2018 was a year for breaking records... We saw numerous records smashed in ITU and long course, and we can’t forget Ross Edgley’s phenomenal swim around the whole of the UK where he broke four World Records.
For those athletes looking at Tokyo 2020, last year was arguably the last chance to mix it up and have a different focus. This year you can expect many athletes to focus solely on Olympic qualification. In long course, Kona will again be the culmination of the season, however, with records tumbling last year you can expect some challenges for world records in both the half and full distances.
The Olympic qualification period will start to shape the season as many athletes will need to peak for selection events. The inclusion of the mixed relay at the Olympics also adds another dimension to qualification as countries quotas for the Olympics will be partially determined by the relay. Not only does it dictate how many spots a country has, but adds the question of what athletes a National Governing Body will elect to go? Do countries focus on the individual event or back themselves to win a relay medal? Both could see two very different teams from certain counties. For example, Australia’s Commonwealth team was a good indication that they are looking to prioritise athletes that perform well over the super sprint relay format.
As it stands, it looks like Yokohama WTS, the Tokyo test event and the WTS Grand Final will be pre-qualification selection races for most countries. Between them, they will test athletes on the course they will see in 2020, or a course similar in design and conditions.
The Grand Final generally boasts the strongest fields of the year, so a great opportunity to see athletes race the best in the world. It is still very important that athletes compete in the WTS as it is vital they collect points to earn their country a maximum of three spots at Tokyo. Additionally, for many, it is a source of income and essential for sponsors, plus a World Championship will still be up for grabs!
The long course scene will generally follow the same script as previous years and will likely carry on doing so until (if ever) included in the Olympics. There are a lot of people out there who would love to see a full distance, non drafting event involved in the games, however with the International Olympic Committee being so strict on the number of athletes included from each sport it would be hard to imagine, unless athletes who raced the short distance event also competed in the long-distance race. So in 2019 and likely in many years to come, we will see most athletes focus on the three ‘big’ races - Kona IM World Championships, 70.3 IM World Championships and Challenges The Championship.
Although these races are seen as the key events, there will still be some very competitive races at continental championships and other traditional and iconic races. Last year in Kona we saw some exceptional performances aided by near perfect conditions, but the records that fell have to be attributed to an increased standard of racing as well as the conditions. Although it is tough to quantify World Records in triathlon races due to the differences in courses, we will no doubt see athletes battle for this title so expect it to be a very hotly contested season.