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Triathlon - 21. August 2007.

World Champs Spotlight: Team NZL

At last month’s BG Triathlon World Cup stop in Kitzbuhel, Austria, all the pre-race talk in the women’s field surrounded around the usual contenders; Annabel Luxford, Michelle Dillon, Kirsten Sweetland, and of course home favourite and Olympic champion Kate Allen. So when New Zealand’s Nicky Samuels broke through and finished ahead of them for her first world cup podium, it was a shock to most in the triathlon circles. But one who wasn’t surprised at all was her team mate and former teacher, Samantha Warriner. She was the one who encouraged Samuels to try the sport.

“I used to teach Nicky and I turned around and said to her, ‘you should take up triathlon’ now I’m kicking myself because she may be the one knocking me off the Olympic team!!” says Warriner.

She laughs when she tells the story but it speaks volumes of the New Zealand team’s depth. Even as a five-time world cup winner and past Olympian, Warriner knows she can’t afford to sit back and expect a spot on the team.

“The Kiwi girls have improved so much I’ve actually had to step up my game. I’ve had to do that just to make the Kiwi team.”

Aside from Australia, perhaps no other country enters world cup races with as many true contenders. Already this year, four different Kiwi women have made the world cup podium and they have accounted for three wins, more than Australia and second only to Portugal, or rather Vanessa Fernandes. On the men’s side, Bevan Docherty’s success has been well-documented, with world championship glory in 2004, the same year he and compatriot Hamish Carter stood atop the Olympic podium. Docherty and team mate Kris Gemmell can never be overlooked in any field.

This past weekend at the final world cup before the Hamburg BG Triathlon World Championships, the New Zealand team came away with a gold, silver and bronze. Warriner ran away with her second title of 2007, Debbie Tanner took bronze, her second podium of the year while Kris Gemmell scored silver in the men’s event. It wasn’t quite a sweep but still an example of a balanced Kiwi attack.

Strong performances in the weeks leading up to one of the crown jewels of the ITU season can’t be ignored when the world’s best gather in Hamburg for the BG Triathlon World Championships. While men’s success happened relatively recently with Docherty, no woman from New Zealand has triumphed since Erin Baker won the inaugural world championships in 1989. But with the team’s depth that Warriner is all too familiar with, she’s optimistic the wait won’t be very long.

“At the moment the Kiwi women are so strong, I really do believe it won’t be many more years until you will get a Kiwi woman up there because they’re just improving the whole time,” says Warriner.

New Zealand has a long and strong history at the world triathlon championships, winning 13 medals since the inaugural event in Avignon, France in 1989.

Going into Hamburg, New Zealand is the only country to have two men and women ranked in the top five in the world. And while world number ones Javier Gomez and Vanessa Fernandes are widely considered the favourites to win it all, the Kiwis have proven they can’t be counted out and are the odds-on favourite to make multiple trips to the world championship podium.

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