Just two months after announcing a shock return to ITU triathlon in the pursuit of a record third Olympic Games, Courtney Atkinson has made an impressive debut at the Mooloolaba Tri to more than suggest he’s capable of realizing a dream. In fact, were it the only qualifying event for the Australian Olympic team, he’d have qualified there and then.
In scorching conditions and having spent the past two years training for long-form endurance at the expense of his speed, power and acceleration, the event was always going to be a measuring stick of where Courtney’s recovery was at. And he’s looking good. Despite making a cautious return, safe not to overdo it as he begins to tread the road to qualification for the 2016 games, he came home just short of a top-10 result.
He finished 14th from a field of more than 70 and just 30 seconds behind the winner after 55 minutes of racing. Better yet, he was the second fastest of the Australians, finishing only 30 seconds behind Jacob Birtwhistle. And with three spots open on the Australian triathlon team, Courtney’s debut could not have gone much better.
I’m very optimistic about my Rio campaign now that I have had my first look back at that level of racing
“This was a start point and now I know where I am and what I need to do. This was my first International Triathlon Union World Cup race since racing at the 2012 London Olympics.
“And it was a sprint race (750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run) so half the distance of races at the Olympic Games.
“I'm a little rough around the edges, which was to be expected, but comfortable with what I need to do moving forward.
One can only imagine how quick he’ll be once he enjoys a return to full power and speed. His bike leg was his overall strongest, which is no surprise given the time he spent on the bike in ironman 70.3, Courtney quicker than Birtwhistle by 11 seconds, making up for the eight seconds he lost in the opening swim leg.
The most challenging leg proved to be the third and final – the run. Running inside the top 10, when Courtney needed the trademark acceleration that’s made him a world champion, it wasn’t quite there. But had the run leg gone another 10km, it’s safe to say he would’ve finished strides ahead after years of endurance training.
He described himself as anxious
But with no shortage of ITU events in Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific in coming months, and a rock solid result in his official return, the only way is up.