World Series in Leeds: Friends reunited in race to claim home win

Non Stanford in action in the ITU World Series in Leeds last year.
Non Stanford in action in the ITU World Series in Leeds last year.
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Non Stanford and the triathlon world descend on Leeds next month for a World Series event. Lee Sobot reports on a unique rivalry inspiring the athlete.

LEEDS-based triathletes Non Stanford and Vicky Holland were not exactly your average housemates in 2016.

Former housemates and current team-mates, Non Stanford and Vicky Holland (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Former housemates and current team-mates, Non Stanford and Vicky Holland (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

After all, one pipped the other to an Olympic bronze by two seconds as Holland climbed the Rio podium in third while Stanford looked on after being agonisingly denied in fourth.

Yet it was with a heavy heart that Holland moved out a few months later with the duo closer than ever ahead of next month’s ITU World Triathlon in Leeds as they live up to their motto of ‘friends come first.’

Stanford and Holland will form part of the GB women’s assault on the fourth leg of the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Series in Leeds next month as the event returns back to Yorkshire for the second time.

Swansea-born Stanford, who won the Series back in 2013 to be crowned world champion, has fond memories of the 2016 event in Leeds in which she overcame a disappointing swim to finish ninth, six places behind housemate Holland who took third.

I think that just shows that what happened, happened and I am absolutely delighted for her that she got her medal. I know how hard she worked and how much effort she put into it and she thoroughly deserved that.

Non Stanford

For both, the race was a prelude to the one that mattered most – the Rio Olympics final in August – in which Stanford was to finish one place and just two seconds behind her bronze-winning housemate.

A chance for revenge now offers itself in Leeds next month in which Stanford could turn the tables on her former housemate who has now moved to Bath with her boyfriend and trainer Rhys Davey.

Adopted northerner Stanford meanwhile, who is dating Australian triathlete Aaron Royle, has recently purchased her first home in Cookridge as the duo who fought desperately for a third-placed finish in Rio go their separate ways.

Yet Stanford says the unusual events of last August have actually brought them closer together as the pair look to ‘make the frame’ in the 2017 event in Leeds.

Great Britain's Non Stanford wins her first World Triathlon Series title in Madrid on Saturday June 1, 2013. (AP photo/ITU, Janos Scmidt)

Great Britain's Non Stanford wins her first World Triathlon Series title in Madrid on Saturday June 1, 2013. (AP photo/ITU, Janos Scmidt)

“Me and Vicky have always said and were determined to maintain that what happens at work stays at work,” Stanford told The Yorkshire Post.

“When we get home it’s forgotten about.

“Whatever has happened that day is forgotten and you sort of function as normal friends and normal house mates.

“I think if anything, what happened in Rio strengthened our friendship because there were so many people expecting it to cause tension that we didn’t want that to happen at all.

“Completely unrelated, but Vicky has actually moved to Bath now so we don’t live together any more.

“But when she left she gave me a framed photo of us at the finish line in Rio and it just said ‘friends first, always.’

“I think that just shows that what happened, happened and I am absolutely delighted for her that she got her medal.

“I know how hard she worked and how much effort she put into it and she thoroughly deserved that.

“It was just a bittersweet that I was the one that missed out. We’d have loved it if we had both been on the podium – that would have been the icing on the cake really. Maybe next time.”

Next time, ideally, would have to wait until 2020 when Stanford will be 31 and Holland will be 34 at the Tokyo Olympics.

Yet of more immediate concern is the opportunity to share the podium when competing in the Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon in Leeds on Sunday, June 11.

The event is back in Yorkshire after the success of last year’s imaugural event and carries huge importance for 2013 world champion Stanford, who returned from a recent lay-off through injury in leg three of the Series in Yokohoma by finishing seventh, after battling back from crashing her bike in treacherous conditions.

Stanford now has five more races plus the Grand Final in Rotterdam to ignite her 2017 charge and is looking for lift off at an event already close to her heart in Leeds.

“For us to have a World Series event in our home town is just incredible,” said Stanford.

“Last year’s event in Leeds was absolutely brilliant.

“I haven’t spoken to one athlete there that wasn’t blown away by the support that was out on the course and the number of people who came out and watched and supported the event.

“It’s absolutely blown every other World Series race out of the water – even Hamburg which is renowned for having massive crowds and for being one of the best events on the circuit.

“Plus it makes our life really easy as well – we haven’t got to travel somewhere else.

“We travel enough as it is so having one in your own back garden is pretty cool.”