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Olympic fates to be decided in Yokohama

After exactly two years of battling it out on the race course, the Olympic qualifying period finally comes to a close this weekend at the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama. Athletes have been accumulating points from World Cups, the World Triathlon Series and Continental competitions since May 2014. This Saturday, on the same course where the qualifying process started, athletes will fight it out one more time in a last effort to secure as many points as possible in the hopes of being named to the Olympic roster for Rio this August.

The suspense will be evident on Saturday as the Olympic fate of multiple men will be determined on the blue carpet in Japan.

One of the men who has already sealed his ticket to Rio, however, is Spaniard Mario Mola, who will be sporting the golden number one this weekend. By producing impeccable results so far this season – winning in Abu Dhabi, Mooloolaba, Gold Coast and a fourth place finish in Cape Town – he has held onto the Columbia Threadneedle leader position and has proved that he has no plans of handing it over.

But the Spaniard that still supports the Olympic weight on his shoulders is Fernando Alarza. He has yet been named to the Spanish Olympic team, yet his outcomes this year have been a good indication that he deserves it. He finished fourth in Abu Dhabi and then followed it up with a silver in Gold Coast and a career-first WTS victory in Cape Town. However, compatriot Vincente Hernandez is also in the running to make the Olympic team as he also has had two top-ten finishes in the WTS so far this year.

The Australian team has one more spot to claim on its men’s roster. While Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie have officially secured their names to the list, the third and final position could go between Ryan Fisher and Jacob Birtwhistle, both of whom will race in Yokohama.

Some last remaining spots on the Rio table will see some men go head-to-head in order to clutch the valuable positions. Canada’s Kyle Jones is currently leading in qualifying points to become the last qualified athlete in the rankings system. However, Hungary’s Tamas Toth is not far behind, so getting so beating out the other and in the highest possible position will be important this weekend.

Only one man will secure a place in the Olympics as the “new flag” for each continent. For the America’s, the position is up for grabs between Jason Wilson of Barbados and Manuel Huerta of Puerto Rico. Wilson is leading in the points race heading into Yokohama, and also just beat out Huerta at the Huatulco World Cup last weekend. Huerta has opted to sit Yokohama out, meaning the pressure is left to Wilson to perform.

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It is also a huge weekend for the U.S. men. No members have been named to the Olympic team so far, so every man on the start list this year is fighting to earn a place for the stars and stripes. Joe Maloy and Greg Billington are leading in the rankings system and currently have the greatest look to make Rio, especially after both men finished in the top ten in Gold Coast. But Kevin McDowell, Ben Kanute and Eric Lagerstrom all remain in the running for one of the three spots, so the pressure to perform will be high. A top three finish from any of them will mean they are automatically selected.

Mexico and Portugal are the last two National Federations to qualify three men to Rio. Canada, South Africa, Austria and Germany are the most severe threats to Mexico and Portugal, in that order. For Canada to become a three-man team, Tyler Mislawchuk needs, at minimum, a 15th place finish – and that is assuming Portugal’sMiguel Arraiolos finishes outside the top 33. In the same vein, Wian Sullwald (RSA) needs at least a 14th place finish to get to the Olympic Games.

Men’s Start List

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On the women’s side, sitting at the top of the roster this weekend is Ashleigh Gentle (AUS). Despite being the top Aussie women in the WTS Columbia Threadneedle rankings this season, she is still fighting for her Olympic rights in Yokohama.Emma Moffatt is the only woman so far for Australia to have earned one of three potential Olympic spots, since she finished in the top ten in Gold Coast. So Gentle will still be setting out to prove that she should be granted one of the remaining two places, but against compatriots Charlotte McShane, Emma Jackson, Gillian Backhouse and Erin Densham.

Gwen Jorgensen (USA) marks the WTS start list for the second time this season. While her WTS winning streak may have come to an end in the Gold Coast, where she finished with the silver medal, she earned the nickname of “Gwensanity” for a reason. She has won Yokohama each of the last three years, and it’s where she began that famous streak back in 2014. If there’s one course this super star is confident on, it’s in Yokohama. She will also be wearing the No. 5 this weekend, a start number that historically never won a WTS race during the existence of the Series, so this is an opportunity for Jorgensen to mark another point in history.

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One final spot remains on the women’s U.S. team. While Jorgensen and Sarah True were two of the first women to automatically qualify for Rio after the Rio Test Event last August, the final position has been open for the taking. Next in the lead in the points system for the US is Katie Zaferes. But the qualifying system for the United States is that a top-three finishes in Yokohama earns you an automatic ticket to Brazil. So while Zaferes ideally is leading in the points system, if her compatriots Kirsten Kasper or Renee Tomlin makes the podium, they will be the ones to get that final spot. Like the US women, Germany has automatic selection criteria, which requires a top 8 finish in Yokohama to be named an Olympian.

While she does not have to worry about trying to qualify for Rio since she has already earned her position, New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt returns to the WTS to grace the Yokohama list and will be making the competition extra fierce this weekend. Fierce in all three disciplines, and one of the highest performing women to ever hit the Series, Hewitt will no doubt stir up the race this weekend.

South Africa’s Mari Rabie and Sweden’s Lisa Norden have been training together all year and both partners will see their Olympic fates determined this weekend. Norden will be going head-to-head with Russia’s Mariya Shorets for the final qualifying spot on the list. However, she also has the potential to earn the European “new flag” spot as well. She’s proven strong on the swim and bike this year, so ook out for her out of T2.

On the women’s side, New Zealand is currently the seventh nation to secure three athletes for Rio, while Russia follows as the final country. Austria is angling to get Julia Hauser as its third athlete, followed by Canada. Hauser needs a time in at least the top 22 to clench that third spot over Russia’s Shorets, assuming Shorets doesn’t finish higher than 35th.

Women’s Start List

The women will get the 2016 World Triathlon Yokohama underway at 10:06am on Saturday May 14, while the men will follow at 12:36pm local time. Follow all of the action live at triathlonlive.tv and on twitter @triathlonlive.

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