After a surprising resistance for three laps of the run from defending gold medalist Nicola Spirig of Switzerland, Gwen Jorgensen left all doubts behind with a killer kick on the final lap to take gold by a 40-second margin at the Rio Olympics. This was the second largest Olympic Triathlon margin of victory, behind only Emma Snowsill’s 67-second margin over Vanessa Fernandes in Beijing.
Jorgensen put the race away with a race-best 34:09 run which brought her to the finish in 1:56:16, a 40-second margin over Spirig (2nd-best 34:50 run) and 45 seconds on 3rd-place Vicky Holland of Great Britain (34:54 run).
With her victory, Jorgensen was the first winner of the Olympic test event to back it up with a gold medal in the Olympic final. And proudly, Jorgensen won the first Olympic Triathlon medal for a U.S. competitor since Susan Williams won bronze in 2004.
Spirig surrendered the gold but finished strong for the silver, 5 seconds ahead of a battle for the bronze. Spirig became the first woman to earn multiple medals in triathlon. Switzerland has taken a medal in 4 of the 5 Olympic Triathlons, missing only Beijing.
In a dramatic duel between Great Britain teammates, friends and roommates, Vicky Holland took the bronze over 2013 ITU World Champion Non Stanford by 3 seconds.
Barbara Riveros of Chile took 5th, 1:13 behind the winner, and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Emma Moffatt of Australia was 6th, :26 back of Riveros.
Fellow Americans were not so fortunate. Katie Zaferes took 18th and Sarah True was knocked out of the race after a crash on the bike that injured her leg.
After the first beach start in Olympics triathlon, Carolina Routier (ESP) led the swim in 19:01, followed closely by Pamella Oliveira (BRA), Andrea Hewitt (NZL) and Katie Zaferes (USA). Pre-race favorite for a potential swim-bike breakaway Flora Duffy was 11th, True 13th, Zaferes 14th while Jorgensen was 24th, but just 11 seconds down. Other top contenders also made the first pack including Non Stanford (GBR), Helen Jenkins (GBR), Nicola Spirig (SUI), Erin Densham (AUS), Lisa Norden (SWE), Barbara Riveros (CHL) and Rachel Klamer (NED).
On the first lap, Stanford broke to the lead, followed soon by Holland, Spirig, and Duffy as they charged up the big 61-meter hill hoping to make a gap. But a pack of 20 refused to be gapped. Crucially, Jorgensen quickly bridged her way to the middle of the pack and close contact with the leaders. By lap 2, the front pack slimmed down to 18 including all the heavy hitters except Jenkins. The pack included all four previous Olympic medalists – Spirig, Norden, Densham and Moffatt, plus reigning World Champ Jorgensen, 2013 World Champ Non Stanford, 2014 Commonwealth Games medalist Holland, plus Zaferes, Klamer, Riveros and Hewitt.
After the second lap, True led the chase pack 25 seconds down. But shortly thereafter, she crashed and spent a minute clutching her leg. True attempted to get going again, but the pain was too much and the day was done for the 2012 Olympic 4th place finisher and 4th place finisher at the 2015 Rio test event.
Throughout the rest of the 8-lap bike leg, Spirig, Duffy, and Stanford made several brief attempts to escape, but each time they failed. The best attempt was made by Spirig, who earned a 30-meter gap on Lap-5 before the pack swallowed her back up. Just to make sure she would not have to unleash a big come-from-behind run, Jorgensen stuck like glue behind Spirig and even took a turn at the front.
Mari Rabie made a kamikaze surge to lead the field out of T2, but within few hundred meters Jorgensen and Spirig took control, followed 10 meters back by Stanford and Holland. A few meters further in arrears were Riveros and Moffatt.
While Spirig’s pre-race game plan was to create a break that would leave Jorgensen with a minute to make up, the Swiss 2012 Olympic champion quickly adjusted, sticking claustrophobically close to the U.S. star.
“There was some mental games, because I know she is a remarkable runner so I had to try everything to get her off of the rhythm somehow,” Spirig said.
Coming to the end of the 3rd run lap (7.5 k) Spirig and Jorgensen got caught up in inadvertent jostling and engaged in some mind games that resembled a test of nerves between two cyclists in a velodrome match sprint. On the flat straightaway along Copacabana Beach, Spirig took the lead, then took a zig-zag path in an attempt to break the link with Jorgensen. At one point, Spirig actually stopped, gesturing for Jorgensen to take the lead. Jorgensen seemed bemused , smiling at Spirig with puzzlement.
“I have been outrun in races, so it was an exciting race, and Nicola and I were playing a bit of games when neither of us wanted to lead in the head wind, so hopefully it made it exciting for the fans,” Jorgensen said.
With about 2km to go, Jorgensen finally put a stop to the nonsense and set a tempo Spirig could not match. She quickly achieved a 100-meter lead that grew to the finish.
Spirig hung tough for silver and Holland edged away from her roomie Stanford for the bronze.
“Starting the run, my legs were a bit tired and it became clear after about five kilometers that I was going to be running with my housemate, my training partner and my best friend for a medal,” Stanford said. “One of us was going to get one and one of us wasn’t, so that was obviously not what we came here to do, we both wanted medals. But I am delighted that I managed to bring one home.”
2016 Olympic Women’s Triathlon
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
August 20, 2016
S 1.5k / B 38.48k / R 10k
1. Gwen Jorgensen (USA) 1:56:16
2. Nicola Spirig (SUI) 1:56:56
3. Vicky Holland (GBR) 1:57:01
4. Non Stanford (GBR) 1:57: 04
5. Barbara Riveros (CHL) 1:57:29
6. Emma Moffatt (AUS) 1:57:55
7. Andrea Hewitt (NZL) 1:58:15
8. Flora Duffy (BER) 1:58:25
9. Claudia Rivas (MEX) 1:58:28
10. Rachel Klamer (NED) 1:58:55
11. Mari Rabie (RSA) 1:59:13
12. Erin Densham (AUS) 1:59:27
13. Nicky Samuels (NZL) 1:59:30
14. Jolanda Annen (SUI) 1:59:42
15. Yuka Sato (JPN) 2:00:01
16. Lisa Norden 2:00:03
17. Charlotte Bonin (FRA) 2:00:48
18. Katie Zaferes (USA) 2:00:55
19. Helen Jenkins (GBR) 2:01:07
20. Alexandra Razarenova (RUS) 2:01:09
DNF Sarah True (USA)