Subaru Western Triathlon Series a launching point

Triathlete Brent McMahon on pace for 2012 Olympic Games

Triathletes Brent McMahon and Janet Nielsen are regulars on the Subaru Western Triathlon Series. The series kicks off at Shawningan Lake on May 27 and returns to Elk Lake on June 17.

Triathletes Brent McMahon and Janet Nielsen are regulars on the Subaru Western Triathlon Series. The series kicks off at Shawningan Lake on May 27 and returns to Elk Lake on June 17.

With the refurbished trestle of Shawnigan Lake and the added excitement of an Olympic year, there’s no turning back for athletes of the Subaru Western Triathlon Series.

Athletes and organizers alike gathered at Tuesday’s (May 8) kickoff event for the 2012 series of half-Ironman, Olympic and sprint distances at Saunders Subaru in Colwood.

It all starts at Shawnigan Lake on May 27, where athletes will cross the wooden trestle for the first time since the race was launched six years ago.

“We’ve always had to turn around so it’ll be nice to finally cross it,” said Janet Nielsen, who finished second among women at the Shawnigan half-Ironman last year.

Nielsen is returning from a long offseason of rehabilitation and likely won’t hit full stride until later in this year’s series, which continues June 17 at Elk Lake, July 8 in Vancouver, Aug. 12 in Sooke and Sept. 8 in Banff.

“It might take a couple of practice races to get back to full, but I plan to hit all five races,” Nielsen said.

Having premier race events in his own backyard of Victoria has been key for Brent McMahon’s development. McMahon is in San Diego this weekend and Spain later this month for the final two Olympic triathlon qualifiers. He’ll return to Victoria for June and will race at the Elk Lake event, though likely only in a training capacity.

Last year McMahon won the Olympic distance event at Sooke and used it as a sprin board to win his first World Cup event the following week in Hungary. He followed that with a ninth place finish on the World Triathlon Series, all part of the 32-year-old’s best season yet.

“The beauty, it’s as if the (Shawnigan, Sooke and Elk Lake) races are just another training session in terms of convenience and travel. But it’s the real thing.”

And it’s the real thing for the non-elites, the thousands of race entrants who train all year for the big day and who keep the series going.

“There’s no other sport where athletes of all levels toe the (starting) line together,” said series organizer Lance Watson, who doubles as McMahon’s coach. “Olympians and top Ironman athletes mingle with everyone in our events, at least until the race gets going. It’s like skating around with hockey players before an NHL playoff game.”

Watson and Paul Regensburg, of Lifesport Coaching, have estimated the triathlon series’ economic impact at $35 million since it started. The races draw athletes from around the world and the Sooke event is broadcast annually on TSN.