South Africa’s Henri Schoeman and Australia’s Sophie Linn were crowned 2023 Arena Games Triathlon powered by Zwift World Champions after a thrilling evening’s action in the London Aquatics Centre.
Schoeman’s second place behind a breakthrough performance from 23-year-old Italian Nicolo Strada was just enough to seal the overall title in the men’s race, while Linn took the final podium spot behind pre-race favourites Beth Potter and Cassandre Beaugrand to land the women’s crown.
Each race in the unique hybrid format of real life and esports was contested over three stages of a 200m swim, 4km bike and 1km run, with the first two stages the traditional format of swim, bike, run and the second stage flipped to start with the run and end on the swim.
An elated Schoeman, an Olympic bronze medallist and Commonwealth Games champion who has spent much of the past three years struggling with injury and illness, had given himself a great chance by winning the Sursee round of the series. He said: “There are no words to describe it. I just wanted to come back into racing and sharpen up my body, but I fell in love with this style of racing and I’m so fortunate to compete in front of such an amazing crowd here in London.”
Linn, whose second place finish in the Montreal leg of the Arena Games proved equally decisive, said: “I wasn’t really thinking about the overall, but it feels great. This is next level. You have to make peace with the fact you’re going to be in a lot of pain.”
The climax to the 2023 Arena Games Triathlon World Championship Series saw a frenetic two days of action with a raft of notable performances including a drama-filled fifth-place in London for Norwegian Ironman world champion Gustav Iden and an impressive sixth place in the overall series for Hungary’s 15-year-old prodigy Fanni Szalai.
Arena Games Montreal winner Chase McQueen started strongly by being first out of the water but it was Strada who showed his form by taking out Stage 1 ahead of New Zealand’s Kyle Smith with Schoeman handily placed in third.
The second stage started with the run and ended on the swim, which gave Iden the chance to push to the front on the 4km bike leg before Schoeman and Strada again took over in the water to finish almost together.
As Stage 3 developed, Strada – who finished fourth in Switzerland – needed another athlete to come between himself and Schoeman to claim the world title. It wasn’t to be, as Smith finished third ahead of Switzerland’s Simon Westermann who clinched the final spot on the overall podium.
Iden’s weekend was not short of drama either, as the two-time Ironman 70.3 winner served a 5sec penalty in the heats for missing the race briefing, then fought his way through the afternoon’s repechage, before picking up another penalty for a transition transgression in the final.
It was the Potter and Beaugrand show as the British athlete clinched her fourth victory in six Arena Games Triathlon appearances, but was unable to defend her world title having not competed in the earlier rounds of Montreal or Sursee.
Not that it was in any way going to dent her motivation, as she won the opening stage from Beaugrand by 10sec despite her rival completing the 200m swim in 2:11 – just 1sec off her Arena Games record from the previous day.
Beaugrand could only claw back 3sec on Stage 2, but Linn was starting to put herself in prime position to win the overall by finishing third and putting time into her rivals.
The final stage reverted to the traditional swim-bike-run format and it was Potter again who led from the front extending her winning advantage to more than 22sec from Beaugrand as Linn was third ahead of the Netherlands’ Rani Skrabanja.
In the final reckoning it meant that Skrabanja – who came through the repechage – moved up to second, with USA’s Gina Sereno, who won in Montreal, in third.
Potter said: “I like this kind of racing as I do it a lot in my training, but I’ve also never actually beaten Cassandre at this and she was really tough competition today, so that’s the biggest win for me. I held tight, stuck in and gave it everything.”
Szalai showed she was an athlete for the present as well as the future by placing eighth in the final after being forced to come through the repechage, leaving her sixth in the overall standings.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL STANDINGS
1. Sophie Linn – 659
2. Gina Sereno – 589
3. Rani Skrabanja – 579
4. Emma Jackson – 564
5. Olivia Mathias – 544
1. Henri Schoeman – 713
2. Nicolo Strada – 698
3. Simon Westermann – 610
4. Maxime Hueber-Moosbrugger – 544
5. Chase McQueen – 498