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Decoding British Triathlon’s Olympic selection puzzle as Brownlee and co head for Polish showdown

British Triathlon's 2024 Olympic selection conundrum - and why a debut race in Poland could be priceless for Brownlee, Dickinson and Milner.

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WTCS Cagliari is in the books, and two fantastic races in Italy saw Cassandre Beaugrand and Alex Yee take the spoils. The race ended the two-year Olympic triathlon qualification points chase for athletes and federations, who will now be making their final selections on any remaining discretionary selection slots for the big show in France, just two months away now.

There were plenty of learnings to take away from the day – several of which have been covered eloquently on these pages by Mark Allen, in his takeaways for the women and men respectively – but for Great Britain at least, the racing isn’t quite done yet.

There may be no more Olympic Ranking qualification points on offer, but that is of no concern. The final, FINAL chance to make a case for Paris for the men at least, comes in Poland this Sunday, June 2. Will the first edition of the Europe Triathlon Cup Kielce prove to be far more historic than ever imagined, thanks to the selection requirements of British Triathlon?

Let’s take a look at how Poland on Sunday could provide an unexpected route to Paris, and where things currently sit from a British Olympic team perspective.


Where are we ahead of Paris 2024?

A quick recap, to set the scene.

Way back in January 2023, I deconstructed the British Triathlon selection policy which would be the roadmap on which the Road to Paris would be based. The full policy documents behind that are necessarily detailed, but ultimately resulted in both Alex Yee and Beth Potter securing early nomination for 2024, by meeting the high-bar automatic selection criteria which had been set.

Mike Cavendish, Alex Yee, Beth Potter, Mark English - Team GB selection announcement November 2023, Savoy Hotel
Mike Cavendish, British Triathlon Performance Director (left), with Alex Yee, Beth Potter and Mark England, Team GB Chef de Mission for Paris 2024

Rolling into 2024 then, it all gets a little more nuanced as the remaining selections (two further women, one man), fall under the discretionary banner, assessed against a variety of criteria and goals for both individual and mixed team relay objectives.

More recently, I detailed the position of the British men ahead of WTCS Yokohama, the questions that were outstanding ahead of WTCS Cagliari and a detailed look, in the case of Georgia Taylor-Brown at least, of the prospects of the Olympic medal winners as they headed to Sardinia.

We’re almost at the end of that journey now, so with that brief catch-up, where are we now? Let’s start with the women.


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Tough decisions for British Triathlon

While technically at least, nobody is ‘in’ or ‘out’ of selection consideration, I think we can take it as read that when the British Triathlon Olympic Selection Panel meets next week, there will only be three names in the running. Indeed, while they will – and rightly so – follow a structured process in that meeting, I’m certain that one of their first decisions will be to agree that Georgia Taylor-Brown, Sophie Coldwell and Kate Waugh are the only names in the selection discussion.

Leading into Cagliari, I definitely saw this as a “three into two doesn’t go” scenario, but I think that’s almost certainly changed now. As the Spice Girls sang, it’s likely to be a case now of (which) 2 Become 1.

GTB is by far the most decorated of those three athletes, with an Olympic gold and silver to her name, a World Championship title, three further World Triathlon Championship overall podium finishes, Super League Championships and more. While Cagliari didn’t offer any automatic selection, the athletes have known for at least six months that the Sardinian race was the highest priority race for consideration this year.

Off the back of a long time out with injury, encouraging form/fitness in Quarteira and Lievin already, and with every global contender present, it’s inconceivable to me at least that sixth place and first British finisher of that trio battling to join Beth Potter, doesn’t secure selection. Sure, the margins are small – GTB was 6th, Coldwell 7th (just three seconds later) and Waugh 10th (a further 13 seconds back) – but that’s surely a done deal for the 2020 World Triathlon Champion.

Sophie Coldwell and Georgia Taylor-Brown WTCS Cagliari 2024 blue carpet
Georgia Taylor-Brown finishes 6th at WTCS Cagliari (Photo Credit: Tommy Zaferes / World Triathlon).

Thus, it looks like its Coldwell or Waugh for the final spot. Lots to consider there and honestly you could make strong cases either way, and there’s sure to be a lot of data analysis and debate before reaching a considered decision. Just a few of those could include:

  • Waugh is higher in the World Triathlon Rankings (7th vs. 14th)
  • Coldwell is higher in the Olympic Qualification Rankings (8th vs. 12th)
  • Waugh finished ahead of Coldwell in Paris (7th vs. 20th) and Pontevedra (2nd vs. 7th)
  • Coldwell has a WTCS victory (Yokohama 2023), with Waugh finishing 5th that day
  • Both are proven performers in the mixed team relay format, and the super-sprint racing generally through Super League Triathlon, and would fully fit the racing requirements there should they be selected.
WTCS Cagliari 2024 Kate Waugh finish
Kate Waugh must now wait to find out her Paris 2024 fate (Photo Credit: World Triathlon / @by_wout).

Despite their young years (Coldwell 29 and Waugh 25), both athletes have been exceptional performers for Great Britain for more than a decade each now. Whoever comes out on the unfortunate side of that decision, is going to be hurting at getting so close. That’s the painful side of the ’embarrassment of riches’ scenario and the continued strength-in-depth of British Triathlon’s women. I don’t envy the selectors, but more importantly, I really feel for the athletes who both stepped up (again) to produce career-best performances last year and have raced so strongly under intense pressure in Cagliari.

Who will get the nod? After discussing all of the above points and many more, I think it’s quite possible that the selectors will decide that Cagliari will have to be the tie-breaker. That for 2024, as the priority selection event and in a head-to-head race, the top two British finishers will be taken. Thus, I’d make Coldwell the selection favourite.


The perfect audition from Sam Dickinson?

What do we take from the British men in Cagliari?

It’s not often that a DNF can be considered a huge success, but that’s exactly how I reflect on Sam Dickinson‘s race in Italy. His potential route to Paris is very focused – as a mixed team relay athlete who can also provide individual race support to Alex Yee. I’d highlighted this exact point two weeks ago:

With a strong relay leg on the books already this year, solid sprint and super-sprint format performances in NapierLievin and London, don’t be surprised if reminding the selectors of his potential as BOTH a Relay Specialist and Pilot athlete is reflected in his approach in Italy. How he races could be far more important than where he finishes…

Against that background, Dickinson gets an A+ for the perfect audition. Consistently reliable in the swim, Dickinson was straight to the front of the leading group to quickly hoover up Alberto Gonzalez Garcia (ESP). In the process he was keeping the pace high to reduce the chance of attacks (for the benefit of Alex Yee), but also reduce the prospects of some quality athletes who didn’t make that large pack, from bridging back. That meant, as a by-product, he was also making his case for the relay, as one of the men that didn’t make the front pack was fellow Brit, Hugo Milner.

Sam Dickinson WTCS Cagliari 2024 bike
Sam Dickinson executed the strategy to perfection in Sardinia (Photo Credit: Tommy Zaferes / World Triathlon).

When Hayden Wilde tried to force a break on lap three of the bike, it was Dickinson who went with him in perfect pilot/domestique style, nullifying that effort for the benefit of Alex Yee. He remained at or near the front for the entire bike leg, and clearly racing with a specific set of objectives, he delivered on those to perfection before pulling out as planned after one lap of the run to save himself for what comes up this weekend.

Is Hugo Milner still in the Olympic mix?

The potential and progress that Hugo Milner has made in less than two years, is remarkable. And I don’t think that word is overstating it.

Already an Olympic-distance winner on the European Cup and World Cup circuit, when I interviewed him six weeks ago he didn’t even know if he would be able to start a WTCS race before the deadline. At the same time, he was calmly not ruling out his Olympic selection prospects if the chance presented itself:

“That’s the plan. If you’d said this time last year that there was the possibility of Olympic selection I’d have been absolutely shocked. I think now that I’m making progress, I realise that I can compete with the best.”

That Great Britain has another triathlete of his run pedigree (Yee and Wilde ran 29:12 / 29:13 respectively in Cagliari, Milner clocked 29:18), and seemingly improving his swim at a rapid pace too, is incredibly exciting for the future. And that ‘future’, in terms of top-tier WTCS podium, I don’t think is too far away. A year from now, this entire discussion might well have looked very different.

Hugo Milner WTCS Cagliari 2024
Paris 2024 may just come too soon for the rapidly improving Hugo Milner (Photo Credit: Tommy Zaferes / World Triathlon).

There were huge positives in just two weeks:

  • 39th in Yokohama, four minutes down and 28 seconds off the swim leader
  • 13th in Cagliari, just over two minutes down and 17 seconds off the swim leader
  • Only two athletes who exited the water behind Milner in Yokohama were ahead of him entering T1 in Cagliari – but on the flipside, he was quicker than 10 athletes through the water in Italy who had beaten him in Japan.

Despite that progress however, on an objective measure as of today – it’s complex, but let’s go with a WTCS podium as best form of evidence – it seems a stretch that Hugo has ticked the ‘realistic individual medal contender’, as defined in British Triathlon’s selection policy. Neither have Dickinson or Jonny Brownlee, for that matter.

And THAT is why Poland matters!

Mixed Relay goals

The Mixed Team Relay matters, both to British Triathlon and the athletes that are in it. As well as being the defending Olympic Champions, Great Britain will be expected, at the very least, to be on that podium again. I’d go as far to say that if a team which could potentially include Yee / Taylor-Brown / Potter and ‘TBC’ did not get a medal in Paris, it would be considered a (sporting) disaster. And the dynamics and skills required to support that team are key.

Olympic Games Mixed Relay Triathlon Tokyo 2020
Great Britain claimed Mixed Relay gold at Tokyo 2020.

In relation to Milner, he’s so new to the sport that his relay experience is limited to just one outing in Napier. While he’s progressing rapidly, on paper at least, that’s not going to sell his abilities one bit.

And as good as his progress was between Yokohama and Cagliari, after a great swim (four seconds behind Yee), he ultimately didn’t make that front bike group, when others around and just behind him leaving T1 – Luke Willian, Kristian Blummenfelt, Ricardo Batista – did. With fewer athletes in MTR events, it’s those fine margins that can be exposed, and often lead to the excitement and lead changes that make the format so engaging.

Who’ll be King in Kielce?

Of course, all of this is just my considered and hopefully balanced opinion and perspective. Your take could be very different, but it could all be relegated to history and effectively digital chip wrapping by Sunday evening.

After relay cancellations in Abu Dhabi (2024), Montreal (2023) and a duathlon at the Paris Test Event, British Triathlon had in anticipation of a difficult scenario, pushed back their selection meeting to allow for one final racing opportunity. That race is a Super Sprint Europe Triathlon Cup event in Kielce, Poland. Semi-finals and Final taking place on one day, over distances of 400 metres / 7.6km / 2km.

And here’s the key thing: Jonny Brownlee, Sam Dickinson and Hugo Milner ARE ALL RACING

  • Brownlee – a legend of the sport who has been there, done it… but does he have what it takes for one more shot at Olympic glory?
  • Dickinson – fully invested in the relay / pilot role, a proven performer, ultimate team player and reliable pair of hands
  • Milner – a future star no doubt, but has this come just too soon? One last opportunity to prove his mixed team relay potential, a chance to silence any doubters as to his all round skills.

Will this race ultimately be a straight shootout for Olympic selection – first Brit and you are in? We’ll only find that out, provisionally, on 10th June when the athletes are scheduled to be announced.

What we can say is that the first prize for this race is €1,250. But quoting Mastercard, a win here could be priceless.

Good luck to all of you.

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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