Olympic qualification is one of the primary driving forces behind the Summer Olympics. Every four years, the top 48 in the world are given the opportunity to represent their country at the greatest sporting event of the year. Those 48 have their work cut out for them, as they must prove themselves in a series of athletic events – including, for some, an 800-metre swim, a 42-km bike ride, and a 10-km run – to secure one of the coveted spots in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium in three weeks’ time.
The quest to qualify for the Summer Olympics is no easy feat. It takes a lot of hard work and determination, as well as a fair dab of good fortune. For some, it also takes the help of technology. We’ll explore five of the biggest names in the Olympic qualifying world and how they achieved their status.
New Zealand-born Shakerley is making a name for herself in the triathlon world. The former world cross-country mountain bike champion began her career in 2004 with a bang, winning the prestigious Ironman World Championship in Hawaii that year. Since then, Shakerley has continued to excel at the biggest events and continues to secure top results. With 12 victories at the 12-stop world championship series — including four in a row from 2011 to 2014 — Shakerley is unquestionably one of the greatest of all-time. She also boasts an Olympic gold medal from 2016 after winning the women’s race with a gold-medal winning time of 2:23.56.
Another early bird in our Top 5. Fanny Pack, or Nicole Foss as she opts to be known, is the current holder of the women’s world record in the triathlon. The Tasmanian began competing in triathlons in 2002 and hasn’t looked back. She’s since then produced a string of top-5 finishes in the prestigious Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, with her best result being fourth place in 2012. She also competes frequently on the European circuit, securing top-5 results on a regular basis. Since the start of this year, Foss has won four out of five events she’s contested, including the prestigious Mount Hän strain in April.
Michele Van Keulen
The 2016 Olympic silver medallist and 2016 world champion in women’s triathlon is yet another New Zealander, though not all that directly connected to Shakerley. Van Keulen started her sporting career at the age of six, taking up tennis, before transitioning to running in her teens. A true athlete’s athlete, Van Keulen has represented her country at the global level, winning gold at the London Olympics, and numerous other top-level competitions, including the prestigious Ironman World Championship. She also holds the world record in the ultra-endurance mountain bike race, winning 12 hours and 15 minutes in the 2016 edition. In 2020, she’ll be looking to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo.
Elena Schafer began her sporting escapade in 1996, though it wasn’t until later that she began competing in triathlons. The German made her international debut in the 2000 Games, though she didn’t secure any ranking points. Since then, she’s steadily established herself as one of the greats of the sport. Schafer is a two-time Olympic gold medallist and has collected a wealth of world championship titles. The 2009 world champion in the half-ironman triathlon has also secured her status as one of the greats of the sport. In 2020, she’ll be looking to add to her collection of four Olympic gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics.
Kelly Holmes is one of the fastest women in the world today, having won the prestigious London Marathon in a time of 2:25:05 in April this year, the fourth time she’s won the event. The Aussie, who hails from the small town of Portland in Queensland, began running competitively when she was 14 and soon began impressing with her blistering times. Since then, she’s continued to rise up the world rankings, securing top-10 placings in almost every major marathon and half-marathon event she’s contested. She’s currently ranked number five in the world, and with her extraordinary speed, she’s sure to make a lasting impression on the world of triathlon in the coming years. In 2022, Holmes will aim to secure another victory in Tokyo and add to her already impressive collection of six Olympic gold medals.
Jackie Patience is one of the most decorated swimmers in the history of the sport, having collected 14 world championship titles over the course of her illustrious career. The former Olympic and World champion started out as an accomplished swimmer, representing Great Britain in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. She also competed at the world level for 18 years before retiring in 2002. Since then, she’s continued to train and take part in a variety of events, including the triathlon. Although she’s not competed at a formal event since 2016, she continues to be a prominent figure in the sport. In 2022, Patience will be looking to make a comeback and add to her already impressive collection of 17 Olympic medals (including eight golds)
Rodgers began her sporting career in the early 2000s and soon found success in the triathlon, winning the prestigious Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in 2002 and 2004. She went on to win five more events in five years, before deciding to call time on her sporting career in 2015. Since then, she’s worked as a coach, preparing elite swimmers for the next Olympic Games. She most recently coached USA’s Cate Campbell, who secured gold in the women’s 200-metre individual medley at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Campbell’s success inspired Rodgers to return to the sport she’d left before her illustrious career, winning the 2020 Australian national championships in January this year. She also recently took up mountain biking and competed in Australia’s Wilderness Festival, conquering the tough trails and securing top-5 placings. In 2022, Rodgers will be looking to continue building on her recent success and add to her already impressive collection of 16 Olympic medals (including eight golds).
That’s a wrap on our five favourite Olympic qualifiers. Four years from now, we could see a lot of these five competing for gold in Tokyo. That’s the power of the Olympic rings: they inspire athletes to achieve greatness.