ODT: Samuels and Dodds have notable weekend at Auckland World Series

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Nicky Samuels and Tony Dodds were the New Zealanders who gained the most from the opening round of the world triathlon series in Auckland on Saturday.

Dodds’ seventh was the best of the men, despite incurring a 15-second swim-bike transitional penalty.

Samuels’ fifth (behind Kate McIlroy in fourth) marked her out for a possible return to the Triathlon New Zealand high performance squad this year.

The 30-year-old has made no secret of her disappointment at missing out on TriNZ’s 14-person squad. Those athletes are recipients of the sport’s annual $1.4 million of High Performance Sport New Zealand funding.

As a result, Samuels intends to compete in longer distance races in the United States as she self-funds her season. She won’t attend TriNZ camps in Europe but will race the Commonwealth Games trials in September.

National coach Greg Fraine was impressed with Samuels’ Auckland performance. He says similar results will force TriNZ to reassess its thinking.

“That’s what we ask. Keep backing up performances. When we make a hard call on athletes like Nicky, we want to be proven wrong. The door’s definitely open if she keeps performing like that. She really improved her run.”

HPSNZ, in its December investment table release, described triathlon as only having a “moderate probability of podium success” at the 2016 Olympics. World No 3 Andrea Hewitt remains the main medal hope.

TriNZ struggled in the last Olympic cycle with no medals despite $6.16 million of taxpayer investment. Triathlon survived as a targeted Olympic sport, thanks in part to an eight-year plan which includes moving to a new base in Cambridge this year. The sport also cut the high performance squad from 21 to 14. Only three athletes – Hewitt, McIlroy and Ryan Sissons – are in what’s described as a ‘podium’ squad.

A key TriNZ objective is finding runners who can complete 10km in less than 30 minutes (men) and 34 minutes (women). That is seen as a distinguishing characteristic between champions and exceptional athletes.

Dodds ran 31.01s at the weekend which included his 15s transitional penalty. Samuels ran 34.50. Two men and three women ran under 30m and 34m respectively.

Dodds shapes as a candidate to graduate from the ‘podium development’ squad to the ‘podium’ squad within TriNZ’s ranking system. The 25-year-old was third on the first lap of the run before completing his penalty.

His result is reassuring after his appendix burst in August. The illness came after he had secured his best elite series result of 10th at the Kitzbuhel event in Austria in June.

“Our programme is challenging Tony,” Fraine said. “This [seventh] is a benchmark for where he’s at. He’s still developing as an athlete. He’s not up to podium standard yet but this is a massive step in the right direction which backs up his Kitzbuhel result.”

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