Gwen Jorgensen was undoubtably the favourite heading into this morning’s triathlon in Rio, but the American superstar further solidified her dominance in ITU triathlon by winning Olympic gold in a gruelling race and epic battle with defending Olympic champion, Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig. Though challenged by the Swiss athlete from the start, Jorgensen left no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is best of the best in short course triathlon right now, staying up front for the entire race but racing smart and then giving the final few kilometres of the run her signature kick to cross the finish line in dominant fashion with a 40 second margin. Spirig hung on for silver and Britain’s Vicky Holland took bronze.
How it played out
The women were forced to deal with a little more turbulence in the water than the men had on Thursday, but that didn’t stop any of the predicted leaders from delivering great swims in this morning’s race. Spain’s Carolina Routier led the entire swim but was closely followed by a number of athletes such as Australia’s Emma Moffatt, Andrea Hewitt and Americans Katie Zaferes, Sarah True and Jorgensen herself. We didn’t really see full-formed a lead pack emerge in the swim, but rather a massive pack with a few stragglers, making buoy rounds rougher and more challenging than the women would have liked.
Heading out of T1, a lead pack of about 20 athletes formed to take on the early laps of the eight-lap bike course together. Among them were Spirig, medal-favourite Flora Duffy, all three American women (Jorgensen, Sarah True, Katie Zaferes), Great Britain’s Non Stanford and Vicky Holland, Chile’s Barbara Riveros (who had the fastest bike split in the Rio test event), Australia’s Erin Densham and Emma Moffatt and Canada’s Amelie Kretz, who exited the water 17th overall.
The early fast pace set by Spirig and Duffy proved too much for some athletes, and eventually the lead pack shrunk down to 18 women and True and Kretz dropping off the back. They joined the large chase pack which included Canadians Kirsten Sweetland and Sarah-Anne Brault, but True suffered a crash that caused an injury and took her out of the race when she was lapped mid-course.
Duffy seemed happy to lead for the first half of the course, but eventually Spirig took over, making unsuccessful attempts to attack on the notorious hill each lap and failing to hand off the lead to athletes like Jorgensen and Stanford, who happily hung back to save their energy for the run.
While many wondered if Spirig’s pace as she led the majority of the bike course would leave her too taxed for a solid run, the defending Olympic champ proved she was capable and hungry for gold. Early into the run, she and Jorgensen took off leaving Britain’s Stanford and Holland alongside Barbara Riveros in a chase pack that couldn’t maintain their incredible pace.
Spirig and Jorgensen hung together long enough to leave spectators wondering when one of them would make a move. They appeared to exchange some words out on the run course and for a while it seemed like they were playing mind games with each other, slowing down and dodging as if to psych the other out. With just a few kilometres to go, Jorgensen kicked it into high gear leaving the Swiss athlete in her wake. She charged towards the finish line and burst into tears of joy as she held up the banner, thrilled to have earned the win after four years of working solely for that purpose. Spirig took silver and Vicky Holland pulled away from her countrywoman Stanford just at the last minute to take bronze.
Canadians Amelie Kretz, Kirsten Sweetland and Sarah-Anne Brault finished 34th, 41st and 42nd respectively.