Disappointing triathlon results for New Zealand
FRED WOODCOCK IN MOTHERWELL
Change could be in the air as New Zealand's triathletes look to bounce back from a disappointing opening day at the Commonwealth Games.
Kate McIlroy, originally named in the mixed team relay, is in line to be dropped in favour of the in-form Nicky Samuels for tomorrow's relay, which now looms as make-or-break if New Zealand's triathletes want to avoid a Games failure.
Andrea Hewitt ran a brave race but finished fourth in the women's individual event - Samuels was 10th and McIlroy a distant 12th - while the Kiwi men's trio were outgunned along with everyone else as England's Brownlee brothers swept to a quinella at heat-struck Strathclyde Country Park in Motherwell, about 25km south-east of Glasgow.
Hopes were high that New Zealand's top female triathletes could start the 20th Commonwealth Games with a bang but the big guns - England and Canada - spoilt that romantic notion.
Christchurch's Hewitt and Wanaka's Samuels didn't have the firepower on the run leg and were forced to settle for the minor places on a hilly course that was expected to suit them.
England's world No 2 Jodie Stimpson won gold, with Canada's Kirsten Sweetland second and England's Vicky Holland third. Hewitt was some 14sec behind Holland.
"I did my best," said Hewitt, who had mixed feelings. "I wanted a podium so fourth isn't a great result. I gave it everything. I couldn't have done any better."
Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee won the men's race from brother Jonathan while South African Richard Murray was third.
Tony Dodds was the best of the Kiwis in 10th, while Ryan Sissons 13th and Tom Davison had a day to forget and did not finish.
Davison was kicked in the stomach during the swim and was under water for about 30sec. He emerged to ride what was, in the circumstances, a sensational bike leg as he tried to help his team-mates, then retired at the end of the bike with the race gone.
The men were not expected to contend for the medals but they were well and truly outgunned and rightly disappointed.
Both Dodds and Sissons said they simply had "off-days".
"When you have a bad day, you have a bad day," Dodds said. "These guys are all world class and if you don't have the legs, it's all over."
In the women's race, both Hewitt and Samuels were poised in the lead group coming off the bike but Samuels quickly fell off the pace and it was left to Hewitt to fly the Kiwi flag.
The 32-year-old looked gone for all money midway through the final leg. She fell 30m off the pace as the big nations flexed their muscles, but dragged herself back to the bunch through sheer determination and gave herself a fighting chance.
But with about 3km remaining, the three eventual medallists made their move and Hewitt could not respond.
McIlroy really struggled on the back half of the swim and emerged from the loch 50sec back from the lead and her goose was cooked, a disappointing outcome for the injury-plagued Wellingtonian.
McIlroy was slated to compete in the mixed team relay tomorrow but this result raises the real possibility of her being replaced by Samuels.
A decision on the makeup of the four-person team is expected tonight (Friday night NZT).
Samuels was adamant she should be included.
"Definitely I think that I'm the stronger pick. I've done everything I can up to this point."
England, led by the Brownlee brothers and Stimpson, are raging hot favourites for gold but New Zealand, second at last year's world championship, need a podium finish to escape the pleasant surrounds of Strathclyde Country Park with their reputations in tact.
They expressed confidence in their ability to do so despite their struggles today, saying they were a tight-knit team that would rise for each other.