Partner's plight spurs triathlete Andrea Hewitt
MARK GEENTY IN GLASGOW
Kiwi triathlon medal hope Andrea Hewitt believes her triathlete partner's health scare may have ultimately helped her quest for gold in Glasgow.
New Zealand's top woman triathlete, who's expected to fight out the first gold of the 11-day Games with England's Jodie Stimpson and Australia's Emma Jackson, knows most Kiwi eyes will be on her, when she lines up with compatriots Kate McIlroy and Nicky Samuels on Glasgow's outskirts.
The biggest issue for Hewitt this year was off the road, when her partner and fellow triathlete Laurent Vidal suffered what was reported as a heart attack while training in France in April.
Hewitt rushed from Christchurch to be at his bedside, and he emerged from an induced coma and made a speedy recovery. Vidal's triathlon career is in limbo, but it's had a spin-off for Hewitt who has a new coach.
"Before we were always swimming, biking and running together, now he's not training or competing any more, he's at the side of the pool yelling. I've got him there every time telling me what to do. I'd say it's helped me."
The health scare meant Hewitt arrived in Europe two weeks earlier than planned, and missed one race in Japan as Vidal, who finished fifth in the men's triathlon at the London Olympics, recovered.
Hewitt feels comfortable carrying the weight of an expectant sporting nation to lead off New Zealand's quest for Commonwealth Games gold tomorrow night.
"I guess everyone's going to be watching ... It's exciting and it's good for us too because we can enjoy the Games afterwards," Hewitt said.
"There's always pressure from everyone to have a good race. I don't think it changes because it's the first day. It's probably easier because we're not watching and seeing what athletes have beforehand and we can just concentrate on our race."
Delivering on the expectation is Hewitt's big question. Bronze medallist at Melbourne in 2006, she finished eighth (Beijing) and sixth (London) at the last two Olympics, while triathlon wasn't on the agenda at Delhi four years ago.
The 32-year-old knows some New Zealand sports followers might need reminding she's one of the world's best, highlighted by her world championship in 2011.
"I definitely want to show that I can win. I got second in New Plymouth and that was a big race because it was at home. My results have been sixth, fourth so hopefully that means I'm moving up. My run has got faster. Hopefully on race day I can put it all together."
Her fourth placing over the sprint distance in Hamburg 10 days ago, with Jackson second and Stimpson fifth, was encouraging, as is the hilly run course which will suit Hewitt far better than the flat London route.
Another plus was the withdrawal of Wales' Helen Jenkins, one of the world's best who was forced out of Glasgow with a foot injury. That surprised Hewitt after Jenkins had powered through the world series, but any podium obstacle removed is a good one.
McIlroy, meanwhile, said she would relish the hilly run course. Jenkins' absence would also make the race a more tactical affair, and McIlroy said the three New Zealanders would work together to potentially deliver one of them onto the podium.