A Thrilling Conclusion to 2022 WTCS Series as Duffy, Bergere Take Titles
Plus, American Grace Norman wrapped up an undefeated season with her third world title; paratriathlon made its Championship Finals debut, and more from Abu Dhabi.
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It all began back in September 2021 in Germany’s home of triathlon, Hamburg. Since then, the 2022 World Triathlon Championship Series made in 8 stops, saw a total of 126 women chasing the year’s biggest prize, and came down to a straight shootout between two outstanding competitors in one final showdown in Abu Dhabi: reigning Olympic Champion Flora Duffy (BER) versus two-time Super League champion Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR).
In the end, it was Duffy who took the W, becoming the only woman ever to win four World Triathlon Championship Series titles. It’s yet another feather in Duffy’s cap, who also has multiple titles at the Commonwealth Games and world titles in ITU cross triathlon and XTERRA off-road triathlon.
“I’m really, really proud of this one,” said a beaming Duffy after the Abu Dhabi race. “It was a difficult start to the year for me coming out of the Olympics and Covid and everything and it took a lot of work to get my mind back into it so I’m thrilled. I smiled a few times when it was just me and Georgia… I feel like she brings me to another level. We don’t really give each other an inch and I just wanted to stay safe because it’s super hot out there. When I got a little bit of a gap on the third lap of the run it was a little sooner than I anticipated but I thought; ‘well, gotta go now!’
RELATED: Recalled: Flora Duffy’s World Championship Trifecta
Taylor-Brown finished with the silver at the end of an exhausting campaign, followed by Germany’s Lena Meissner with a gutsy first-ever WTCS podium.
“I gave it everything I had today,” said Georgia Taylor-Brown. “It’s been a hard few months and I’ve tried to forget about it all but i’m really proud of myself out there today and giving it everything and doing all I could. We were battling it out to the end and I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I don’t think she would. I’m still learning in every race and I still want that world title one day.”
“I can’t believe that, I need a few days to let it sink in,” said a thrilled Meissner. “It was tough but I got here 10 days ago and had good heat prep and there was lots of water and ice out there. I just tried to stay calm and confident and it just worked perfectly for me today.”
Taylor Spivey was top American in the race, placing seventh. Fellow American Taylor Knibb, an early contender in the race, crashed on the seventh loop of the bike leg.
“I’m pretty shocked, there were a lot of ups and downs in the season and today,” said Knibb. “The corner was entirely my fault, I wasn’t full processing things at that point, it was a bit of user error and I’m sorry to Maya and Vittoria and Lena behind me for that. Hopefully I will be back here in March to go again.”
Drama on course and @taylorknibb involved in a crash which has forced her to lose significant time in the #AbuDhabiFinals #Triathlon @WTSAbuDhabi pic.twitter.com/onwJYy1amy
— TriathlonLIVE (@triathlonlive) November 25, 2022
The men’s race offered just as much excitement. Heading into the final event, Leo Bergere of France knew everything needed to go exactly right to move from third in the world rankings to first. Even then, both Alex Yee (GBR) and Hayden Wilde (NZL) had the title in reach.
In fact, both had a hand on the overall title at various points of the race: With 400m to go, Wilde was poised to clinch it until Matthew Hauser (AUS) passed him; Yee also had the standing until Jelle Geens (BEL) pulled ahead. But it was Bergere who was in the front pack out of the water and driving the bike—even after the chasers closed in over the final laps, there was no catching him over the 10km run. American Morgan Pearson pieced together a phenomenal run of his own, scything through the field to hit second overall, Geens’ late surge to bronze prevented Yee from taking the title, while Hauser’s fifth ahead of Wilde prevented the New Zealander doing the same.
“It’s insane, I don’t know what to say, I didn’t want to do the maths before the race I just wanted to race it all out and try for the breakaway,” said a thrilled Bergere. “We went for it as a team, and I cant believe today. I was really focussed on what I was doing, I didn’t want to think about anything else. I was chasing this win for a long time and I knew I was capable, I just needed all the stars to align, and to do it here at the final in Abu Dhabi is incredible. Thanks to everyone in my corner.”
“That’s a nice way to come back to this stage,” said Pearson. “It’s been a long year. I didn’t race until two weeks ago and then I raced in Chile and had mechanical issues on the bike. I just took a step back after which let me just focus on the process coming into the race. A little bit cliched but that’s all I did today. It’s been a really long season for all these guys so it’s hard to gauge because I know how hard training and racing is but I really had a hard year myself. I had a great support system around me and I am glad I stuck to it.”
“I think I need to get a drink from Leo (Bergere) and I think the French federation does as well!” said Geens. “I just wanted to finish on the podium, I got fourth, fourth and fifth this year so I just wanted to finish on the podium. I am sad for Alex (Yee) that means he didn’t win the title but I have to think about myself and I really needed that podium to finish the season.”
“I am glad we could put on an insane show,” said Series runner-up Yee. “I just gave everything out there. I was really suffering with cramp on the second lap of the run and just didn’t have it in the end. It’s been an amazing year and when reflecting on that as the outcome of the year, I’ve been really proud of what I’ve achieved and second in the world is not bad.”
“The run is normally my strength so I don’t really know what happened there,” said Wilde. “I’m going to have to go back and assess. First lap was rough. I think I was a bit flustered when Morgan (Pearson) attacked and I couldn’t go but second to fourth lap I felt really good and I was actually gaining back but it wasn’t enough on the day. I had a great swim, I just missed that front group and that could’ve been that. Third place, you’ve got to be stoked with that and we just have to move forward from here.”
Paratriathlon Makes History
American Grace Norman led the charge for a thrilling weekend of world championship racing as she capped off an undefeated season with her third world title in the PTS5 category. The two-time Paralympic gold medalist said the victory in Abu Dhabi was one of her most satisfying. Norman, who was ill before the race, showed no signs of being out of sorts on the course once she was out of the water and onto the bike, passing Claire Cashmore (GBR) to assume a lead she would never relinquish. For Cashmore, it was an emotional silver knowing teammate George Peasgood was watching from hospital, Kamylle Frenette of Canada with the bronze.
“It was a blast out there, super hot but so fun,” said a hoarse but happy Norman. “Racing against Claire is always a battle and unpredictable and things are getting more and more competitive which is always fun.”
Norman was joined on the top podium step by fellow American Hailey Danz, who won gold in the PTS2 category for the second consecutive year. Danz was flying out front and had carved out a significant advantage out of T2 that allowed her to manage the run effectively all the way to the tape, followed by teammate and countrywoman Melissa Stockwell, who took silver with the fastest run split of the day.
She did it (again)‼️
Hailey Danz wins the world title for the second-straight year. @usatriathlon | #AbuDhabiFinals pic.twitter.com/32BPTN0ccp
— Team USA (@TeamUSA) November 24, 2022
“It was a good day,” Danz said. “I worked well with Melissa (Stockwell) and we were able to break away and come out first (in the swim), but I knew my bike was my strength and I was able to get out of transition first and focus on making up the most ground possible. I went really hard on the bike and I’m recovering from a crash I had about six weeks ago so I definitely played it safe on some of the corners. By the run I knew where I was, so played a bit of a self-preservation game.”
In all, twelve titles were awarded across the six men’s and women’s categories in World Triathlon Para Championships; in total, six American elite paratriathletes earned medals in Abu Dhabi.
Additionally, a paratriathlon mixed relay was held as part of the World Triathlon Championship Finals for the first time ever. Given the inherent diversity of paratriathlon racing and the difficult planning required, the format was bold and the result was revelatory. Post-race, the atmosphere and celebrations at the finish were a testament to the sense that something special had been created.
“I have been blown away watching the racing today, the spectators and athletes have loved it and it will be fantastic if we can get this event into the Paralympic Games,” said Debbie Alexander, World Triathlon Vice President and IPC Board Member. “We know the huge impact that the mixed relay had in the Olympics, and I am convinced that it will do the same for paratriathlon. We are making history today, and I want to thank everyone involved for continuing to evolve and innovate our sport.”
Each of the four legs of the relay involved a one-lap, 150m swim transitioning to a 4.5km bike and 1.2km run, the officials radioing the handovers from the run finish to pontoon to send the next team member into the water. The mix of genders and classes made for non-stop action, as the inevitable huge variation in transition times for those in handcycles versus bikes, prosthetics and visually impaired made the leads and gaps ebb and flow throughout the 70-minute race.
It may have been a showcase event, but there was no shortage of competitive fire from the athletes as Team Australia II took the tape from Team USA I, and it was bronze for Team USA II.
“To break the tape and take it home in the first race was a huge honour,” said Team Australia II’s Jeremy Peacock. It’s such a great opportunity for paratriathlon, we’ve seen what it has done on the Olympic program, so hopefully we can do the same for the Paralympic program now. That was an epic first event, we’ll all have learned a lot today.”
For full results from the entire weekend of racing, visit the World Triathlon website.