Heart surgery gets Densham back into Olympic form

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BRISBANE, Australia (AP)

(Eds: Updates with details, quotes. With AP Photos.)By DENNIS PASSAAP Sports Writer

Just as the `Three Emmas' were about to be locked in as Australia's women's team for the Olympic triathlon in London, another `E' has entered the picture.

Erin Densham has won consecutive qualifying events - Saturday's opening World Championship Series race in Sydney and the Mooloolaba World Cup three weeks ago - to work her way into contention and put the place of 2008 Olympic gold medalist Emma Snowsill in jeopardy.

Densham's surgery comes two years after a career-saving operation that slowed down her accelerated heart rate. In 2009, she collapsed and was pulled from the water at a triathlon in Des Moines, Iowa.

The surgery in 2010 has started her on a comeback since she finished 22nd at the Beijing Games.

Densham is now the strong favorite to join Emma Moffatt, the Beijing bronze medalist who was preselected by Triathlon Australia two months ago, and rising star Emma Jackson in Australia's team for London.

Affected by a gastrointestinal virus since returning from her training base in South Africa a month ago, Snowsill needs some strong finishes after being forced to pull out of the Mooloolaba event and then finishing 14th in Sydney, one spot ahead of Moffatt.

Snowsill said she was pleased with her first race of the year and not concerned about having the chance to repeat as gold medalist in London.

''I've got to be happy with it,'' Snowsill said. ''Two weeks ago I couldn't get out of my bed after being sick with gastro, and I've come good in a short time.''

Densham knows the feeling.

''I've had the worst run ever the past four years,'' Densham said after her Sydney win. ''I've finally put together probably five months of consistent training, no injuries, no interruptions.''

The 26-year-old Densham surprised even herself when she powered down the oceanfront promenade at Mooloolaba on Queensland state's Sunshine Coast on March 25 with no one near her and the finish line in sight.

She wasn't expected to be at the front or even win, making her Sydney victory even sweeter.

''It's good I've done it again and hopefully I can put some of those doubters to rest,'' she said.

Not that anyone on the international circuit is doing her any favors, regardless of her past heart condition.

''I had a shocking start this morning,'' Densham said of the swim leg in Sydney. ''I got absolutely belted. It can be brutal out there. Those girls can be so angry. I just don't get it - we're all trying to get to one spot. I got pushed and pulled and hit and everything.''

As Densham and world champion Helen Jenkins of Britain fought for the lead in the final run leg, the Australian took the lead coming into the final lap at Sydney's Hyde Park. Densham finished in 2 hours, 1 minute, 20 seconds, nine seconds ahead of Jenkins and 16 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand.

''Erin was in such good form on the run, she ran so fast in Mooloolaba and I was lucky and happy to keep with her right until the last two kilometers,'' Hewitt said.

Densham's next stop is San Diego for the second World Championship Series event from May 10-12.

She's not sure whether she'll be an official member of the Australian Olympic team by then. Triathlon Australia can wait until the end of May before announcing the team.

''We were told earlier in the year that they would make a decision straight after Sydney, but who knows what they will do?'' Densham said.

''I would say they will stretch it out now. Anyone on the Olympic start line can medal. So if I am on that start line then we'll see what will happen.''

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