Abu Dhabi: It was a hugely emotional moment for New Zealand’s triathlon ace Andrea Hewitt after winning the season opening race of the ITU World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi last year.
The victory was her first since the demise of her fiance Laurent Vidal, a former French triathlete who passed away in his sleep following a cardiac arrest aged just 31 in November, 2015.
With teary eyes the 35-year-old dedicated her win to Vidal, who represented France at the 2012 London Olympics and finished fifth. Vidal had became Hewitt’s coach after putting an abrupt end to his career following an earlier heart attack during training in 2014. The duo were scheduled to get hitched in 2016.
The world had come crashing down around Hewitt and it took her a while to get back to herself. The only way to move forward in life was to get back and excel in the sport that was close to her heart. Helping Hewitt to get that right mental frame to regain top form was her first triathlon coach at Christchurch - John Hellemans.
Choking with emotions, following her win, Hewitt recalled Vidal’s words: “Laurent kept telling me that I had everything. He said I had the ‘dedication, integrity and talent but one thing I was missing was emotion’ as I didn’t show it. Today there was so much emotion to come here and win.”
Hewitt victory had not come easy. She had beaten the reigning champion from Briton Jodie Stimpson in a sprint finish – winning the title in the last few strides. Both triathletes were credited with the same time - two hours, three minutes and 46 seconds.
Stimpson too was all praise for Hewitt saying, “If I was going to lose to a sprint finish, I’m glad it was Andrea today.”
That success was followed with another win in ITU World Triathlon Gold Coast – the venue for this year’s showpiece event – the Commonwealth Games. Last season also saw Hewitt finish third at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon in Montreal.
And the enduring Kiwi triathlete is showing no signs of slowing up any time soon. Being at the top echelon of the sport, she is keen on retaining the title on March 4 at the spectacular Yas Island in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games, scheduled in a month’s time after the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi season opener.
She has done most of her off season training in Australia and comes in to defend her title at the back of a resounding win in the 2018 Glenelg OTU Sprint Triathlon Oceania Cup where she got the better of home favourite Charlotte McShane, in a close dual.
“So far everything is going very well. I will be representing my country at the Commonwealth Games to be held in Australia, so I really want to do well there. All my preparation are keeping that in mind. Currently I’m in Australia doing my training.
“I have also had a great start to 2018 winning my first international race in Adelaide last weekend. And more importantly I won it in a similar way as I did in Abu Dhabi, sprint finish. The condition in Abu Dhabi is expected to be pretty much the same so I feel I’m ready,” said Hewitt, who at the Commonwealth Games will be aiming to better her third and fourth placings in the last two attempts.
“The 2017 race was a turning point for me both personally and professionally. I kept building on that success,” revealed Hewitt, who will be facing a huge challenge this time round as nine of the Worlds top 10 women triathletes have decided to take part in Abu Dhabi.
Standing in her way is two-time world champion, Bermudian Flora Duffy, who was simply in a league of her own in last season. The 30-year-old won five race in the ITU World Triathlon series last year along with a second place finishes in Montreal. Aussie Ashleigh Gentle and American Katie Zaferes are the other big names in fray. The Brits are also landing with a strong squad comprising of Stimpson, Non Stanford and Vicky Holland. The Americans will be represented by Summer Cook, Chelsea Burns, Renee Tomlin and Taylor Spivey. Others to watch out for are Dutch Rachel Klamer and Japanese duo Ai Ueda and Juri Ide.
“Definitely it is going to be a tough race with the top nine in the world present in Abu Dhabi. I’m coming to the race well prepared and so it will be nothing different for Abu Dhabi.
“To line-up against those girls at the start of the season it is hard to say how it is going to be. These girls are also going to be racing at the Commonwealth Games which is one month after so they also will be going flat out. Flora, the current World Champion, was absolutely unbeatable last year,” said Hewitt, who has represented New Zealand in the last three Olympic Games and finished seventh (2016 Rio), sixth (2012 London) and eighth (2008 Beijing).
“Last year I started with a two wins and that really shaped me well for the rest of the season in the World Triathlon series. If I can go out there and win again it will be a huge boost. I have trained for that well and hopefully it will be enough to get across the line in first place,” said Hewitt, who rated the Yas Island course as testing with the humidity also coming into picture.
“I had expected to be a fast course being a Formula one circuit but there was a lot of wind on the circuit and that made it tough. They put in a lot of corners so technically it was difficult but it was great to stay together specially on the bike. We had a small group coming off the bike and it turned out to be a good run for me.
“The course was really up and down and so challenging. My sister lives in Dubai so she has lot of friends and they supported me throughout the race and so it really suited me there. I’m going to do my best and try to win. It is going to be really exciting.”
Winner 2018 Glenelg OTU Sprint Triathlon Oceania Cup
3rd place at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Montreal
6th place at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Hamburg
23rd place at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama
Winner of the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Gold Coast
20th place at the 2017 New Plymouth ITU Triathlon World Cup
Winner of the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi
7th place at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games
6th place at the 2012 London Olympic Games
8th place at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.