Despite enjoying a breakthrough period of consistency that he hasn’t enjoyed for almost two years, Matt Sharpe, 23, is once again looking to crack the national triathlon team.
In early December Sharpe, of Saanich, lost his Triathlon Canada team status. It’s a blow, as he is without the athletic funding necessary to train full time, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise, says Sharpe. It’s certainly not enough to keep him from chasing his dream of competing at the Olympics, as he’s well prepped for the 2015 season.
“I didn’t have much of an opportunity to perform (this year) and there were a limited number of (team spots) so the math just didn’t work, which is understandable. In the past I’ve shown success when I can train fairly consistent and I’m currently having a breakthrough period of consistency that I haven’t seen in almost two years. There are good signs.”
Sharpe does have an opportunity to receive the funding again if he can perform well in early season races in February and March, which he’s confident he can. He’s in a training group alongside 2014 Commonwealth Games triathletes Victoria-based Ellen Pennock and Sarah-Anne Brault, among others, under the guidance of coach Jamie Turner, the highly praised New Zealander that Triathlon Canada brought in last year.
“It would be foolish for me to just give up on (the sport) now … with the investments I made last year and the proximity to the Olympics,” Sharpe says. “For the time being, family will help me continue to train.”
This week, the group is leaving the warm waters of Crystal Pool for the warm air of Wollongong, Australia, where coach Turner was previously based. They’ll actually meet up with a fellow group of Turner’s athletes called the Wollongong Wizards, a designation the athletes quietly rock here in Victoria.
“Australia is something we’re excited about, meeting up with people on the same plan,” says Sharpe, who’s spent Canada’s colder months in Spain the past two seasons.
The upcoming stint Down Under will make or break not only Sharpe’s season but Pennock’s and Brault’s too, as all three are at a turning point in their careers.
Pennock, 22, and Brault, 25, have goals of their own, as both are looking to improve despite being unable to finish the Commonwealth triathlon (one third of starters didn’t) where Saanich’s Kirsten Sweetland won silver. (Sweetland is also headed to Australia in January, though she’ll be based in Noosa. She’ll continue her online coaching with Shaun Stephens, the Aussie who also coaches Team Sky, the UCI pro cycling team which boasts Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins.)
Triathlon is like that. There are too many variables to worry about winning every race, though there are the obvious standouts, such as Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
For Pennock, 2015 is all about the Grand Final in Chicago, her final year in the under-23 category. The former UVic Vikes cross country runner came to Saanich from Calgary and won 2011 CIS rookie of the year. Her departure from school to focus on triathlon was going well until she broke her collar bone at the Commonwealth Games in July.
“I wasn’t recovered enough to train until October,” Pennock said. “Initially it was only two weeks until I was walking. There was too much pain, I just walked for a good five weeks.”
Pennock was hoping to race in the open elite category this year but because of the setback, she’s focused on the U23 level for now.
When she started swimming a little over two months ago, it was with a one-arm side stroke.
“It will take time to gain the strength back in the pool but I expect to be on track,” Pennock says.
For Pennock’s Fairfield roomate Brault, originally out of Quebec City, there is an expectation to compete at the 2015 Rio de Janeiro Test Event, Aug. 1- 2. It’s an Olympic qualification, but not the only chance to qualify for the 2016 Rio Games.
“Triathlon Canada will look at all your races, but you know the Rio Test Event is likely the Olympic race course so that’s very inviting,” Brault said. “But really, qualifying goes until 2016.”
The key thing is showing you’re capable, says Sharpe, who had hoped for more in 2014 but instead experienced a year of injuries and setbacks. It kept him from repeating his promising campaign from 2012 when, as a 21-year-old, he earned top-10 finishes in the open category of the International Triathlon Union, though he was a U23 level competitor.
“It’s consistency. You can’t drop off,” says Sharpe.