World Triathlon Series: Stanford's new hope after leaving UK

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Former world champion triathlete Non Stanford reveals why she left her Leeds training base

When it's called The Brownlee Centre, you know it has triathlon pedigree.

The training facility in Leeds is the base for the Brownlee brothers - Alistair and Jonny - plus many of Britain's other top triathletes.

They included Non Stanford until she left late in 2018 to join an international training group instead.

The 2013 world champion says a focus on self-coaching was leading to too many injuries and feels that three months under new coach Joel Filliol has put her in her best shape for years as she prepares for the World Triathlon Series, which begins in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

"I've had a really tough couple of years post-Olympics," said Wales' Stanford, who finished fourth at Rio 2016, just metres behind housemate and team-mate Vicky Holland.

"I had a lot of niggles, injuries. I wasn't enjoying training as much and I certainly wasn't enjoying racing any more.

"I didn't want to walk away from the sport but I knew I had to change something."

'Zero regrets'

Non Stanford
Non Stanford finished fourth, three seconds behind housemate Vicky Holland, at the 2016 Rio Olympics

The 2018 World Triathlon Series saw four British women finish in the top seven, but Stanford wasn't one of them.

Despite a bronze medal in Yokohama, it had been another year of injury and illness. The 30-year-old finished just four World Series races and ended 15th in the rankings.

She was a long way from the form that had seen her win the overall world title in her debut senior season five years earlier.

The disappointment prompted a call to Filliol, a Canadian who was head coach of British Triathlon from 2008 to 2011 - but who now leads an international group of elite triathletes.

He ended 2018 with four men ranked in the world's top five - including champion Mario Mola - and said he was "humbled and privileged" to take on the former world champion.

But Stanford said it was not an easy decision to leave one of the main centres of British Triathlon less than two years away from the 2020 Olympics.

"It certainly was a bit of a risk," she said. "I'd been there eight years, bought my first home there and have so many friends there.

"But I felt if I had stayed, nothing would've changed.

"Although I was surrounded by a great team at British Triathlon, a lot of the time I was self-coaching, managing the programme on my own.

"Now I've got someone to help me with that, I'm confident we won't be dealing with as many injuries. I've been with Joel for three months now and I have zero regrets."

'Another crack at the Olympics'

Non Stanford and Joel Filliol
Stanford has teamed up with Canadian coach Joel Filliol

As she goes into the World Triathlon Series, Stanford hopes she might finally be able to challenge regularly for a podium spot again, saying she derives no satisfaction from "finishing 10th or 12th".

But she also has one eye on the Tokyo Olympics next year as the coming season offers two qualifying events - in May and August.

"I'd love to have another shot at that [Olympic] podium," she says.

"It took me a really long time to get over [coming fourth in 2016] and I would love to go back and have another crack at it.

"My relationship with British Triathlon is the same as ever. The head coach helped facilitate my move [here] and I'm still part of the British squad.

"A lot of female triathletes peak in their 30s. So hopefully I'm coming into my prime."

Filliol's group moves around for training: Fuerteventura over the winter, Majorca later in March.

Every week, his athletes do as many as 30 hours of training.

He has the coaching pedigree and Stanford has the talent. The results of this new partnership will become a little clearer in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

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