Triathlon New Zealand acknowledge their elite athletes 2011 performances with a night of recognition in Wanaka, with Andrea Hewitt, Kate McIlroy and Mikayla Nielsen (World Elite U19 Champion) presented with gifts for their World Championship Series podium results as thoughts turned towards 2012 and Olympic year.
Nicky Samuels (Mooloolaba), Kris Gemmell (Auckland) and Bevan Docherty (Edmonton) were also acknowledged for their World Cup victories in 2011, while emerging athletes such as Tony Dodds and Ryan Sissons were also singled out, as were the number of young athletes gaining international experience.
Triathlon New Zealand National Coach Greg Fraine was joined by CEO Craig Waugh in making the presentations and spoke of the quality of performances in 2011, singling out McIlroy and Hewitt for high praise.
“We have enjoyed many great moments in 2011 and the sport continues to grow and develop with global competition increasing in quality and depth with almost every race. Andrea’s numerous podium finishes and overall 2nd ranking in the world for 2011 was a real highlight but so too the efforts of Kate in finishing 6th in Beijing at the World Champs Series Grand Final and then joining Andrea on the podium at Yokohama a week later.”
Hewitt is the only New Zealander so far confirmed for the London Games, she spoke of a whirlwind three years in which she continues to learn the sport and how to win at the top level.
“The last three years have been amazing but last year was especially pleasing with some great results. The end of the year in particular was great fun but it was also good to qualify for the Olympics at the London World Champs race earlier in the year, that was a huge goal for 2011.
“I must thank everyone at Triathlon New Zealand, the coaches and admin staff in the High Performance team and all of the sponsors, in particular Contact for their support of triathlon in New Zealand.
“From a personal point of view I owe my own sponsors a huge thank you for their ongoing support and also my coach Laurent Vidal for his guidance and expertise these past three years. This year is a big one and I am concentrating all my efforts on racing well in London in August.”
McIlroy also acknowledged her support team and the start to her career three years ago when she made the move from the steeplechase on the track with 2011 something of a break-through year that saw her rise to 17 in the world rankings.
“I was lucky a few years ago to be given the privilege of travelling away, training and racing with the athletes in this room tonight to help me become a better swimmer and biker and learn how to become a triathlete. The experience has been good and last year I managed to put some good results together, hopefully this year that continues and I manage to qualify for London and good things will happen.”
Nielsen wasn’t there to collect her gift as she prepares for the Oceania Championships in Australia this coming weekend, instead former Coach Mark Elliott spoke of her success and potential in the sport.
“Mikayla is indeed a rare talent and if she put her mind to it she could succeed as an elite runner in her own right but she has chosen triathlon and that is what the sport needs. Her performance in Beijing was a special one and marks her as a great prospect. Really though it should be Stephen Sheldrake (assistant national coach) here accepting this on her behalf. The great thing is that I was able to work with Mikayla and then pass her on to the high performance programme and have her continue to progress and succeed, that is a great situation for the sport and the programme to be in.”
Earlier CEO Craig Waugh spoke of the support structures in the sport and the role the elite athletes have to play.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our family of sponsors, all of whom contribute to the success of the sport at all levels, but in particular Contact Energy who have provided a wonderful platform over the past 4 or 5 years to help see triathlon become the fastest growing sport in the country, but also they have contributed greatly to the success of our high performance programme and the results of our elite athletes.
“But the reason we are in the room tonight is down to the athletes themselves, along with the great support they receive from Triathlon New Zealand, their coaches and their own families it is their own drive and determination and no shortage of ability that sees us continue to put points on the board in big international events. Congratulations to you all on your performances in 2011 and we look forward to evolving the sport here in New Zealand to ensure we continue to enjoy that level of success for years to come.
“And evolve we must, to sit still and do nothing is to go backwards, we must and will continue to look for ways to improve our programmes and continue to develop and nurture world class triathletes.”
The night was effectively the last night the bulk of the team will be in the same place at the same time in New Zealand, with the athletes and coaches heading to Australia for the Oceania Championships in Devonport (Tasmania) this weekend before then embarking on their international programme, including the final Olympic qualifying race in Sydney in mid April.