One hundred and 26 athletes lined up for the final stop on the 2015 ITU World Cup circuit on Saturday for one last chance of a podium finish and final opportunity to add Olympic qualification points to their 2015 tally.
It was a fitting end to a stunning season of ITU World Cup racing in Tongyeong, a beautiful port city located on the southern edge of the Korean Peninsula.
Great Britain’s Matt Sharp secured his first ITU title after a calculated race, but Spain’s David Castro Fajardo and Australian veteran Courtney Atkinson made him earn it, taking silver and bronze respectively.
A capacity men’s field of 76 broke the glassy conditions of the Tongyeong Harbour in a two-lap, non-wetsuit swim. After a frenetic start to the 1.5km swim the first to emerge was Ben Kanute (USA), followed by the Polyanskiy brothers Igor and Dimity (RUS) and Australia’s Courtney Atkinson. The swim did little to break up the field and subsequently a long line of athletes emerged in quick succession.
Kanute was the first to lead out onto the bike but there would be no quick breaks as the front group formed with 60 men. The first lap saw everyone jockeying for position, but on the second it was Atkinson who put them to the test.
“I’ve been training for the Xterra World Championships in Maui next weekend,” said Atkinson post-race. “It’s a very hilly bike course over there and I’ve been training a lot on hills, so I was really confident on the bike and thought there would be a breakaway. I went a few times and maybe taxed my legs a little more on the bike than I should in an ITU race.”
By lap three the group had been reduced to 55 but no opportunity presented itself for a break away, the group remaining intact and prepared for a flat-out 10km run.
Portugal’s Miguel Arraiolos took advantage of the maelstrom into T2, scooting out first from Basson Engelbrecht (RSA) and Gabor Faldum (HUN). Sharp was the next out onto the run but knew he had to run his own race and pace.
Atkinson didn’t take long to move to the front alongside Dmitry Polyanskiy and Sergio Sarmiento (MEX) on lap two. But on lap three Joe Maloy (USA) and Sharp had joined Atkinson and Polyanskiy.
Sharp’s earlier patience paid dividends in the end with the fresher legs delivering him his first World Cup win.
Atkinson’s earlier efforts on the bike saw him fall into the clutches of the young Spaniard, who took second place in the final stages. Atkinson is vying for his third Olympic team and will be the first Australian to do so if he succeeds.
“It’s good because I hadn’t raced [and ITU event] since London [Olympics] before the beginning of this year. It’d been a long time and I’d set myself a goal. Ideally I would have liked to have won a race, you always want to be at the top, but realistically if I can get a podium, I’m back in the ballpark and can work on it again going to Rio next year.”
“The bike was pretty easy but the hill on the run, I just gauged my effort and finished the last lap real strong,” commented Sharp at the line. “I think on the first lap, not through choice, I just couldn’t go with the pace up and down the hill. On the flat I was feeling good so I just worked the cadence and slowly caught up.
“It’s been a long time since I had an ITU race, I’ve been struggling for a few years so this means a real lot to me,” said Sharp. “I’m very happy with my position.”
Yuka Sato (JAP) turned recent good form into gold, winning the 2015 Tongyeong Triathlon World Cup. Tongyeong has been a great race for the young Japanese athlete, claiming bronze in 2012 and now delivering the first World Cup victory of her career.
Sato was in the hunt during the swim and bike but made her move on the third lap of the run to secure victory.
“I’m very happy for this win,” said Sato. “I got a lot of confidence from this victory and did my best today. I knew [Yuko] Takahashi is a good runner but I just felt good today and felt confident on the last two laps. It’s a very special feeling, my first World Cup win.”
The podium places came down to a race of two between Jolanda Annen (SUI) and Takahashi (JAP), the pair running shoulder to shoulder on the last lap before Annen found another gear to claim an emotional silver from Takahasi.