Triathlon: Harrop and Stewart drop out of Olympic qualifier

Michelle Blessing reports that the sunrises are beautiful at the site of the Olympic Triathlon race course.  Credit: Nick Wilson /Allsport
Defending women's International Triathlon Union world champion Lorretta Harrop and fellow Aussie Miles Stewart are definitely not starting the first of two Olympic qualifying races for the Aussies.

This was reported by former professional triathlete Greg Welch, who was on hand at the pre-event press conference for the April 16 world cup race.

According to Welch, bursitis of the knee, which reared its head prior to the Australian National Championships forced Harrop (ranked No. 2 by the ITU) to withdraw from the first of two Australian Olympic Triathlon Team qualifiers.

"This is a big shock to all us here," Welch said. "She was one of the pre-Olympic gold-medal favorites."

Stewart, who has simply dominated the early part of this season at the Formula One triathlon series and at the Aussie Nationals March 26, announced his departure from the race April 14 due to a case of infectious tonsillitis.

The luxury of talent
It is the depth of the Australian team that may be the undoing for two of their best athletes.

According to the ITU point structure, six of the top 12 men and all of the top five women are Australian.

Even without Harrop, Australia still has world champions like Michellie Jones (1992, 1993), Emma Carney (1994, 1997), Joanne King (1998) and Jackie Gallagher (1996).

In addition, up-and-coming stars like Nicole Hackett will also toe the starting line in Sydney.

On the men's side, both Greg Bennett (1991) and Chris McCormack (1997) have won world titles. And the depth continues with top-ranked Chris Hill, Brad Beven and Craig Walton.

Two of the newest threats on the triathlon scene, run specialist Peter "Robbo Cop" Robertson and Courtney Atkinson; who recently beat 1999 champion Dmitry Gaag at a world cup race in Japan, will be ready to make their case for Sydney as well.

This luxury of talent means that Aussie triathlon officials could omit both Stewart and Harrop without significantly damaging a chance for Olympic Gold.

Currently both the Australian men's and women's teams are ranked No. 1 by the ITU and will be granted three spots in both the men's and women's Olympic Triathlon.

Selection tough, even for the healthy
According to Welch, an overall victory by any Australian at either the Sydney test event or the April 30 world championships in Perth will result in an automatic berth onto the Australian Olympic Triathlon Team.

If two Australians win in Sydney this weekend, then Stewart and Harrop may be forced into a must-win situation.

After the world championships at the end of April, any spots not locked up with a victory at either race will be filled according to previous performances.

Though Stewart has come on strong of late, he is only ranked No. 10 by the ITU and could be passed over in favor of Bennett or McCormack, who are ranked No.'s 4 and 5, respectively.

But for Hackett, the road to Sydney may be blocked.

"Lorretta Harrop is seeking legal advice about the selection process. Because of her injury, she may not be able to compete in Perth," Welch said.

According to Welch, if Harrop is unable to compete, then it must be determined that her bursitis was a pre-existing injury. If she and her lawyer can convince the Aussie powers that be, then her prior performances will be considered in the selection process.

If she is unable to convince officials, then the world champion may be forced to watch the Olympic triathlon competition from the sidelines Sept. 16 and 17.

Currently, Harrop is in Christchurch, New Zealand, undergoing a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate her ailing knee.

Rina Hill to miss Sydney
Another Aussie triathlete, Rina Hill, has pulled out of the race due to the recent death of her father.

Hill (ranked No. 5 by the ITU), who won the April 9 ITU world cup race in Ishigaki, Japan, is taking a different route to the Sydney games by attempting to make New Zealand's Olympic team.

More Olympic triathlon trials coverage:

World cup triathlon to help decide Olympic roster

Jaws 5: Sharks in Sydney?

U.S. men's triathlon team scrambles to regain spots

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