, as the strongest field of elite athletes to have ever graced the capital battled it out on the blue carpet at Yas Marina Circuit.
Reigning world champion and now a three-time winner in Abu Dhabi, Mario Mola showed his experience and finesse, after a blistering run saw the Spaniard cross the finish line in 52 minutes. But Mola was given a run for his money, as WTS debutant and equally impressive runner Alex Yee kept Mola within his sights, despite being almost 10 years his junior; a hug at the end of the race showed a mutual respect of each other’s athletic abilities.
Yee, the up-and-coming 21-year-old Brit, completed his first WTS race with a solid time of 52.03. The podium was complete by Mola’s fellow countryman Fernando Alarza, with a time of 52.12.
The race itself, however, wasn’t as clear cut as some may have expected, especially with Richard Varga, a powerhouse in the water, storming out of the first section as the leader. It didn’t take long for last year’s winner Henri Schoeman to emerge and display his prolific cycling ability, as he fought his way into lead the race in the second discipline.
But it was the run where Mola and Yee came into their own. Despite Kiwi Hayden Wilde storming out the blocks and creating a healthy distance between him and the chasing pack, the New Zealander slowly succumbed to the pace and drive of Mola and Yee.
Despite resistance from Yee, it was arguably Mola’s experience that propelled the 29-year-old ahead, as he emerged as the winner of the Men’s Olympic category.
“I really had to dig deep in order to bridge the gap,” said Mola. “I knew that if I could run consistently well then I knew it would be a good fight. But when you have guys like Alex and Fernando racing it’s going to be tough; well done to them.
“I had to work really hard. I’m very happy with this especially as it is the first race of the season, and it’s great having this new generation like Yee and Wilde to compete with.”
Commenting on his first WTS race, Yee said: “This has been above and beyond my expectations. It’s been incredible to compete with the likes of Mario, Henri, all of them – these guys have been my idols so to get out there with them has been amazing.”
It was only a couple of years ago that the young Brit had an almost career-ending accident, Yee’s transition from exciting junior prospect to the U23 ranks appeared to be halted by a horrific mid-race crash at an ITU World Cup event in Italy in 2017.
But that clearly hasn’t put off the London-born Yee. “They were hard times and getting to this kind of level seemed very far away at certain points, so to be here in Abu Dhabi, after so much hard work, is credit to all the effort that myself and my team has put in,” added the British 10,000m champion.
The elite ladies in the afternoon didn’t disappoint either, as world No2 Katie Zaferes clinched first place and maximum points to kick off her season with a time of 55.31, followed by fellow American Taylor Spivey in second in 55.57, while Jessica Learmonth from the UK ensured it wasn’t a clean sweep by the US with a respectable 56.06.
Zaferes didn’t seem to slow down at any point, especially in her run where she created a 26-second gap between herself and compatriot Spivey as she crossed the finish line.
The 29-year-old delivered a strong and professional race, proving she really is one of the contenders for the season with an impressive cycle and run.
USA’s @KZaferes6 has never looked stronger after winning the first race of the 2019 WTS season in #WTSAbuDhabi! 🙌👏💪— World Triathlon (@worldtriathlon) 8 March 2019
She returns to the top of the WTS podium for the first time since 2016!
Race recap 👉 https://t.co/s14XGOrC6H#IWD2019 https://t.co/dToUk2NP1E pic.twitter.com/Z1VQTeF82s
“Even though my muscles felt a little tired before the race, it couldn’t have gone more perfectly for me,” said the Maryland native. “I managed to have a strong bike session which is always the plan. This is a great start to my season and I just want to keep getting better; last season really showed me what I need to do this year.”
After collecting her silver medal, Spivey commented on the leading pack and its strong American contingency, saying: “It was really hard to tell who was where in the first two laps of the bike, but we could see the gaps starting to appear before the run.
“Now with these points counting towards Tokyo (Olympic Games) it’s fantastic to see that we (Americans) are so strong. So it’s great to start the 2019 season with a second place finish.”
Delivering a gutsy performance was Learmonth, determined to get on the podium. She jokingly said: “I’m sick of them getting clean sheets so had to shove one out.
“It’s a big year for me and the girls are so strong, so it was a goal for me to simply just get round. It was a tough race but I’m happy with today and I’m going to just take each race for the rest of the season one at a time.”
Alongside the elites, over 600 junior triathletes took to the tracks and waterways of Yas Marina. Away from the race course action was plenty of entertainment in the Event Village.
Day two of the Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2019 continues on Saturday, with over 2,000 amateur triathletes set to race, as well as the brand new elite racing format – the Elite Mixed Relay.
For more information, visit: www.abudhabi.triathlon.org.
World champions Vicky Holland and Mario Mola, as well as Katie Zaferes, have stated how ready they are for action ahead of this weekend’s Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2019.
The event, taking place from March 8-9, is the season-opener of the ITU’s Global World Triathlon Series, and will welcome the strongest elite field ever witnessed in Abu Dhabi – 112 athletes including nine of the world’s top 10 females and the full roster of men’s top 10 athletes.
The field, representing 27 countries from around the world, is highly decorated with Olympic and World Championship medals.
Spanish star Mario Mola spoke ardently about the event and how he’s primed and ready for the start gun: “This is the first race of the year, so I’m hoping to have a solid swim, ride and run.
“With every season we try to be consistent and this first race is always important: winning here is also very special for me. But that’s the past – I’m now ready and prepared for the future.
“With every race counting towards our total points for the Tokyo Olympics, we must aim for strong finishes to gain maximum points.”
Alongside Mola, Briton Holland spoke about the potential pressure of being world champion.
“Well 2018 was an interesting year for me. Despite falling short of my aim at the Commonwealth Games in April last year, every race after I was getting better and better,” she said.
“The Grand Final race, certainly between myself and Katie (Zaferes) was fantastic for us as athletes but also for spectators too; it was a great way to win the world title.
“So coming in (to Abu Dhabi) as a world champ, the only pressure I feel is on myself. It’s great to come in with this title and it’s something I’m really proud of, but I don’t think that will change how I race – I’m focusing on that podium spot once again.”
The Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi will feature five categories: the Elite Individual Men’s and Women’s races, the Elite Mixed Relay race, the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi triathlon race, age grouper races and junior races.
The age grouper races allow amateur triathletes to compete as individuals or as part of a team, across a variety of distances: Super Sprint (400m swim, 10km cycle, 2.5km run); Sprint (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run) and Olympic (1,500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run).
As well as being the largest triathlon in the Middle East, the 2019 event is also set to become the most inclusive in history, as athletes participating in the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 are set to compete.
Thirty-three Special Olympics athletes from 14 nations are registered, including two athletes from the Special Olympics UAE team. The triathlon event marks the first sports competition of the much-anticipated World Games.
As well as Abu Dhabi winning the right to host the ITU Grand Final in 2022, event organisers also announced this year the new name and headline sponsor, Daman.
The 2019 edition has seen impressive growth in amateur participation numbers, as well as the addition of the Elite Mixed Relay World Series for the first time; this category will make its debut at the Olympics in Tokyo next year.
Speaking about the growth of the event and the future of the sport in the UAE, HE Aref Al Awani, general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “This weekend we are set to host world champions, 2,000 amateur triathletes, 33 Special Olympics World Games athletes and 600 junior athletes – fantastic proof of how inclusive the wonderful sport of triathlon is.
“And of course, we are also looking forward to hosting the ITU’s Grand Final in 2022 – an event where world champions are crowned in both the elite and amateur categories. The Grand Final will welcome over 10,000 competitors to Abu Dhabi generating significant economic impact for the city, and inspiring the next generation of triathletes from our community. Steps to prepare for the Grand Final have already begun.”
Sport360°’s Chris Bailey has signed up for the challenge of his life in November – an Ironman. Follow his adventure as he prepares his body for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and a marathon to finish …
Swimming, how I love and hate thee.
Cutting through the water is both glorious and horrifying, soothing and traumatic, synchronised and discombobulated – sometimes all within the space of a stroke.
The mission over the next eight months is to turn down the chaos and crank up the calmness for a swim leg of an Ironman that, if all goes well, should only encompass 10 per cent of the race.
It’s certainly doesn’t feel like 10 per cent at the moment. In fact, coach Dmitriy Firsov and I Love Supersport (ILSS) Dubai have given me a thorough drenching.
Before knuckling down into serious training I considered myself an adequate swimmer, a couple of notches above doggy paddler and a few lengths short of confident.
Endurance and strength has followed rather rapidly since racking up the kilometres both on land and in water but tailoring technique, as I’m finding out, is a lifelong process.
Take writing. Picking up a pen and jotting down a few words should flow naturally. But when was the last time you thought about angle, finger placement, letter shape? Try it – the mind rebels having become accustomed to the same action after thousands of repetitions.
Exactly the same applies to swimming technique. Suddenly I’m trying to process the angle of my hands, keeping my elbows high, ‘feeling’ the water, body balance, kicking, propulsion, and recovery within a couple of seconds.
If you’re a beginner all this is coached from the ground up. As a so-so swimmer it’s much harder to untangle bad habits from the good.
Thankfully Dmitriy – a former national triathlete who used to swim two kilometres just for warm-ups – is at hand to help demystify the process.
I’ve joined the ILSS Swim Squad, which runs at various locations throughout the week and includes both veterans and improvers in an extremely welcoming environment.
Not that Dmitriy lets you get away with slacking. Sharp with his whistle and incisive with his advice, it’ll amaze you just how far you can push yourself with such little rest in between lengths.
My first session in the state-of-the-art 50-metre pool at SIS School, in Healthcare City, left me glowing. By the start of the second I was blowing.
The accumulation of the ‘loading’ phase of six-day-a-week training – adapting the body to heavy triathlon workloads – and some late shifts at work set me sinking during the first technique drill (look up – sculling it’s certainly not my favourite activity in the water).
Dmitriy ordered me out and told me to change. A little embarrassed, I eventually shambled pack poolside. But instead of a scolding, he told me I should relax and observe.
Lesson learned? Recovery is more important than any tweak of technique.
Whether I heed that advice regularly is another thing entirely …
Swimming works on a very simple basis: 80 per cent of success is technique, and 20 per cent is speed, endurance, stamina and strength. Even for myself, in a swimming programme, I put a lot of attention on the technical drills. It’s better to correct mistakes from the beginning, and not create bad habits.
Technique is not just simply learning stuff. We have to put lots of effort into the beginning stage, so that a swim is delivery from ‘Point A to Point B’ on raceday. As of now we have a swim accented block which will give us more time to develop the bike and run in future.
If you are afraid of the water, change your attitude to it. Love it, and swimming will be the most pleasant thing you’ve ever done.
The ILSS swim squad is based on three abilities for the body to develop: strength, endurance and speed. The technique aspect is implemented inside the programme, but not like level 1, 2, 3 (technique educational swimming). Mostly it’s intervals and endurance sessions. In combination, all these things will bring you the best result. You also challenge yourself, competing with other team members to give you extra motivation.
Chris was tired at the beginning of the session a couple of weeks ago. At the start everything was good, but suddenly Chris started to make simple mistakes like imbalance and being uncoordinated. He was tired from the loading week. It is sometimes good to take a small step back, and make small changes in the plan according to your body condition.
Although training is important, recovery is more important. That’s why I let Chris rest, and play a role of the coach, observing different levels of swimmers from the side. It’s a very good experience, and I use it a lot in the preparation of athletes of different levels.
I Love Supersport Dubai is the premier international endurance sports school. No matter your age or ability, achieve your goals as a swimmer, runner, cyclist and triathlete under the tutelage of some of the region’s best coaches. Visit dubai.ilovesupersport.com for more details.