Rio Olympics Countdown: Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan Polly Hendy July 20, 2016 Athlete Watch, Feature Following the last major ‘pre-olympics’ outing for our triathletes in Hamburg last weekend, all that’s left now is the final few weeks of preparation before they line up in Rio on August 20. We focus our attention this week on athletes from Hungary, Ireland, Italy and Japan. Text by Rob Sheeley, Erin Lockwood, Renata Farah, Jessica Erin Broderick | Images by Witsup Hungary Zsofia Kovacs Spearheading the Hungarian assault in Rio is Zsofia Kovacs. The 28-year-old will benefit greatly from the experience she gained competing at the 2012 London Olympics where she finished 51st. One year prior to her debut appearance, Kovacs went oh so close to winning the Under-23 World Championship Grand Final in Beijing, grabbing the silver behind Agnieszka Jerzyk of Poland, being beaten by just one-second. Even though Kovacs didn’t get the opportunity to familiarise herself with the course at the Rio test event last year this isn’t her first outing to Brazil, having won gold there at the World University Triathlon Championships in 2014. Training with Jamie Turner’s ‘Wollongong Wizards” in both Wollongong and Vitoria-Gastiez, she has been surrounded by training partners and fellow Rio bound athletes such as Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah-Anne Brault. Her Olympic year kicked off to a promising start, coming sixth at the OTU Sprint Cup in her ‘home away from home’ – Wollongong, and she backed it up with at eighth place finish a week later in Mooloolaba in the World Cup race. In May this year, a third at the European Championships in Lisbon was secured by producing the second fastest run split amongst the Elite women. After recently finishing outside the top 20 in both Leeds and Hamburg, she reported that she is still not quite where she wants to be, and has a lot to improve on before the Olympics. But if recent training has been on track and she can work her way through the field on the run, a successful race will be on the cards come August. Margit Vanek Thirty year old Hungarian athlete Margit Vanek is set to make her Olympic debut this August in Rio. With triathlon being some what a Vanek family trait, it’s no surprise that she ended up in the sport alongside her father and older brother Akos Vanek. The sibling contingent joined by team mates Zsofia Kovacs and Tamas Toth claimed bronze in the mixed team relay at this years ETU Championships in Lisbon. Taking the title of Aquathlon World Champion in Budapest (2010), was a great indication of Vaneks’ potential and over the past few years she has shown she can produce the goods over all three disciplines. With a bronze at the Sprint Triathlon Oceania Cup (2015) she rounded off the podium behind the Canadian duo of Amelie Kretz and Sarah-Anne Brault. Earlier this year she ran to victory at the ETU European Cup in Melilla but she will be heading to Rio looking to improve on a couple of her more recent outings, including a disappointing race in Stockholm. Ireland Aileen Reid The luck of the Irish may be in place for Aileen Reid in her second Olympic appearance the August. Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, the accomplished athlete has a history of cross-country wins to her name. Before going full-time as an athlete, Reid (nee Morrison) worked for Athletics Northern Ireland, before doing her teacher training in Physical Education. Her 2012 Olympics campaign sadly didn’t go to plan after a crash on the first lap of the bike course due to the wet roads and finished 43rd. But determined to not let this be her sole memory of the Olympic experience, she began the four-year cycle – hungry for Rio. She returned to London a year later and took away the silver medal at the WTS Grand final race, behind Non Stanford. Reid (34) has shown her wealth of experience and consistent performance, finishing inside the top 10 ranks of the World Series in the last three years. In 2014 she was sixth at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and fifth at the WTS Grand Final in Edmonton, followed by a host of top eight results in 2015 on the WTS circuit. The former ‘D-squad’ athlete trained for a number of years under the watchful eye of Darren Smith, but decided to change coaches in 2015, returning to her former team of Tommy Evans and Chris Jones. Sickness over the beginning of this year has stalled her training and racing schedule, but her past few races in Leeds, Stockholm and Hamburg show positive signs that she’s back on track and ready to peak come Rio. Italy Annamaria Mazzetti Born in Magenta, a provence from Milan the 27 year-old started triathlon at the age of eight. Mazzetti had a lot of success as a Junior, winning national titles across Aquathlon, Duathlon, and Triathlon and in 2010 she won bronze at the European U23 Championships. With a host of podiums to her name she was considered a promising candidate for her debut Olympic appearance in 2012, however a fall on the the bike in London meant she finished 46th – definitely no reflection of her true potential. After the Olympics Mazetti joined Darren Smith’s squad for 18 months, joining the likes of Lisa Norden, Jodie Stimpson and Anne Haug, a period of time that she learnt a lot, both as an athlete and about herself. She then returned to train in Italy where she now has a close support network around her. After a few tough years with some ups and downs in the ITU World Series, she came back to the fight with a second to Nicola Spirig a year ago at the European Triathlon Championships in Geneva. So far in 2016 she has had a ninth in Abu Dhabi and most recently was 12th in Hamburg. If she replicates her eighth place performance at the Rio test event last year, she will be a very exciting athlete to watch come August. Charlotte Bonin With Bonin’s Olympic appearances being separated by eight years, the 29 year-old Italian heads to Rio this August better prepared and with a lot more experience than her younger self. She was only 21 when she race at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games where she finished 44th. Being introduced to the sport of triathlon in 2002, Bonin developed through the sport alongside Annamaria Mazzetti, the two regularly team-mates in the mixed relay event. With a host of top 10 results in 2014 including a fifth at the WTS race in Chicago and an eighth in Stockholm, Bonin admittedly had a disappointing 2015 season that followed. However 2016 sees her creeping back up to form, with a 15th in the Huatulco World Cup race in May and a promising top 20 place in Hamburg last weekend. A similar position to Hamburg would not be far off her realistic goal for Rio, remarking that a top 15 at the Olympics would be fantastic. Japan Ai Ueda Heading into her third Olympic Games, Ai Ueda will lead the Japanese women with her wealth of experience on the world stage. Since graduating high school and committing to triathlon as an elite in 2002, 32 year old Ueda has competed in nearly 100 ITU races. A 17th place finish at her debut Olympics in Beijing was an impressive start, but in 2012 she appeared below usual form including a 39th placing at the London games. Her swim, although improving, often see’s her having to chase the front runners for the remainder of the race, however known for here bold and aggressive run she is always a threat for a top five position. A undeniable highlight of her 2016 season would have been standing on the podium in front of a home crowd in Yokohama, where she finished third behind Gwen Jorgensen and Ashleigh Gentle. Out of her 10 major races this year, including gold at the Asian Championships, fifth in Stockholm and seventh in Hamburg, she has only placed outside the top 10 twice. A very consistent performer, she now holds fourth position on the WTS rankings. Her strong and gutsy bike-run punch, resilience in hot weather races and current form is evidence that she is one to watch in Rio. Yuka Sato Yuka Sato, the 2010 Youth Olympic Games Champion, will compete in her first Olympic Games in Rio. The 24 year-old has a colourful resume including several top five finishes at the World Cup level, a win at the 2015 Tongyeong World Cup race, and four top 10 finishes in the World Triathlon series. Following her win at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, ahead of Australian athlete Ellie Salthouse, Sato would have to wait her turn to take to the Olympic stage, missing out on the London Games in 2012. This added fuel to the fire and made her more determined to be in the running for a spot in Rio and she has been developing as an athlete ever since. Following her 18th place finish at Yokohama earlier this year, Sato made it clear that regardless of the result her focus was on her race execution especially the run – “I was finally able to tough it out during the run, which has been my weak point.” At the Rio test event last year, Sato placed a respectable 16th, noting that the course suited her, something that she will hope to take advantage of come August 20th. Yurie Kato Yurie Kato, the third member of the women’s Japanese Olympic team, will be competing in her first Olympic Games in Rio. A late starter in comparison to her team-mates and competitors, she transferred across from running to triathlon in 2011. Having only started competing on the international stage in 2012, Kato, 30, is still relatively new to the sport but has shown huge improvement over the past four years. She has worked up to a level that sees her consistently on podiums in both Japan and Asian Championships alongside Ai Ueda and Yuka Sato – no doubt learning a lot from her more experienced team-mates. Her best results include a second place finish at the Jiayuguan World Cup in 2014 and an eighth place finish at the beginning of this year in Cape Town, amongst a very impressive field. She had the opportunity to familiarise herself with the Rio course at the test event last year, which will give her an insight of what to expect in August. Her collection of top-15 finishes at World Cup races shows an inspiring attitude that has achieved growth and development in only a few short years. At the time of this article being collated there were notably a few countries who were yet to confirm their selected athletes. Once we have confirmation on these athletes they will be featured in our Rio Olympics Countdown. 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