On a hot, drama-filled day in the Olympic Triathlon preview course in Tokyo, two-time WTS World Champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda won in her comeback race after a year of injury rehabilitation. While the win was unexpected, the fans at the finish were even more shocked at the sequence preceding Duffy’s triumph. Approximately 30 seconds before Duffy showed up, teammates Jessica Learmonth and Georgia Taylor Brown of Great Britain joyfully joined hands while breaking the tape together in apparent victory.
Not so fast.
According to ITU competition Rule 2.11.f, “athletes who finish in a contrived tie situation, where no effort to separate their finish times has been made, will be disqualified.”
And so they were, cheers to tears, off the board.
Duffy, who made up her 12 seconds deficit after the swim with a second-best 1:01:47 bike split that gave her a solid place in the front pack, hung on for the win with a 17th-best 17:23 split for the 5k run, shortened-in-half due to High Heat Stress Indicator levels.
Even if the first two women had not been disqualified and she had finished 3rd, Duffy had to be exhilarated with a podium finish after a grueling and disheartening year of injury recovery.
“There was a lot of cobwebs to blow away and it was hard from the start,” Duffy told ITU media. “I haven’t done this intensity in over a year and there were times that I didn’t think I’d be back at the pointsy end of a race so this is best case scenario. I loved the course, it was great to be back out with the girls again. I love racing hot and humid conditions and the whole point was to come here and check out the conditions."
While Learmonth and Taylor Brown crossed the line in 1:40:08, Duffy’s 1:40:18 was the time that counted which gave the Bermudian a 35 seconds margin of victory over Alice Betto of Italy, who qualified for the Italian Olympic team with her silver medal finish, and 52 seconds over 3rd place finisher Vicky Holland of Great Britain.
Due to the format changes, the British national federation would not be giving automatic selection for athletes who made the podium.
Holland emerged out of the 1.5-kilometer swim 30 seconds back from the swim leader, compatriot Jessica Learmonth who pushed the pace of the 40-kilometer bike out front with fellow Brit Georgia Taylor Brown and a good group of strong riders. Despite working hard in the chase pack, Holland hopped off the bike 90 seconds down -- and with only five kilometers to run she ran out of road to pick off the athletes ahead of her, finishing in fifth place.
However, Holland moved up into third when race leaders Learmonth and Taylor Brown were disqualified.
Holland said post-race, "I really feel for Jess and Georgia because they raced exceptionally well today and I feel like they absolutely smashed it and deserved the first and second finish." She added.“Had we had the full Olympic distance I think I might have been able to pick off one or two more places. That’s what we’ve been training for. I’ve been working hard on my heat adaptation, I’ve done a lot of sessions in the heat chamber, I felt ready to come here in these kinds of conditions and perform, so I was pretty disappointed I didn’t get a chance to do that today and to show my strength in the back end of the run.”
Vittoria Lopes of Brazil took 4th place, 1:02 behind the winner and Summer Rappaport of the U.S. took the U.S. team’s first Olympic slot with a 5th place finish, 1:06 behind the winner.
Rappaport used a strong 16:36 run to move into the top eight to earn a U.S. auto-selection spot to the Tokyo 2020 Games. Rappaport, 28, has had a strong season on the ITU World Triathlon Series. She returned to the WTS podium for the first time since 2016 , earning two silver medals and a bronze in the series to date.
“I feel amazing," Rappaport told USA Triathlon media. " I don’t think it sunk in at all until my coach told me that I was going to the Olympics. I came very close to leaving the sport last year. I wasn’t racing well — I think there were a few races where I was second- or third-to-last. I just have a lot of pride in really turning things around for myself and staying mentally tough and not giving up when it got difficult, because I really wanted to."
Rappaport was discouraged after losing the front pack near the end of the bike leg. "I didn’t really think I had a chance to qualify at the end of the bike after I fell out of the front pack, and then I realized that there really weren’t that many people in the front pack,” she told USA Triathlon media. “I just kept trying to run up and move up and do everything I could to close the gap. But I still wasn’t sure I could get it done, so I’m just so amazed that I was able to find that last gear in order to get the job done today.”
Laura Lindemann of Germany also made her country's Olympic triathlon team by virtue of her 6th place finish, as did Lisa Perterer of Austria with her 21st place performance.
Pre-race favorite Katie Zaferes of the U.S., who has a big points lead in the 2019 WTS series, was closing in on the front runners when she crashed in the third of eight laps on the 40-kilometer bike leg and could not continue. Zaferes reportedly suffered a broken nose and was treated with 23 stitches. Kirsten Kasper of the U.S. also crashed on the bike leg but managed to pick up and finish 14th. Taylor Spivey of the U.S., ranked 4th in the season points standings, faded to 8th place with an off-form 18:40 run split.
ITU Olympic Preview Triathlon
Odaiba Marin Park
August 15, 2019
S 1.5 k / B 40k / R 5k
1. Flora Duffy (BER) 1:40:19 S 19:48 T1 00:48 B 1:01:47 T2 00:33 R 17:23
2. Alice Betto (ITA) 1:40:54 S 19:45 T1 00:48 B 1:01:50 T2 00:37 R 17:54
3. Vicky Holland (GBR) 1:41:11 S 19:58 T1 00:51 B 1:03:20 T2 00:32 R 16:30
4. Vittoria Lopes (BRA) 1:41:21 S 19:40 T1 00:49 B 1:01:55 T2 00:35 R 18:22
5. Summer Rappaport (USA)1:41:25 S 19:36 T1 00:48 B 1:03:51 T2 00:34 R 16:36
6. Laura Lindemann (GER) 1:41:27 S 20:07 T1 00:48 B `1:03:15 T1 00:35 R 16:42
7. Non Stanford (GBR) 1:41:32 S 20:04 T1 00:49 B 1:01:17 T2 00:34 R 16:48
8. Taylor Spivey (USA) 1:41:38 S 19:50 T1 00:48 B 1:01:45 T2 00:35 R 18:40
9. Sophie Coldwell (GBR) 1:41:59 S 20:14 T1 00:45 B 1:03:12 T2 00:35 R 17:13
10. Annamaria Mazzetti (ITA) 1:42:04 S 20:04 T1 00:47 B 1:03:21 T2 00:35 R 17:17
14. Kirsten Kasper (USA) 1:42:40 S 19:52 T1 00:47 B 1:03:40 T2 00:34 R 17:57
16. Taylor Knibb (USA) 1:43:07 S 20:13 T1 00:49 B 1:03:11 T2 00:39 R 18:15
DNF Katie Zaferes (USA) S 19:38 T1 00:45 * crash on bike
DSQ Jessica Learmonth (GBR) DQ S 19:26 T1 00:49 B 1:02:08 T2 00:33 R 17:12
DSQ Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR) DQ S 19:43 T1 00:49 B 1:01:50 T2 00:35 R 17:11