Montgomery embraces underdog role in women's Olympic triathlon
By DONNA SPENCER -- Canadian Press
SYDNEY -- The Australians are talking about a women's triathlon sweep of medals to start the Olympic Games and that's fine with Canada's Carol Montgomery.
"It takes the pressure off me," Montgomery said Thursday. "I like to come in as an underdog.
"I can see them winning two medals, but I can't see them sweeping."
Montgomery, Canada's best medal hope in the 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike ride and 10-kilometre run event, says she feels great except for some minor tightness in her back that started when she bent over to pick up a stray sock while packing to come to the Games.
"The only time it bothers me is when I come off the bike to run, but I'm sure I'll have enough adrenaline on Saturday that it won't even affect me at all," said the 34-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C.
The spectacular Sydney Harbour is a fitting backdrop for one of the first medal events of these Olympics on Saturday (7 p.m., Friday EDT, CBC). Helicopters will hover over the swimmers as they dive off a pontoon in the lee of the Sydney Opera House and television viewers will get a glimpse of a vast port that is pure eye candy.
Montgomery, Sharon Donnelly of Kingston, Ont., and Isabelle Turcotte Baird of Quebec will represent Canada in the first triathlon ever run at the Olympics. Simon Whitfield of Kingston, Ont., will compete in the men's race the following day.
The sea life in Farmer's Cove, where the swim is staged, makes this race particularly colourful.
Scuba divers swimming below the athletes will repel sharks with electrical currents. The athletes will also have to navigate through stinging jellyfish, which are not deadly, but can still pack some pain if touched by a part of the body not covered by a wetsuit.
"Everybody keeps asking about the sharks," said Donnelly, who is expected to come out of the water among the leaders. "It's not a problem for us. It's probably better for us than anything because everybody, the public, is so excited about it. It adds that element of danger and gives more exposure to our sport."
The water is about 15 to 16 degrees Celsius, which is warmer than it was in Lake Ontario for the World Cup event in Toronto in July, Montgomery pointed out.
The swim will be choppy after the first turn along the sea wall where the athletes will get bounced around like they're in a washing machine, Donnelly said. The transitions to the three legs of the race take place in front of the steps of the Opera House.
The bike is six laps along a main Sydney street and the Royal Botanical Gardens. The run is two laps though the Gardens and along the sea wall of Farmer's Cove.
Montgomery's rivals will be the Australian team of Michellie Jones, ranked No. 1 in the world, and world champions Nicole Hackett and Loretta Harrup. Montgomery finished second to Hackett at the world championships in Perth earlier this year on a course that was later discovered to be two kilometres short on the run.
Hackett told the Sydney Morning Herald this week that the Australians have the best chance of taking all the medals.
"That's not going to happen," declared Canadian team coach Barrie Shepley.
Montgomery is healthy now, less than a year after considering retirement because of a debilitating leg injury. She's a lethal runner -- who's also racing in the 10,000 metres here -- so expect her to come from the back of the pack on a hilly course.
"I'm almost surprised at myself. I'm not even nervous," Montgomery said. "It seems like maybe everything I've been through this year, I'm just so happy to be here. I don't put any pressure on myself.
"I know it's a huge race, but it's just another race. It's what I love to do. If luck's not on my side that day and that's a big part of the race, there's nothing I can do about it."
Montgomery knows she needs to keep Harrup and Jones in her sights on the bike portion of the race.
"Loretta Harrup is a basic unknown because she hasn't raced all year and she's just coming back (from injury)," Montgomery said. "She's in the same form she was last year in Montreal (at the worlds). I wouldn't want her to get more than a minute ahead of me...because she's shown she can really run.
"If Michellie gets a little lead, she's dropped me a couple of times on the bike this year. If she's more than 45 seconds in front of me I wouldn't feel comfortable."
Montgomery is looking forward to the race for the sheer satisfaction of having her sport earn the legitimacy that the Olympics carry.
"So many people don't even know what triathlon is. They ask 'How do you get your horse over there?' or 'How long have you been fencing?"' she said. "They think we're modern pentathlon or Ironman triathlon. It'll be nice they'll realize there's this short sport that's really competitive. It's a two-hour event and fast and exciting."