Three women are set to dominate the Triathlon, with Reid to challenge London 2012 rivals. More than 50 women will plunge into the Caspian Sea at 12:30 on Saturday seeking European Games medals in Triathlon, the sport’s first-ever international contest in Azerbaijan, with Swiss Olympic champion Nicola Spirig facing Sweden’s silver medallist Lisa Norden for the first time since their near dead heat at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Spirig snatched gold three years ago by just 15 centimetres as both athletes clocked the same time. With NOC qualification places for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on the line, the Baku battle could be equally fierce.
Spirig took time out of the sport after the Olympics to have her first child, but returned to finish third at this year’s International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Series race in Cape Town and believes she is in shape to add a European Games title to her Olympic crown.
“I see myself as one of the strongest but there are certainly other athletes who are in a good shape too,” the 33-year-old said. “This is an important race for me. I want gold of course, but I also want to get my place for Rio.”
Alongside Norden, Spirig picked out Aileen Reid as the woman most likely to be her biggest rival. The Irish triathlete has notched up seventh, sixth and fourth place finishes at recent ITU World Series races this year.
With a world ranking of sixth, she is currently the highest-ranked woman on the Baku start list, a position she is happy to embrace.
“It is really nice to come in with a high rank to have your achievements rewarded,” Reid said. “But you also have to remember that the Olympic champion has not raced much and that’s why she does not have a high ranking.
“Also, Lisa has been injured so I know these are the two girls I should keep an eye on. Just because athletes do not have a high ranking doesn’t mean they can’t win.”
That could be even more true in Baku where possible strong winds and a shallow, undulating sea bed could make for an unpredictable swim stage.
“Anyone with long legs is in with a chance,” Reid said after training on Thursday. “I was watching some girls diving in there. The taller girls will have an advantage because for them it is not so difficult to get through the first shallow section.”
Other potential medal contenders include Rachel Klamer of the Netherlands, who is ranked twelfth in the world and was the top European at last year’s world championships, and her team-mate Maaike Caelers, who has bagged a handful of top three places at World Series and World Cup races in the last two years.
Kseniia Levkovska will be the only Azerbaijani in the field, while Heather Sellars will represent the normally powerful British team which is missing the injured Helen Jenkins, a two-time ITU world champion.