Sweetland aims for Rio from Whistler 

Vancouver Island triathlete using Sea to Sky as a home base

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BLAKE JORGENSEN - On the rise Triathlete Kirsten Sweetland is training in the hopes of qualifying for this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • Photo by Blake Jorgensen
  • On the rise Triathlete Kirsten Sweetland is training in the hopes of qualifying for this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Sea to Sky corridor produces its share of Olympians, albeit primarily those competing in the Winter Games.

But triathlete Kirsten Sweetland has set up camp in Cheakamus Crossing near the Whistler Athletes' Centre and can be found training on the neighbourhood's trails as she looks to earn one of three Canadian spots in this summer's Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"I've been coming up here a lot in the summer since 2011," she said. "I knew that I wanted to live here but I was thinking about waiting until after the Olympics. I had a tip from a friend that real estate prices were going to go up, which was pretty right. I actually bought a condo last January.

"The trails and everything are right here."

It's been a trying year for the 27-year-old who was born in Nanaimo and most recently called Victoria home. She spent five months battling back from a bacterial infection she suspects she picked up at a race in Sweden last year after swimming in the harbour.

"I was just really tired for the entire year, just being free of that has made me feel so much better even though I don't have the training behind me," she said. "I was doing great. I was in the best shape of my life, getting the best results of my career, and a whole bunch of us got sick after a race in Sweden."

But Whistler's wide variety of athletic activities have added a little extra spice as she looks to get fit again. Sweetland has been doing triathlon since she was six, with the Olympics being a goal of hers since then, and in activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, has appreciated being active without it being full and constant doses of running, cycling and swimming.

"I've been doing a lot of running in the snow and I've been snowshoeing a couple times. It's been great for easing myself back into fitness and into training. I had pretty much five months off," she said. "It's been a nice change to do other things that are strength- and aerobics-based but they're fun because they're not something I've done every single day for the past two decades.

"I've made it over that hump of easing myself back in and trying to get going again. It's been great here. I think I'm the only one excited that the snow's melting," she laughed.

One adjustment Sweetland has made actually has nothing to do with the terrain or any outdoor conditions at all, but more so with the pool's layout. She explained she's used to a long-course pool, though she has adjusted well to the short-course one at Meadow Park Sports Centre.

"Living in a mountain town is fantastic because who wants to swim when there's a ski hill right there? I have the pool to myself more often than not, so that's been fantastic," she said.

For much of the winter, Sweetland had been riding her mountain bike outdoors while completing her interval training indoors, but with the warming weather, has recently pulled out her road bike.

"I was on the west side there and it's unbelievable. I keep thinking 'I swear I'm going to crash' because I keep looking at the mountains," she said.

Canada has earned the maximum number of triathlon sports for the Rio Olympics at three and Sweetland, the 2010 U23 World Championships silver medallist, currently holds the lead in locking down one of those spots. However, the formula is ultimately a little convoluted. Competitors can punch their tickets with two top-eight performances between last spring and now, and any vacant spots before the Olympics will be filled at the discretion of high-performance director Peter Davis.

"It's not really the same as skiing where just because I earned the spot doesn't mean that I'm the one that necessarily fills it for the Games," she said.

It would mean a lot for Sweetland to qualify for the Olympics, as injury troubles have kept her from going before. She's taken a more conservative tack in an attempt to qualify, recalling a 2008 Olympic qualifier in Des Moines, Iowa where she was in line to earn a spot, decided she wanted to win, and with about 400 metres to go in blistering heat, collapsed and lost the spot. Stress fractures suffered during training, meanwhile, halted her charge for the 2012 Games in London.

"It's been a very achievable goal for me each time around but the timing for me just hasn't been right," she said. "I'm taking a bit of a different approach and being more careful.

"Through all the disappointments, I have realized that it's not the be-all, end-all and I'll still be the same athlete whether it happens or not. But I'll give it my best shot if it does."

Sweetland feels she would be set up to do well on the Rio course, as with the ocean swim, the climbs on the bike and the relatively flat course, it's pretty much how she'd draw it up herself.

"The course this time around in Rio is my ideal Olympic course," she said. "I really like technical courses."

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