GOLD COAST, Australia — Canadian Joanna Brown is gearing up for the Commonwealth Games triathlon with a smile on her face.
The 24-year-old from Carp, Ont., loves the heat, especially after experiencing a smorgasbord of rain, wind and sun during a month-long stay Down Under prior to the Gold Coast Games. More importantly Brown, who fractured her left shoulder in a bike crash March 2 in the opening race of the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi, also just experienced her first pain-free swim.
“Which was really relieving,” she said in an interview. “And I’m just kind of trying to build up a little bit every day … I’m doing a pretty thorough strength program to try and get the shoulder moving again.”
There is not much time, with the men’s and women’s race scheduled for Thursday at Southport Broadwater Parklands. The mixed team relay and para-triathlon go Saturday.
Triathlon Canada head coach Jonathan (Jono) Hall says Brown may not be ready until race-day.
“But at the end of the day … we don’t need to be ready beforehand,” said the Australian.
The Abu Dhabi race used part of the Formula One course and rainy conditions plus oil left over on the track made for slippery conditions with Brown and many others paying the price.
“I was in the lead pack and I think I could have run for the podium there,” Brown said. “It was really heart-breaking at first, not to be able to finish the race and to get my first (World Triathlon) podium. And then it was even more heart-breaking when I found out I had fractured my shoulder.”
A high pain tolerance is a pre-requisite in triathlon at the best of times. Throw in injuries and the sport seems unforgiving at best.
Not surprising, Brown doesn’t see it that way.
“I love triathlon, I love the strategy behind it,” she said. “It is your life. I mean it requires 25 to 30 hours of training a week — very focused training. And you’re tired a lot, hangry (hungry and angry) a lot.
“But I love it … That’s why I picked triathlon, it’s such a puzzle and every day you’re trying to figure out another little piece of it. So it’s a really cool journey. I get to train with some amazing people. I have some amazing Canadian teammates. I just try to enjoy every day of it.”
Brown had a career year in 2017 when she finished on the podium at three World Cup events, was fourth twice on the World Triathlon Series and placed fifth at the world championships in Rotterdam.
“She took a huge step last year,” said Hall, adding: “She probably didn’t step as far as she could have. She had some misfortune.”
Brown came into last year’s test event on the Gold Coast in fine form, only to be struck down by food poisoning the week before. In December, she broke her wrist in a freak accident in the gym.
Then came Abu Dhabi.
“For her to fall, given she’s one of the best bike handlers in the world, just kind of demonstrated how slippery it was,” said Hall.
He called it a double-whammy after the December accident.
“She has struggled a little bit with it. I think there is a time as an athlete and even as a coach when you start to wonder what you have to do to get that luck,” he said. “But to her credit, she’s an incredibly resilient woman. She’s ridden the highs and lows the last month in particular with questions over whether she would be here or not. She’s always had that glimpse of optimism.”
Still, Hall says Brown is on track to peak for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, as was the original plan when he started coaching her in January 2017.
Brown cites training time with American star Kirsten Kasper for helping raise her game. Hall’s precise coaching methods have also challenged her.
Triathlon makes for a “fairly nomadic” existence with time split last year living in Phoenix, Victoria and the Netherlands. She shares the journey when the schedule permits with partner and fellow triathlete Alexander Hinton, who has returned to the sport after finishing a master’s degree in economics.
Brown has put her commerce degree at the University of Guelph on hold while she follows her triathlon dream.
“It is on my list of to-dos,” she said of the degree.
The Gold Coast event takes place on a sprint course for the first time at the games. The course feature a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike ride and a five-kilometre run.
The Olympic event features a 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike ride and 10-kilometre run.
The Games field features some of the sport’s big hitters including two-time world champion and world No. 1 Flora Duffy of Bermuda, No. 3 Ashleigh Gentle of Australia, No. 5 Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand and No. 7 Jessica Learmonth of England. Hewitt won the test event a year ago.
“It’s going to be really really fast at the front,” said Brown, currently ranked ninth in the ITU world rankings. “It’s going to be a hard race. It’s going to be hot and in some ways fairly unpredictable because the field is smaller. But there’s a lot of extremely strong women there and a lot of very very experienced women.”
Also on the Canadian triathlon team are Desirae Ridenour of Cowichan Bay, B.C., Dominika Jamnicky of Guelph, Ont., Tyler Mislawchuk of Winnipeg, Matt Sharpe of Victoria and Alexis Lepage of Gatineau, Que.
Canada has won three triathlon medals at the Commonwealth Games. Simon Whitfield and Carol Montgomery both earned gold in 2002 in Manchester, England, while Kirsten Sweetland claimed silver in 2014 in Glasgow.