GB pro athletes Vicky Holland and Non Stanford are two steps closer to Rio thanks to their outstanding performances at yesterday’s WTS Grand Final in Chicago. British Tri’s strict Olympic nomination policy demanded podium finishes at both the Test Event in Rio and the Grand Final to ensure automatic qualification. By repeating their two-three finish from Rio, Stanford and Holland achieved what many believed to be a nigh-on impossible feat, and, bar injury, will be lining up on Copacabana Beach on 20 August 2016.
For 2013 ITU World Champion Stanford, who finished in silver position at both qualification events, Rio will be her first Olympic Games. Having missed the entire 2014 season due to injury, Stanford has visited the podium three times in 2015, all three behind Gwen and all three with teammate and housemate Holland.
“This race [Chicago] was a reflection that the three of us are really strong at the minute when it comes down to the run,” said Stanford post-race. “Gwen’s kick was phenomenal today. I was sort of waiting for it. If I’m honest, it sounds defeatist but I was racing Andrea [Hewitt] who was in fourth. It was only on the last lap that I allowed myself to think we’re safe. I had one fleeting thought where I realized I might be going to the Olympics, but I knew I couldn’t think about that until I actually crossed the line.”
For Holland this will be her second Games, having raced in London alongside Lucy Hall to help an unbeknown-at-the-time injured Helen Jenkins to the podium. Jenkins managed fifth, Britain’s highest female Olympic finishing position to date. In Rio, based purely on their current form, both girls should be racing for themselves. But having gone through one Olympic process already, what did the two-time WTS winner make of this year’s selection policy?
“Initially, it was a ‘okay, this one’s going to be stiff’, but it was stiff for a reason,” Holland told 220. “It was set hard but two athletes have done it [Jonny and Alistair Brownlee], that’s a testament to the nation that we are and how strong we are. You don’t want to set a soft criteria and have one of your best athletes to have an off day and get someone else in there. You want the criteria to be set so high that you have to be one of the very best in the world to be going to the Olympic Games. And you want to be qualified knowing that you’re then in with a shot of a medal, and I think that’s reasonable and that’s what both myself and Non have now done.”
Despite being blighted by the GB injury curse at the very start of the year, forcing a five-month break from running, Commonwealth bronze medallist Holland has had one of her most consistent seasons to date.
“To get two wins out of the world series is something I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d get this year, ” said Holland. “The consistency I’ve had with every race on the podium, bar London which was fifth, I couldn’t have really asked for anything more this year. But the two races that mattered were Rio and here [Chicago]. This is absolutely what this whole year has been about. I’m just delighted that it’s now done. Box ticked.”
In the two most important races this year, the podium has been filled by Holland, Stanford and one Gwen Jorgensen, who yesterday retained her world title and clocked her 12th consecutive WTS win. Racing until the final run lap as a trio at both events, it’s that final 2k that, at present, is ensuring gold for Team USA.
“We had no response to her run,” admitted Holland. “But we’ve got a year to work on it without, hopefully, injury problems. And maybe that’s going to be something that’s going to help both me and Non make a difference and start bringing that gap down bit by bit into the next year.”
The final GB women’s Olympic spot is yet to filled, with neither Jodie Stimpson nor Helen Jenkins (10th and DNF in Rio; 6th and 11th in Chicago, respectively) having met the initial selection criteria. Who fills that third spot will now be based on performances at the Rio Test Event, Chicago and a 2016 Assessment Race (to be confirmed within 14 days of the ITU publishing the 2016 WTS race calendar).
No GB man has met, or will meet, the Automatic Qualification criteria, so team selection will again be based on performances at the above three events and previous Games results. The men’s 2015 WTS Grand Final starts at 5pm local time (11pm UK time) today. Tune into Twitter for live updates, photos and video.