Olympic New Flag races face crucial moments in Asia and Africa

By Ben Eastman | 04 Apr, 2024

The long road to Olympic qualification continues this weekend with major continental events in both Asia and Africa. In Dexing, China, the Asia Triathlon Sprint Championships will pit direct rivals against one another in both the men’s and women’s New Flag hunts. Over in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, several New Flag contenders will likewise gather for a race that could have big Paris 2024 implications for athletes from Africa and beyond.

Asia Sprint Championships – Dexing, China

Ayan Beisenbayev (KAZ) will arrive in Dexing with a target on his back. The defending champion holds a slender lead over Jason Tai Long Ng (HKG) in the world rankings with five places and a total of 68 points separating them. Realistically, the men’s Asian New Flag spot will go to one of the two.

With Ng also due to start in Dexing after a flat in Hong Kong saw him disappointed to be off the pace over the bike, he could still supplant Beisenbayev with a big performance. So close has their personal battle been thus far, only a win might be enough for the Hong Kong athlete.

The Asian women’s New Flag could also take a decisive turn in Dexing. While Ekaterina Shabalina (KAZ) holds a healthy lead in the world rankings over her continental rivals, Bailee Brown (HKG) is still in with a chance of catching her.

Brown has exactly twenty places and a little over 200 points to make up. A win in Dexing could go a long way in bringing her onto Shabalina’s heels.

On the flip side, both Beisenbayev and Shabalina will be aware that they can lock out Ng and Brown, respectively. With both at the forefront of Kazakhstan’s rise in triathlon, they will not relinquish their New Flag slots without a fight.

As for the championships themselves, Kazakhstan and Hong Kong athletes will face stiff opposition. The home team will be led by Junjie Fan and Yunxiang Ma in the men’s race while Xinying Lu and Meiyi Lu will strive to bring home medals for China in the women’s event.

Japan will also field a host of experienced campaigners, such as Takumi Hojo, Ren Sato and Jumpei Furuya in the men’s race and Minori Ikeno and Miyu Sakai in the women’s. Beyond the possible Olympic permutations, a dynamic set of races can therefore be expected.

Africa Cup – Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa

Meanwhile, more than one New Flag place will be at stake in the women’s race in Nelson Mandela Bay. Sinem Francisca Tous Servera (TUR) currently occupies the lead in the European race although she will be glancing over her shoulder as several rivals gain ground on her.

Tous, though, will be racing in Nelson Mandela Bay knowing that a podium performance could extend her advantage. What happens in Africa, then, could well shape the fortunes of several other European athletes.

Edda Hannesdottir (ISL) is also on the start line in Nelson Mandela Bay and could likewise start to influence the European New Flag race with a win. In addition, she could potentially earn Olympic selection through the Tripartite invitation procedure with a top 180 World Ranking. 

The more obvious New Flag competition in South Africa can be found in the African women’s race. Vicky Van Der Merwe (RSA), the reigning African champion, is the incumbent and only has to maintain her position across the remainder of the Olympic qualification window.

Her domestic rivals, Shanae Williams (RSA) and Amber Schlebusch (RSA), are among the starters in Nelson Mandela Bay and either could stage a late charge against Van Der Merwe.

Over in the men’s race, Siefeldeen Ismail (EGY) will be one to watch. He is only ten places behind Jean Gael Laurent L`entete in the African men’s New Flag race and a podium finish in Nelson Mandela Bay would see him close the gap.

Several paths to Paris could therefore be shaped this weekend. Stay abreast with all the latest updates across the World Triathlon channels.