When all was done and dusted, Mario Mola of Spain won a very predictable 4th WTS win in a row at Edmonton. But midway through the 5 kilometer run leg, Jacob Birtwhistle of Australia really shook things up.
For the first 1.66 kilometer run lap, 2016 WTS World Champion Mola, 2-time ITU World champion Jonathan Brownlee of Great Britain, Richard Murray of South Africa and 5-time ITU World Champion Javier Gomez of Spain broke away to a four-man lead pack 25 meters ahead of a chase group including Birtwhistle. Approaching halfway through the second of three laps of the run, Gomez started to fade a few meters and Mola edged a few meters in front of Brownlee and Murray.
Suddenly, Birtwhistle, a tall, up-and-coming super-runner who took 2nd at the WTS Hamburg two weeks ago, took off like a rocket. He passed a fading Gomez just as Mola surged ahead of Brownlee and Murray. Birtwhistle did not stop there as he slashed his way past Brownlee and Murray as if they were standing still. Shocking ITU online commentator Barrie Shepley, Birtwhistle continued his charge and passed the accelerating Mola the fastest man in the sport.
Birtwhistle must have miscounted, exclaimed Shepley. Shepley said Birtwhistle must think this is the last lap and he still has a lap and a half to run.
Running as if possessed, Birtwhistle continued his adrenaline-fueled move and opened a 20-meter gap on the Spaniard.
If there was any question whether Birtwhistle miscounted, the Australian answered when he ran into the usual final lap lane straight to the finish line then hurdled over the concrete barrier back into the proper lane for runners still approaching the final lap.
Cool as a cucumber, Mola continued on his steady state race pace and passed Birtwhistle on the final lap. Birtwhistle attempted to regain equilibrium as Murray came up hard. If history would script it, Birtwhistle very likely shot his bolt and Murray would roll on by for the silver.
Not so fast.
Birtwhistle gathered himself and held off Murray all the way to the line for his second straight silver medal performance at a WTS race.
Mola finished off the tough Edmonton run course it included a gradual but grinding hill which rewarded strength runners in a race-best 14:36 split which brought him to the line in 54:51 which gave him a 10 seconds margin of victory over Birtwhistle (14:45 run) and 15 seconds over Murray (14:50 run).
I saw Jake moving on the second lap and I thought it was the end of the world, but I could get back to win, Mola told ITU media.
I got to the front a bit too early, and suffered for another whole lap, I guess that it was a bit too much, said Birtwhistle. I gave anything I could at the end and managed to keep the second place
After a 14:59 run, Brownlee took 4th place, 9 seconds behind Murray and 4 seconds ahead of 5th place Raphael Montoya of France. Gomez took 6th in 15:08.
After his win, Mola stood atop the WTS points chase with 3,664 points, followed by Fernando Alarza of Spain (3,172), Gomez (2,990), Murray (2,512), Birtwhistle (2,132) and Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway (2,120 points).
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
July 29, 2017
S 750m / B 21k / R 5k
1. Mario Mola (ESP) 54:51
2. Jacob Birtwhistle (AUS) 55:01
3. Richard Murray (RSA) 55:06
4. Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) 55:14
5. Raphael Montoya (FRA) 55:19
6. Javier Gomez (ESP) 55:24
7. Pierre Le Corre (FRA) 55:28
8. Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) 55:31
9. Fernando Alarza (ESP) 55:36
10. Grant Sheldon (GBR) 55:39