Home > News

Making the call – how the results from Yokohama will frame the American Olympic Games selection decision

With five women after two spots for the American triathlon team, selectors are in for a tough time

Photo by: World Triathlon

When it comes to making it to the Olympics as a women, it’s best not to be born in the United States or Great Britain. Both countries are jam-packed with talent, with a number of women capable of making almost any other country’s team. The end result can either be seen as a blessing or a nightmare for team officials. The up side is you’re sure to field a competitive team. The down side is making the decision as to who should go and who won’t is, well, let’s just call it difficult.

Last weekend the World Triathlon Championship Series race in Yokohama offered the last automatic qualifying slot for the American team. The first two opportunities to nail an automatic qualifying position for the American team were at last year’s Paris Test Event (Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson nailed their Olympic berths there) and at the Series Championship in Spain (no Americans qualified there). Yokohama offered the third and final opportunity for an automatic spot for the American team – a podium finish would guarantee you a trip to Paris this summer.

The American team is so competitive that one of the contenders for the Olympic team, double medalist from Tokyo Katie Zaferes, wasn’t  even able to get on the start list for the Yokohama race as there is a limit of five per country.

USA Triathlon Olympic team drama continues with WTCS Cagliari substitution


While Zaferes wasn’t in the Yokohama race, the USA selectors hedged their bets and added her to the finally WTCS race before the qualification period ends in Cagliari – they switched Gwen Jorgensen (pictured above at the race in Yokohama) out of the Cagliari field for Zaferes, no doubt to have the chance to see how the bronze (individual) and silver (mixed relay) medalist from Tokyo would fare against the top competition.

The lead swim group at WTCS Yokohama – making that pack is critical if you want to contend for the medals Photo: World Triathlon

WTCS vs World Cup

It’s that “top competition” factor that has been critical. Both Jorgensen and Zaferes are returning to top form after time off from the sport. Jorgensen, of course, turned to running after winning the triathlon gold medal in Rio. She also had two children during that five-year break from multisport racing. Zaferes also had a child two years ago.

Over the last year Jorgensen has been awesome at World Cup races, racking up a steady stream of wins. She’s struggled, though, at WTCS events. That’s likely because the depth of competition at those events is just so much stronger. Jorgensen hasn’t been able to finish the swim at any of the WTCS events with the lead pack, and she’s found herself well back after the bike. Once again, that’s likely because there are just so many strong cyclists at the WTCS events, so breakaway groups are much more likely to stick. While Jorgensen remains an incredible runner, Yokohama was the perfect example of why she’s struggled. She came off the bike over two minutes behind. She managed to run herself to 15th. That was well ahead of many women who will be in Paris representing other countries, but when you’ve got countrywomen who finished second (Taylor Knibb), fourth (Taylor Spivey) and fifth (Kirsten Kasper), that’s just not going to cut it for the selection committee, one would imagine.

Taylor Spivey finished fourth, just one spot away from an automatic qualification. Photo: World Triathlon/ Tommy Zaferes

Both Spivey and Kasper put themselves in a position to go after that podium finish and automatic qualifying spot. Both are regularly lead pack swimmer/ bikers. Spivey is currently the highest ranked American in the World Triathlon standings, showing her consistency. The selection committee chose Zaferes over Spivey in 2021 for Tokyo, and were proved prescient when she came through with those two medal performances. One would imagine that there will be a strong desire to give Spivey her Olympic chance this year. Kasper’s impressive performance in Yokohama makes her the logical third choice for the team.

Zaferes, fresh off a bronze medal at the Supertri world championships, appears to be ready to compete at the front of the race in Cagliari. She’ll have to – the only way she makes a second Olympic team is with a big day and a finish well ahead of Spivey and Kasper. Ditto for the other woman in the American qualifying mix, Summer Rappaport.

US vs GBR approach

When it comes to Olympic qualifying, traditionally the USA has liked to leave qualifying up to a performance on one day. That’s not just in triathlon – the American Olympic Trials for track and field have long been one of the most competitive meets of the year. The American approach is typically reluctant to have committees pick the Olympic team.

Great Britain, on the other hand, is more likely to put the decision into the hands of the coaches. That has served them well in years past – having an athlete in the mix ready to support the Brownlees through the swim and bike was helpful in 2012 and 2016. The British team has designated the race in Cagliari as critical for its team selection. Beth Potter has been preselected to the team, but there’s lots of competition for the remaining two spots on that team – we’ll preview all that next week as we get closer to the Cagliari event.


The race in Cagliari will be extremely important for the women trying to get selected to the American team. A huge day for any of them – read, a podium finish – is likely to put them in a great position to make the team. That’s especially true since the two women expected to arrive in Paris as the favourites, Beth Potter and Cassandre Beaugrand, will be in the Cagliari race. That’s why Jorgensen really needed to shine in Yokohama, her last chance to impress the selection committee at a WTCS race.

So, did Yokohama make things easier for the committee? For sure – if Spivey and Kasper repeat as the second and third Americans in Cagliari, it’s hard to imagine they won’t be selected. If Zaferes and/ or Rappaport are in the mix at the front, though, things won’t be nearly as easy for the selectors.