Two of the world's top five triathletes, Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic bronze medallist Henri Schoeman and compatriot two-time Olympian Richard Murray, have been unveiled as the first in a series of star announcements for the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi's world-leading line-up for the 3 and 4 March event on Yas Island.
Schoeman made history at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games when he took home South Africa's first ever triathlon medal. The 25-year-old, who has become a force to be reckoned with in the sport, went on to win his first World Triathlon Series gold medal at the Grand Final in Cozumel last month, a fitting way to wrap-up his spectacular season.
South Africa's highest ranked triathlete, who will be competing against a stellar line-up of world-leading triathletes on 3 and 4 March, said: "Abu Dhabi is always an important race because it is the first one on the calendar, and this year I’m especially amped to check out the new course. March is a great time to visit Abu Dhabi and with the race now on Yas Island we will get the chance to make our way around the iconic Yas Marina Circuit and the other landmarks I've heard so much about. I can't wait to enjoy some time-off after the race and check it out!"
Schoeman had a challenging start to the 2016 season, which opened with the ITU World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi, but soon caught up in time for the Games in August. "Overall, it has been a great year for me; I am happy with how it all turned out. I wasn't very fit when I started the season but I was back on track in no time and quickly improved as the season went on, maintaining a top 10 finish in the Series' competitions," he said. "A medal in Rio was the ultimate goal of the year for me and I was thrilled about finishing in first place at the Grand Final in Mexico. It wasn't easy but I enjoyed the journey that has led me to this point."
The South African, who grew up competing in many sports, is grateful to his father who introduced him to running and cycling at a young age. "My dad excelled in running, cycling and duathlon and was a source of inspiration for my brother and me. I remember how we would often join him on the track and I eventually went on to become the best long distance swimmer in my age group in the country," said Schoeman, who won the national U-19 Triathlon Championships for two consecutive years, the African Championship four times and a silver medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the UK. "When I was 19 I made the switch to triathlon - I took the plunge and never looked back," said Schoeman.
The Olympic medallist, who is now gunning for a gold medal in Tokyo 2020 and an ITU World Series title, will be spending the next few months training in South Africa before he takes to the start line next March at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi. "I am very excited to return to Abu Dhabi and am keen to start the season on the podium which means I will need to focus a lot more on my running. One of my goals for the next season is to become one of the fastest runners on the circuit."
Joining Schoeman on the start line in the UAE capital in March is fellow Olympian Richard Murray, who competed in his first ever triathlon at the age of 13. "I started out running and mountain biking when I was really young and fell in love with these two disciplines. I started competing in duathlons for a while before I took on triathlons in 2010 and it has been a thrilling journey for me since."
"It all kicked off for me in 2012 where I won a silver medal in the ITU World Triathlon series event in Sydney and a bronze in San Diego. These two wins got me a spot at the London Olympic Games which was fantastic," said the 27-year-old.
Murray, whose training partner is two-time Abu Dhabi and reigning world champion, Mario Mola, had a promising start to the 2016 season, claiming a silver medal in Abu Dhabi before suffering a broken collar bone following a crash at the ITU World Triathlon Gold Coast in April. Murray made an unbelievable comeback to run into fourth position at the Rio 2016 Olympics in August.
"This season was another career highlight for me with Rio and two World Triathlon Series podium finishes," said Murray who participated in both the 2015 and 2016 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi races. "Abu Dhabi is one of my favourite races on the calendar, partly because it is the season opener and so helps me understand where I stand after the off-season training, and partly because it is one of the most scenic races; it’s simply spectacular. I am also excited to race on the new course and can’t wait to check out the Yas Marina Circuit," added Murray.
The ITU World Triathlon Series made its debut in Abu Dhabi in 2015 and the third edition of the season-opener is set to be even bigger and better. As well as the elite race which welcomes 130 of the world’s top male and female triathletes, the event hosts an amateur race with a variety of course options to suit a range of abilities: Sprint (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run), which is the perfect starting point for beginners, Olympic (1500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run) and Maxi (1500m swim, 80km cycle, 20km run). All options can also be completed as a team relay allowing each participant to complete the discipline they are most comfortable with. The relay format makes the triathlon very manageable for first-timers, giving them a great introduction to the sport and the chance to enjoy participating with family and friends.
The event also sees the return of the Junior Triathlon - a fun event aimed at encouraging youngsters to get active. There are four entry categories for the 2017 edition, open for children aged 5 to 15 years: ‘Mini 1km’ – a 1km run for 5 – 8 year olds; ‘Kids Duathlon’ – a 3km cycle and a 500m run for 7 – 9 year olds and 10 – 11 year olds; ‘Junior Duathlon’ – a 6km cycle and 1 km run for 12 – 13 year olds, and a 6km cycle and a 1.5 km run for 14 – 15 year olds; ‘Junior Triathlon Super Sprint’ which consists of a 400m swim, 10km cycle and a 2.5km run for 12 – 13 years and 14 – 15 years.
"We are expecting the majority of the world's top ten elite triathletes, and those who competed in Rio, to race at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi in March, when the weather is perfect for training and for competing", said Gary Marescia, Event Director. "As well as the elite race, this event is an incredible experience for amateur athletes as it gives first-timers and seasoned athletes the unique opportunity to rub elbows with the best athletes in the sport. It’s also an opportunity for the youth of the UAE to be inspired by the likes of Schoeman and Murray, who will be racing right here in Abu Dhabi."
Online registrations for the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi are now open to the public via the race website, AbuDhabi.Triathlon.org. Starting from just AED 450 for adults and AED 60 for children, race spots are expected to be snapped up quickly by keen triathletes and first timers alike.