Montreal victory a breakthrough for Gentle
As the only woman to beat Flora Duffy in more than 18 months, Ashleigh Gentle has every right to be confident of her medal chances on home soil.
Duffy’s only blemish since September 2016, having won eight of nine races she completed, is a second place to the Australian at the ITU World Triathlon Series in Montreal last August. It is that win, along with local knowledge as a Gold Coast native, that is fuelling Gentle’s push to become her country’s first gold medal-winner at these Commonwealth Games.
“She’s a dual world champion, she has those two world titles, she’s obviously a very fierce competitor,” Gentle said of Duffy. “Montreal was a massive breakthrough race for me. It proved to myself that no matter how you’re feeling that you can overcome those thoughts and feelings and still produce a great race. I reflect on it in the lead-up to races to remind myself of that.”
The format for the men’s and women’s triathlon has switched from the Olympic to the sprint distance — a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike and 5km run.
Gentle admitted to having initial concerns about the shorter format but says she has embraced the change and feels confident in her speed.
“At the start of last year I would have said no,” Gentle said when asked if it was to her advantage. “But I think that I’ve discovered that I can go fast in a sprint distance race now.
“I think that’s helped me change my mindset and embrace whatever format — world triathlon series, or now the Commonwealth Games — might throw at us.”
After a disappointing 2016 Olympic Games, where she finished 26th, Gentle swapped the Gold Coast for another seaside city in Wollongong, New South Wales, to train under Jamie Turner, the coach who led Gwen Jorgensen to gold in Rio.
The move paid off for Gentle, with the 27-year-old finishing runner-up to Duffy in the eight-race WTS series last season.
“I am literally going back to where it all began,” Gentle told The Courier Mail. “We have even gone past the Robina course where I did my first triathlon [aged 14]. Seeing some of the athletes I used to train with from all different sports has been great. It is always super refreshing. It is good to get that familiarity back.”
Gentle, who came ninth at the 2014 Glasgow Games — one place behind Duffy — has been mindful of becoming distracted during her preparations.
She was among several competitors, including the Bermudian, to have suffered a crash at the WTS opener in Abu Dhabi last month.
Unlike race leader Duffy, who was unable to continue, Gentle managed to remount her bike and finish thirteenth.
“The main thing for me is to try and keep things simple and relaxed in the lead-up,” she added. “It’s so great to be here racing in my home town, but I also don’t want to be distracted.
“It’s about acknowledging that, and I think preparations have been going well.
“Even though it wasn’t a great result in Abu Dhabi, I think I learnt a lot and I calmed a lot of nerves experiencing that first world series race of the year.”
Australia’s great hope says she is feeling inspired to be racing in front of a crowd willing her on every stroke, pedal and stride of the way.
“Although my friends and family follow my competitions when I’m on the other side of the world, to actually have them there will be extra special — it’s very rare that they will get to see me like that,” Gentle told The Daily Telegraph.
“Triathlon is the first medal event, which is really exciting for me and my sport, so I’m going to take it all in and make the most of having that support out on the course.
“Qualifying for the Games meant so much to me. Winning a medal at home would be the icing on the cake.”
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