Wellington triathlete Kate McIlroy is looking to close out a landmark season in style tomorrow at the triathlon world grand final in Auckland.
With one eye already on qualifying for a third Olympic campaign, two months ago McIlroy realised a successful, albeit overdue, Games debut.
Injury prevented McIlroy from competing at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing after she qualified in the 3000m steeplechase, but a 10th-place finish in London has given the 31-year-old runner-turned-triathlete a new perspective.
"I've been determined to get to the Olympics all my life and to look at all the roadblocks I've had to overcome in my career, it's been a special thing to achieve. But I never would have thought I'd achieve it in triathlon," McIlroy said.
"There's been a few speed bumps in my career and at the time, Beijing was pretty heartbreaking. Switching to triathlon from athletics wasn't a flippant decision. First I had to establish whether I was even remotely good enough. But I'm really happy with the result from London and experiencing that environment changes you as an athlete. It gives you more perspective.
"It's the pinnacle of sport and now I've been there. It was amazing and other events now aren't quite so intimidating."
Despite a difficult course, McIlroy says she's optimistic but realistic, of success in another world-class field.
"This is the most important event outside the Olympics and I've planned my year accordingly," she said.
"It's going to be really special having a world championships at home and I want to take advantage of it. I know the course pretty well and I know it's a course which suits my strengths.
"I had a week off straight after London, raced Stockholm since and then also Yokohama three weeks ago. I wanted to keep racing ahead of Auckland.
"I've trained well since London, too. Sometimes you get to this time of the season and you feel pretty strung out but I feel like I'm in really good shape.
"I'd love to win it but I have to be realistic ... I've had one world championship podium and I'd love to be there again.
"It's a strength-based course and it's probably going to pan out a bit differently to other races because of how hard the bike is."
Tomorrow represents a good opportunity for McIlroy, who is 11th in the world series standings and 15th in the International Triathlon Union's 2012 points list - to end the year on a high.
The hilly course should suit her weight-bearing athletics background, while the absence of three of the world's top-20 athletes also opens the door for a boost in ranking points.
"It's been a really long year and there's probably been a bit more emotion attached to this one," she said. "So I'd be really happy with a top-five finish. It would give my world ranking a good boost and put a cherry on top of a good year."
- The Dominion Post
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