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Triathlon New Zealand today began the final push on the Road to Rio, with media invited into the High Performance base in Cambridge to meet with coaches and athletes and to hear of the objectives and goals for the months ahead as the athletes were put through their annual Bike Fit with the team from Specialized.

Andrea Hewitt has already earned her nomination and was subsequently the first New Zealand athlete from any sport named to the team for the Rio Olympics, but for others they must look to further underline their credentials in the first part of 2016.

High Performance Director Graeme Maw said there is a real buzz around Cambridge with the Olympics approaching.

 We are excited about the year ahead, Rio has of course been top of mind for us for some time, as are other pinnacle events such as Tokyo 2020 and the 2024 Olympics playing a big part in our planning and athlete development.

Rio though is about the very best we have and their ability to perform to their best, to execute race plans and put in place all the planning and hard work that has been years in the making.

For other than Andrea, there is obviously the step of qualification. But we are confident that the right preparation will enable athletes to focus on Rio with qualification a milestone along the way.

In conjunction with the NZOC, the Tri NZ Elite Selection Commission has set a purposely high bar so as to challenge the athletes to not only qualify for the Olympics, but to do so knowing they are in a position to really perform on race day. The criteria the Selectors will consider in order to earn a nomination to the NZOC for Rio selection include World Triathlon Series (WTS) podia or top 8s, or the ability to assist the medal potential of another athlete.

Judging against those criteria, Tony Dodds, Ryan Sissons and Nicky Samuels have all ticked one eligible WTS finish and will be looking for a second similar performance early in the year to further their nomination to the NZOC.

Samuels outstanding season in 2014 with back to back WTS podiums in Stockholm and Edmonton put her right in the mix for Rio, but the Wanaka athlete has since been looking to regain fitness after missing the entire 2015 ITU season following knee surgery. Her progress is being closely supported by the Tri NZ HP team with a view to her returning to the international racing scene in 2016.

Dodds spoke at the open day today of being under no illusions as to the task facing him, one he is however confident of achieving.

I am excited and a little nervous. Excited that the Olympics have come around pretty quick, and knowing I have areas of my racing that I can work on and improve on. After my injury concerns last season everything is being managed in my day to day training at another level to ensure i am in the best possible place come Rio, it has actually had a positive impact. I have been doing some strength and base work and already I can see a difference - that is going to be exciting to see that roll out over the next 8 or 9 months. 

I have never been worried about the selection bar being set so high, I know I would have achieved a second top 8 WTS last season without the injury. We have known what we need to do, it has always been very clear and I have the confidence to go and achieve it. 

Others in the mix include younger athletes such as Simone Ackermann, Sophie Corbidge and Sam Ward all of whom will challenge the criteria early in the season but Maw says no-one can be ruled out, it is a case of performances demanding inclusion.

There is very little grey area in the selection process, said Maw. If an athlete posts the results to satisfy the criteria, they will be in the mix for nomination to the NZOC. If they dont, they wont get nominated. There is some discretion for the Selectors in relation to team tactics and the longer term view to Tokyo, but regardless the bar has been set deliberately high and clear.

 

Based on current ITU Olympic points tracking, New Zealand is likely to earn 3 spots for the women and 2 spots for the men on the start line in Rio (the top 8 nations in womens and mens racing earn 3 spots at the Olympics). Just who fills those spots is down to the athletes and their ability to perform in the first months of 2016, with the team to be finalized in May next year.

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