Rivalries help elevate triathlon to the next level, and the good news is we shouldn’t need to wait until next May’s Collins Cup to enjoy some classic head-to-head contests.
While the sport’s established elite is as strong as ever, there is an up-and-coming group of athletes who have made giant strides since bursting onto the scene in the last few seasons.
We look at three of the exciting athletes who have already broken into the top 20 of the PTO rankings and look poised to challenge at the very top in the coming years.
Chelsea didn’t take part in her first triathlon until 2017, aged 27, but she has wasted little time in making her mark at the highest level.
Her background was in running and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio was the goal, but injury issues cost her at the United States trials and saw her embark on a “second chance to pursue my potential through sport”.
The multi-faceted nature of swim-bike-run meant she was competing pain-free, and the results were dramatic.
After success at shorter distances (including a win at the ITU Huatulco World Cup), she moved up to 70.3 in late 2018 and promptly won at Indian Wells. That was the start of a seven-race sequence which generated an incredible four wins and two thirds – plus a fourth in her first World Championship in Nice in 2019.
Not surprisingly the running element is her trump card – she clocked a 1:16 half when triumphing at Santa Rosa – so if she is in contention at T2, watch out.
She says her aim is “to contend at the very pointiest end in every race” and is particularly looking forward to the $2million Collins Cup.
“I was really excited about what should have been the first one in 2020 – I’m super competitive and love the head-to-head battles, that’s fun to me – and it will be when we’re able to do it again.”
One of Chelsea’s potential rivals as part of Team Europe at the Collins Cup could be the person who finished one place ahead of her at the 70.3 World Championship in Nice, Imogen Simmonds.
Hong Kong-born but now racing under the Swiss flag, globe-trotting Simmonds is also a talented academic who is fluent in more languages – including Chinese – than there are triathlon disciplines.
She is one of the fastest-rising talents in the sport too, with 2019 seeing her not only make the podium in Nice but also finish second on her IRONMAN debut at the European Championship in Frankfurt.
That Frankfurt race is best remembered for Sarah True’s dramatic late collapse in the baking hot temperatures. Imogen, accustomed to the stifling heat thanks to her winter training in Phuket, Thailand, had also been to the fore throughout and took a superb second behind Skye Moench.
That qualified her for a first crack at Kona but before heading for Hawaii, she dropped back down in distance to claim that third place behind Daniela Ryf at the 70.3 World Championship in Nice, ahead of a select trio of Sodaro, Lucy Charles-Barclay and Radka Kahlefeldt.
“It took a little while to sink in,” admits Imogen of her first podium at that level, but she didn’t have much time to dwell.
Kona was next up and she underlined that she is a force to be reckoned with whatever the distance by producing a hugely promising 12th–place finish.
Still only 27, Imogen appears to have all the attributes required to reach the very pinnacle of the sport in the coming years.
While Simmonds was threatening the top 10 on her Hawaii debut, Laura Philipp almost made it onto the podium.
First-timers at Kona usually find it an incredibly steep learning curve, while going there on the back of an interrupted preparation because of injury is far from optimal. That is what faced the German in 2019, which makes her fourth-place finish all the more astonishing.
She had booked her Kona berth at the very first attempt, at IRONMAN Barcelona late in 2018. Her winning time of 8:34:57 was half an hour ahead of the rest, the fastest ever by a female rookie and a new course record, while her 2:52:00 marathon was the first sub-three run in Barcelona.
Laura still insists she raced “conservatively” that day to make sure she completed her first race at the distance.
Philipp only learned to swim aged 24, admitting that it took her nearly six months to be able to manage more than a length without stopping. From then on, she never looked back.
Her first five seasons as a professional saw her rack up no fewer than 14 victories in 70.3 competition and claim two World Championship podiums (both on-road and off).
But a leg injury saw Laura arrive in Hawaii with no racing in five months and having resumed running just a few weeks before.
She explains: “I knew I wouldn’t be at the top of my game, but I wanted to take the chance and gain experience to see if I can handle the race and the conditions. It showed me that I am a fighter.”
She called her fourth place “a big surprise” – just wait until she goes there all guns blazing.
So the future of triathlon appears to be in safe hands with a rich crop of up-and-coming talent, with Sodaro, Simmons and Philipp providing just a few examples of the exciting emerging talent.
During the coming weeks and months we will continue to shine a light on the superstars of tomorrow as they develop towards challenging the current greats on a regular basis.