After a spate of mental games in the final miles with reigning London Olympic Games champion and race protagonist Nicola Spirig, American favorite Gwen Jorgensen opened the throttle, strode away and locked in her place in American triathlon history in taking the country’s first Olympic gold medal, striding away from the Swiss Spirig on the last of four laps of the run to claim the gold medal in the women’s Olympic Triathlon, winning in 1 hour, 56 minutes, 16 seconds. Spirig held fast to claim silver 40 seconds later. In a battle for bronze, Great Britain’s Vicky Holland out-kicked countrymate Non Stanford in the finishing chute to take third.
“It is pretty crazy to show up on the day after four years and accomplish what I said I wanted to accomplish for four years,â€ Jorgensen said. “It is a huge sentiment to both my husband and my coach, they have invested way more in me than anyone will ever know. We work together, so this is as much their medal as it is mine. I have been saying this all year. I wanted to get to August 20th, I wanted to cross that line and get the gold medal, so it is pretty incredible that I was actually able to do it.â€
Under hazy but warm skies, the athletes dashed into the waters off Praia Copacabana. With Carolina Routier of Spain, Katie Zaferes and Moffat of Australia leading out the singular group through choppy seas, the pack stayed largely together throughout the 1.5k swim.
Through T1 and on the bike, the pace was quick early; Bermuda’s Flora Duffy and Spirig were able to ramp up the pace enough to gap off a chase group, making for what would become the 18-woman lead pack, a collection of athletes that included all podium finishers from London: gold medalist Spirig, Sweden’s silver medalist Lisa Norden and bronze medalist Erin Densham of Australia. As the bike wore on, the hot pace from the leaders would earn them over a three-minute gap on the chasers, which included medal hopefuls Ashleigh Gentle of Australia and Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins, sealing their fate.
The American contingent of Jorgensen, Katie Zaferes and Sarah True held fast to the back of the lead group in the first two laps, but the quick pace began to thin the herd with True and Canada’s Kirstin Sweetland were dropped off the group on lap 2. True’s. True’s fate was sealed when she crashed on lap 4. Remounting and forging on for a few laps, she was summarily lapped by the lead pack and pulled from the race.
Jorgensen, meanwhile, was having no problems, and let the group know she was up for the hilly bike course. After tacking onto the back of the lead group out of the water and parking near the rear of the group, she rolled to the front and took several turns pulling at the front.
As the final laps came, early pacesetter Duffy ceased her pursuit of a breakaway, leaving Spirig to push the pace. The Swisswoman, powering away alone at the front, looked back every so often along the flat beachfront section to see if someone would take a pull, with Great Britain’s Non Stanford and Jorgensen, knowing their race was on the run, stared blankly back at her, remaining locked onto the Swisswoman’s rear wheel.
Spirig led the group into run transition, but it was South African’s Mara Rabie who blasted out of transition first. Spirig, Jorgensen, Moffatt and Vicky Holland gave chase a few seconds back.
It only took less than 200 yards before the true 10k footrace would take form. Jorgensen quickly assumed the lead, with Spirig locked onto her shoulder. The British duo of Vicky Holland and Non Stanford chased gamely 20 seconds back, with Chile’s Barbara Riveros tucked behind the two Britons and Moffatt a few seconds further behind. After that, it was every woman for herself under flat, shadeless run along Copacabana Beach. Spain’s Ainhoa Murua, in her fourth Olympic Games, was forced to retire early in the run to the effects of a stress fracture in her foot that dogged her in her race lead-up.
Rather than blasting out to an unassailable lead, Jorgensen looked to be managing her pace in the Rio heat, either awaiting her moment to attack or keeping her heart rate in check under the South American heat. Midway through the race, Spirig again put herself into pacesetting position, swinging around the American to take the lead from the American.
Before the start of the final 2,500 meters of the race a mental game began as Spirig surged, sprinted across to the far side of the road… then let up as Jorgensen responded to the attack. With that, Spirig began engaging Jorgensen in some conversation in an effort to put the American on pacesetting duties. Not falling for it, Jorgensen cruised next to the defending Olympic champ. It looked like it could become another sprint finish as four years ago in at the London Games, with Spirig out-kicking Sweden’s Norden in a photo finish.
“I’ve been outrun in races,” Jorgensen said. “It’s an exciting race. Nicola and I were playing a bit of games, and neither of us wanted to lead in the headwind, so hopefully it made it exciting for the fans.”
Done with the mental games Spirig was attempting to employ and not interested in leaving things to a sprint, Jorgensen made her move; with two kilometers left, Jorgensen lifted her pace, exhibiting the long stride that has made her the pre-race favorite. In a matter of seconds, the gap was 12 seconds. Then 20 seconds. With 1000 meters to go, the race was done; Jorgensen glided onto the blue finishing carpet alone, covering her mouth to hide the emotions washing over her face. She crossed under the finish gantry in 1:56.16 to claim American’s first gold medal in triathlon in the sport’s sixth Olympic iteration.
Wearing a huge smile, Spirig finished 40 seconds behind to claim silver. The gap was the second-biggest win deficit in women’s Olympic history, behind Emma Snowsill’s 1:07 victory over Portugal’s Vanessa Fernandes in Bejing in 2008.
In the chase for third, Stanford began pushing the pace in an effort to shed her countrymate, but Holland was able to match the effort, then burst past Stanford in the final 50 yards, making amends for a bike crash that resulted in a 26th-place finish at the London Games four years ago to earn her first Olympic medal.
2016 Rio Olympic Games Womens Triathlon
Aug. 20, 2016, Rio de Janiero, Brazil
1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run
- Gwen Jorgensen (USA) 1:56:16
- Nicola Spirig (SUI) 1:56:56
- Vicky Holland (GBR) 1:57:01
- Non Stanford (GBR) 1:57:04
- Barbara Riveros (CHI) 1:57:29
- Emma Moffatt (AUS) 1:57:55
- Andrea Hewitt (NZL) 1:58:15
- Flora Duffy (BER) 1:58:25
- Claudia Rivas (MEX) 1:58:28
- Rachel Klamer (NED) 1:58:55
- Mari Rabie (RSA) 1:59:13
- Erin Densham (AUS) 1:59:27
- Nikki Samuels (NZL) 1:59:30
- Jolanda Annen (SUI) 1:59:42
- Yuka Sato (JPN) 2:00:01
- Lisa Norden (SWE) 2:00:03
- Charlotte Bonin (ITA) 2:00:48
- Katie Zaferes (USA) 2:00:55
- Helen Jenkins (GBR) 2:01:07
- Alexandra Razarenova (RUS) 2:01:09
26. Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) 2:01:44
34. Amelie Kretz (CAN) 2:02:48
41. Kirstin Sweetland (CAN) 2:04:1
42. Sarah Anne Brault (CAN) 2:04:28
DNF, Lap: Sarah True (USA)