Elf keeps Guelph Lake Olympic triathlon title

Elf keeps Guelph Lake Olympic triathlon title

GUELPH – The wait turned out to be well worth it for Jessey The Elf.

Waterdown’s Elf defended his Olympic triathlon title at Subaru Triathlon Series’ Guelph Lake One meet Saturday in and around the Guelph Lake Conservation Area.

“I first won the Olympic triathlon here in 2019 after racing it for nine years,” Elf said just before the awards ceremony. “I finally won it for the first time in 2019 and I was excited to come back and defend in 2020, but of course that was cancelled. 2021 was cancelled. I’ve technically defended since 2019 and I was very excited to win today.”

Elf finished the race in 1:51:21 to finish 36 seconds up on runner-up Patrick Smith of Ottawa while Len Gushe of Mattawa, a multiple former winner at Guelph Lake, was third in 1:52:56.

“I had to wait three years to do it, but it was really good to be back,” Elf said. “It’s kind of a hometown race. I grew up in Brantford and this race is just down the road. I went to school at the University of Guelph, swam varsity for four years. I just love Guelph and the local crowds came out. It was really good to see a lot of familiar faces and a lot of new faces, too. There were a lot of new athletes today so that was really cool. Good to be back in the Royal City.”

While Elf won in 2019 in 2:00:02.2, but comparing times wasn’t valid as Saturday’s swim was half the distance than usual as event organizers cut out the second lap of the swim course due to safety concerns. A strong wind made Guelph Lake choppy and also stirred up the current. While the competitors who are strong in swimming, like Elf who was a member of the University of Guelph varsity swim team for four seasons when he was known as Ben Sayles, were disappointed at the shortened swim, but understood the reason.

“As Canada’s fastest lifeguard, I’ve been a 21-time national lifesaving champion and I’ve swam in Australia and I’ve been in big surf,” Elf said. “When they said the chop, I looked at it. The wind was so strong there were kind of little whitecaps. Not like wavy, it was just choppy and a strong current with the wind.

“It was kind of disappointing because I am a swimmer and I like the longer swim to make a little gap on some of these faster cyclists and runners, but it was understandable. I actually know some of the lifeguards here and they were out in the kayaks and it was difficult to move around. So it was a really good decision and early enough to prepare us by the race, so I’m glad they did that. Yes, some of us swimmers were disappointed, but in everyone’s safety — and you want everyone to enjoy themselves and not be worried about the second loop of the swim — it was really good they shortened the swim. It happens here and there. We have to brace for everything in a race and it was handled really well by the Subaru and Trisport team.”

The competitors also got to avoid a couple of turns and a few speed bumps that were on the usual bike course. However, a change was brought on by the paving of Watson Road within the conservation area that allowed the cyclists a straight path out of the area instead of the previous course that took them out the main entrance on Conservation Drive.

And the cycling was an experience for the competitors.

“It was a headwind all the way to Fergus, then turn around and it was flying (back to the conservation area),” Elf said. “We were reaching almost 80 kilometres an hour on (Watson) Road, which was really fun. Straight lines, it was pretty safe, but head down and the wind’s pushing you.”

Elf was second in the sprint triathlon in 2019, but chose not to do the double this year as he decided to spend Father’s Day Sunday with his father in the Peterborough area.

“Usually I race the double here,” he said. “I haven’t seen my dad a lot during the pandemic so we’re going to be going up there just to enjoy Father’s Day.”

The pandemic also brought a change in the training routines for the triathletes.

“During the pandemic, I trained a lot, but I’m very race motivated,” Elf said. “I love to race, obviously, almost every weekend. I use races as speed work and kind of recover through the week. It really changed it up and without having a really big goal race to focus on. It’s not that the motivation wasn’t there, it wasn’t at the level that it usually is. I was still training, but not to a really high level.

“I was actually enjoying it. I set distance records for myself. I’ve never biked that much before. I’ve been running a lot more so I’ve actually been enjoying training which was a nice change. Usually, you enjoy it, but it’s hard. You focus on a race and there’s usually a lot going on so it was kind of nice just to stay healthy and fit and do what we could during the pandemic.”

It also meant finding places to swim with the pools on lockdown.

“The pools were closed so I was just teaching backyard swim lessons and teaching kids how to swim, which I love to do. I’ve been doing that for a long time,” said Elf, who is a full-time lifeguard. “The pools were closed so there was a lot of open-water training, which was also different. About 80 percent of my training is usually in a pool and then I just do a little open water, but it was all open water because all the pools were closed.”

And training during the pandemic might have been a lonely time, too.

“There was a lot of solo training because no one really wanted to get together,” he said.

Jessica Kuepfer of Waterloo was the first female finisher in Saturday’s Olympic triathlon. She was ninth overall in 2:04:48 while Allison Jacob of Kitchener was second in 2:08.40 and Hannah Fraser of Owen Sound was third in 2:10:53. The race had 273 finishers.

Shawn Kimmel of Cambridge led the 37 finishers in the Olympic duathlon with a time of 2:07:24. That was nine seconds faster than Guelph’s Isaac Veldhuis of Guelph and 59 seconds faster than third-place Mariusz Rozanski, also of Guelph.

Top female finisher in 10th overall was Anna Keller of London in 2:18:04. Angela Hofstra of Guelph was second in 2:23:22 and Eva Breault of LaSalle was third in 2:30:24. Breault would return Sunday to also finish third in the sprint duathlon.

Kris Zelinsky of Hamilton topped the nine finishers in the Olympic swim/bike in 1:22:23 while Jovan Dhanju of Mississauga was second in 1:30:28. Carleigh Johnston of Guelph was top female finisher in 1:33:43 while Andria Brickman of Stratford was second in 2:17:58.

Jordan Huddleston took the Try-A-Tri in 35:30 while Jacob Jansen of London was second in 36:44 and Declan Adams of Oakville was third in 37:18. Sayaka Tiessen of Kitchener placed sixth overall in 40:39 to be top female finisher. Estrella Garcia of Wheatley was second in 45:07 and Janelle Capell of Mount Forest was third in 45:57. The race had 131 finishers.


  • Guelph Sports Journal