It seemed like the Olympic triathlon gods decided they wanted to hand out the gold medals in Tokyo to the a bunch of feel-good champions. The individual men’s and women’s events went to deserving champs – Kristian Blummenfelt, who has been the epitomy of a hard-working, go for broke no matter what the distance, racing for the last few years (he’s the fastest ever over the half-distance as well as Olympic champion), and Flora Duffy, who earned Bermuda’s first Olympic gold medal, overcoming some devastating injuries over the last few years to earn a thrilling gold.
Heading into the first mixed team relay at the Olympics, all eyes were on France, the three-time defending world champions in the event. And watching them win certainly would have seemed appropriate, but you couldn’t help but feel that it would be appropriate for Jonathan Brownlee to finally earn a gold medal to go along with the bronze he won in London and the silver he won in Rio – both behind his big brother Alistair.
And that’s how the day went, as Great Britain put together a near-perfect race to take the big win, followed by an inspired performance by the Americans and a jaw-dropping all-out effort by France to truly make the event an exciting one.
Learmonth leads the way
As pretty much everyone in the triathlon world anticipated, Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth led the way out of the water, but as she blasted out onto the run course America’s Katie Zaferes worked hard to bridge up, hauling Germany’s Laura Lindemann and the Netherlands’ Maya Kingma up to the front, too. Those four would work together well, opening up a gap of 26 seconds on France, Italy and Belgium by the end of their leg.
Canada’s Joanna Brown struggled out of the water and found herself in no-woman’s land on the bike, riding alone trying to get up to the chase group. She managed to gain enough ground to be just behind starting the run and got Canada to 14th, about a minute down, as she tagged off to Alexis Lepage.
While Learmonth’s leg was a huge step towards helping Great Britain to the gold, it was Brownlee who really made the day for the Brits. After powering through the bike, he pulled clear of Jonas Schomberg (GER), Marco van der Stel (NED) and Kevin McDowell (USA) to hand off to Georgia Taylor-Brown with a lead on American Taylor Knibb.
Lepage found himself in a tough spot, riding most of the race at the back of the pack, but kept the final chase group in sight, setting things up for Amelie Kretz to try and get Canada back into the hunt for a top-10 finish.
After starting the swim 30 seconds behind the leaders, France’s Cassandre Beaugrand swam her way to third and hitting T1 just a few seconds behind Knibb. That seemed to bode well for France getting back into the gold-medal hunt – if Beaugrand could stay on Knibb’s wheel, she might get towed back up near the front. That didn’t work out, though, as Knibb pulled away from the Frenchwoman, leaving her to wait for the rest of the chase group.
Knibb would use an amazing bike ride to get herself to within nine seconds starting the run, but her charge stalled a bit on the run, so Taylor-Brown handed off to Yee with a 21-second lead. American Morgan Pearson was 12 seconds up on Luis, as France hit the second transition in third.
Kretz did manage to move up a spot by the end of her leg, tagging off to Matt Sharpe in sight of a group that included New Zealand and Australia.
Luis makes it exciting
After blasting through the swim to catch up to American Pearson, France’s two-time world individual world champ and three-time mixed team relay world champion Vincent Luis blasted out onto the bike course, seemingly ready to work with the American to try and catch up to Yee. A few km into the 6.8 km ride, though, Luis made a cycling-type move, sprinting across the road and dropping the American as he set out to chase Yee. He caught the Brit by the end of the first lap of the bike, trying to surge by, but Yee was having none of it – he got on Luis’ wheel and stayed there through the end of the ride. A quick transition saw Yee hit the run course with a three-second lead, while Pearson dug deep and managed to stay close, starting the run nine seconds down.
All of his dramatic cycling moves seemed to finally catch up with Luis early in the run – Yee started to pull clear and Pearson saw his chance and blasted by the Frenchman before the end of the first lap. That’s how things stayed, as Yee kept up the pace and cruised across the line for the huge win, with Pearson bringing the US across the line in second 14 seconds later. France would round out the podium 23 seconds behind.
After a brilliant swim and bike that saw him move up to that chase group that included Australia, Spain, Hungary, New Zealand, Japan and Russia, Matt Sharpe wasn’t able to maintain his charge, but was able to bring the Canadian’s home in 15th.
You can find results from today’s race here.