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Gold: Gwen Jorgensen, United States
Silver: Nicola Spirig, Switzerland
Bronze: Vicky Holland, Great Britain
Every day, triathlete Gwen Jorgensen likes to write down three things she did well and three things she could improve upon concerning her chosen sport. On Saturday morning, the American swam well, biked well and ran well. And she also finished well, earning gold by crossing the finish line in 1:56:16.
The triathlon exemplifies the concept of an “endurance race”. It kicks off with a 1.5km swim (approximately .93 of a mile), followed by 40km of biking (approximately 24.8 miles), and ending with a 10km run (approximately 6.2 miles). Additionally, the transition periods factor into the overall race time. Athletes must train to mount their bikes and slip into their shoes as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The Rio Olympic course has been described as “highly technical”, with an open water swim giving way to a windy, hilly road.
Almost immediately after the PA announced “On your marks”, the horn blared and 55 athletes dove into the ocean. The triathletes quickly split into two packs, though within minutes there was a clear succession starting with Spanish leader Carolina Routier. At the 11 minute mark, the United States’ Katie Zaferes was in second.
Routier, who made her Olympic debut in Rio, was the first to hit the beach in 19:01. Zaferes was right on her heels, landing at 19:03. The biggest margin in the swim leg was about two minutes; by the end of that portion, one triathlete had withdrawn.
The racers completed the transition onto the bikes just before the 20 minute mark. Within just a minute, South Africa’s Mari Rabie took the lead. But about a half hour into the competition, a number of triathletes remained neck-and-neck. Bermuda’s Flora Duffy was literally seconds ahead of her nearest competitors, while American favorites Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah True crept toward the front.
As the race approached the 40 minute mark, Jorgensen briefly took the lead. Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig – the London 2012 gold medalist – then passed her, with Jorgensen steady in second. Despite the tough climbs and curvy roads, the athletes kept in a consistent formation.
At around the 47 minute mark and well into the bike leg, Sarah True crashed. Lying on the road, she rubbed a clearly injured leg. The American managed to get back on her bike for a short period, but had to stop again to address her pain. Eventually, she withdrew from the race.
True just missed out on a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics, finishing in fourth. Her placement was the highest for an American in either the men’s or women’s competitions at those Games.
Towards the hour mark, Spirig broke away from the pack and established a lead. Minutes later, Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz took the lead, while Jorgensen slipped to fifth place. But the sixth lap saw Jorgensen advance to the front.
By the end of the bike leg, it looked as though any of 18 triathletes could earn a medal. Sweden’s Lisa Norden finished the portion first in 1:21:28, a second ahead of Duffy, the Netherland’s Rachel Klamer and Riveros. Jorgensen, also just a second off of Norden, was in 12th place.
It didn’t take long for Jorgensen to spearhead the run. That segment is her specialty; the American has the fastest run split in women’s triathlon history.
An hour and a half into the race, Jorgensen was shoulder-to-shoulder with Spirig; they both completed the first lap in 1:30:02.
Spirig was just ahead of Jorgensen at the start of the second lap, and about 20 seconds ahead of British triathletes Vicky Holland and Non Stanford. The race continued with the two favorites literally inches from one another all the way through the 1:45 mark, at which point a brief, bizarre moment occured.
Spirig slowed down in attempt to force Jorgensen to exert more energy; Jorgensen reacted by slowing down and almost insisted Spirig stay in front. They both sped into the third lap at 1:47:50, with Jorgensen leading by less than a second.
Just before 1:51, Jorgensen blasted past Spirig by a wide margin. Moments later, the two were separated by close to 10 seconds.
The American held onto her pace and broke the finish line tape in 1:56:16. She began to weep as she held the banner over her head.
Spirig earned silver by with a 1:56:56 time. In a neck-and-neck for bronze, Holland bested her compatriot by seconds, completing the race in 1:57:01.