McIlroy to miss shot at redemption in tri relay
FRED WOODCOCK IN MOTHERWELL
Kate McIlroy has been dropped from the New Zealand mixed triathlon relay team and will be replaced by Nicky Samuels for tomorrow night's (11.30pm Saturday NZ time) Commonwealth Games race.
Triathlon New Zealand confirmed the decision tonight, a predictable call after Samuels was much stronger in yesterday's individual race. She has also shown better and more consistent form than McIlroy during the season.
Samuels joins Kiwi No 1 Andrea Hewitt, who finished fourth in the individual race, and men Ryan Sissons and Tony Dodds in the four-pronged New Zealand team for the relay, which sees each team member complete a super-sprint distance race before tagging onto a team-mate.
Triathlon is a key Olympic sport for New Zealand and the fact they were medal-less from the individual races has put pressure on for a return in the relay.
Wanaka-based Samuels finished 10th and McIlroy 12th in the individual race but there was daylight between them. McIlroy, the affable Wellingtonian who has been plagued by injuries, was quicker on the run leg but by then she was too far adrift.
Samuels said after the race: "Definitely I think that I'm the stronger pick. I've done everything I can up to this point. My swim and cycling is strong and I've got that short, sharp speed which I know would help the team."
Triathlon New Zealand high performance director Graeme Maw said the team was selected based on performance and form.
"We are disappointed for Kate, she has not quite made it back to the form she had previously, before surgery.
"But equally we are delighted for Nicky for the work that she has put in and indeed for all four of them to gain selection and to have them go and perform at the best of their ability."
Samuels in for McIlroy is the only change from the New Zealand team that finished second at last year's world championship.
They will be massive underdogs against a star-studded England team that boasts four individual medalists from today - Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee who were first and second in the men's race and Jodie Stimpson and Vicky Holland who were first and third in the women's race.
The Kiwis have plenty of pressure on them to deliver after a poor day for all concerned. Dodds was the best of the men finishing 10th, with Sissons 13th, both well off the pace.
"They are all determined to do well and put the disappointment of the individual racing behind them, they have form in that regard in that they turned around reasonably disappointing individual results in Hamburg before claiming silver in the 2013 world championships and as a team they are very tight and thrive in this environment," Maw said.
"The keys to a good race and outcome are for them all to fulfill their individual roles in the team, lead off is important, then each person must use their strengths to keep us there. If the individual races were tough races from an endurance point of view, then this is fast and furious."
A penny for Hewitt's thoughts as she wandered around the venue, with partner and coach Laurent Vidal beside her, after a disappointing opening day of the Games.
Hewitt didn't look completely distraught, and moments earlier had verbally portrayed the same message after finishing in the one place nobody wants to finish - fourth - in the individual triathlon.
Perhaps in the back of her mind she knew she had an even better shot at a medal, in the mixed team relay. She raced bravely but still missed her target.
"I have mixed feelings," Hewitt said. "I wanted a podium so fourth isn't a great result. I did my best. I gave it everything. I couldn't have done any better."
Heading into the Games, you sensed this was the 32-year-old Christchurch athlete's time.
She won a bronze medal at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games but has since had to settle for top-10s at the Beijing and London Olympics, and multiple top-fives at world championships (there was no triathlon at the 2010 Delhi Games).
Welsh big guns Helen Jenkins and Non Stanford were missing through injury this morning, while eventual winner Stimpson had come back from recent injury.
Hewitt's own buildup hadn't been without drama; Vidal, a French triathlete, suffered a cardiac arrest in April and that impacted on her schedule.
But if she was ever going to add to that Melbourne medal, yesterday was surely the time. She will be 36 when the next Games roll around.
Nicely positioned in the lead group of 10 on the bike, then the lead group of five on the run, Hewitt's legs failed her when she needed them the most.