Longcourse or Shortcourse? Up until recent times their has been 2 pathways for a triathlete to take. Race for your federation and Olympic Dreams with the ITU or go for Ironman Glory.
This season however, the introduction of the 5150 Non-Draft Olympic Series and next season with ITU adding 3 to 4 sprint distance events, things are changing.
In years previous you would see ITU athletes crossing over to Life Time Fitness ND Olympic races and doing well. The TOP ones can still do this, however the middle ones not so much. That's because their are now ND Olympic 'specialists'. Perhaps fed up with their federations or the style of ITU racing, these athletes train and target ND Olympic: Cameron Dye and Nikki Butterfield are such examples.
The days where an ITU athlete could swap over to a TT bike days before a ND race and expect to be in the mix have past. David Dellows win this weekend in Noosa speaks to this. He out rode most of the ITU boys by 3-4 minutes over 40k. Time on a TT bike and more specific training paid off. Even Macca, who switched back from TT events just less than a year ago, appeared to have lost a bit of his TT legs in comparison. This 1-2% loss wasn't noticeable in years past, but with the level of competition rising and more prize $ available in these type of events, that couple percent is what's needed for the ND Olympic Specialist to hold off the 'wet runners' over the 10k. Greg Bennett's win at Hy-Vee was won on the bike over Hunter Kemper. The blatant contrast of Greg riding TT to Hunter riding ITU setup clearly showed that conditioning the body on a TT rig pays the bills.
This being said, the TOP ITU athletes still seem to cross over fine. Take Javier Gomez's display in Dallas and Lisa Norden's domination in Hy-Vee,LA,Dallas. The Top ITU atheltes have so much natural talent that they can do this. Some of the TOP 70.3 athletes seem to fair ok as well. Paul Matthews and Melissa Rollinson both showed us that in Noosa. If Andy Potts focused his season on ND Olympic, I think he would be the man to beat. Rasmus Henning as well, 5th in Des Moines for an Ironman is not too shabby.
The ideal ND Olympic athlete will be one who has the fine balance of ITU speed with ND strength. Strong all rounder who can also tolerate a more aggressive/aero bike position.
So how about the ITU Sprints? That is really yet to be determined. I think we have seen a preview of it with Jonny Brownlee winning Lausanne two years running and winning just about every French GP there is with his brother, but will we see athletes begin to specialise in the distance if approved for Rio 2016? Maybe we see young talent moving up from Junior compete at the distance a few more years, just with added competition, before doubling the distance. Either way, I think we see different faces winning ITU Olympic races than sprints. I feel the sprint distance will form yet another discipline in Triathlon where pure dedication is needed for ultimate success.
It is great to see the sport of triathlon changing like this and forming new niches for athletes. Lets just not let it get to the point of Olympic swimming where one athlete can win perhaps 8 gold medals...that would be just silly:)