Last Weekend Now: Gwen, Super League and Frodo are Back
It finally feels like the 2023 triathlon season is officially underway, and if last weekend's races are any indication, professional tri is in a pretty good place.
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Last Weekend Now is your weekly commentary on what’s happening in triathlon, brought to you by Brad Culp. (Ed note: So yell at him if you don’t like the comments.)
It finally feels like the 2023 triathlon season is officially underway. If last weekend’s races are any indication, professional tri is in a pretty good place. America’s only Olympic gold medalist in triathlon is back in the sport where (we think) she belongs, a pair of rising American stars took their first Super League titles, and it looks like we’re finally going to get the race we’ve been waiting for between the greatest of all time and the greatest of our time.
Jorgensen third in return
I’m trying hard not to get too excited about Gwen Jorgensen’s return to tri. I mean, there’s no way she can return to the form that saw her dust the world’s best in Rio seven years ago. That was seven years ago. Think about what you were doing seven years ago and how much you’ve changed as an athlete and person since then. A lot has changed since then.
But it’s not like Jorgensen has been taking it easy during the 2,382 days since her last triathlon. Even with taking the time to create two small humans, she’s probably logged more miles of running than just about any triathlete on earth over the past seven years. Maybe she hasn’t done much cycling or hardly any swimming during that time, it doesn’t look like she’s lost much. Despite being the only athlete in the race who was born in the 1980s, she finished third, and was only about 30 seconds on the run away from contesting the win.
Apologies to New Zealand’s Nicole Van Der Kaay, who won her second race in as many weeks and should be the lede here, but when you’re going up against one of the greatest to ever do it, such is life. Jorgensen swam just 10 seconds slower than Van Der Kaay and the rest of the leaders, and had no problem staying in the large lead pack through the 20K bike. Her 18:31 5K was very modest by her standards (she ran as fast as 16:00 during her brilliant 2015 season) but this wasn’t exactly a fast course with world-class competition.
It’s going to be a long road to get back to contention on the WTS level. The swim, bike, and even the run have gotten faster since Jorgensen’s absence from the sport. Every race is different, but it’s worth noting that Flora Duffy ran more than a minute faster to win gold in Tokyo than Jorgensen did in Rio. But the goal for right now is just to get on the Olympic team and try to help the relay, and this was a great first step in that direction. There are few Olympic teams in the world more difficult to make than the U.S. women’s tri squad, but she has never been one to shy away from immense challenges. I’m not betting against her.
RELATED: 13 Questions With Gwen Jorgensen on Her Return to Tri: “I’m Motivated by Big Challenges;“
Serano and McQueen on Top at SLT Arena Games Montreal
Gina Sereno is the latest and greatest result of USAT’s collegiate recruitment program, which is largely responsible for “finding” Jorgensen and convincing her to try tri. Serano is a former runner at the University of Michigan and current systems engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, and she’s one more athlete who is going to make it nearly impossible to make the 2024 U.S. Olympic tri team.
At 27 and only in her third year of triathlon, Serano is a bit of a late-comer to triathlon, but she’s already competed 25 times in those three years (we followed her last year as she raced in the Continental Cup) and is on rocket ship trajectory. The field for Super League’s first event in Montreal lacked the firepower of some of its European venues, but she was up against Aussie Sophie Linn, who finished fifth at the Commonwealth Games in 2022.
After the first two stages of a very short swim-bike-run and run-bike-swim, Serano started the final 200-meter swim, 4K bike and 1K run with a 21 second advantage over Linn, and finished the day 32 seconds ahead. Canadian Dominika Jamnicky was third, another 28 seconds behind.
RELATED: How to Watch the 2023 Super League Arena Games
The big story in the men’s race was the appearance of Lionel Sanders, with many—myself included—speculating on social media beforehand that he would have no chance of being in the mix because he swims like a cat. And as we learned a few weeks ago, Sanders cares deeply what is said about him on social media. Even though he finished sixth, Sanders silenced his critics with a very impressive showing, so he should be elated when he definitely reads what was said about him over the weekend.
Sanders finished the real world-meets-virtual race just 48 seconds behind winner Chase McQueen, whose parents somehow resisted the urge to name him Steve. McQueen started the final stage seven seconds up on 2016 bronze medalist Henri Schoeman of South Africa, who has had a trying couple of seasons since a DNF at the Tokyo Olympics. It appears Schoeman has his health and fitness back, but it wasn’t enough to catch McQueen, who kept his advantage at seven seconds throughout the third and final stage. Britain’s Jack Stanton-Stock was third, 14 seconds behind Schoeman.
Sanders was there to put on a show for the Canadian crowd, and he did just that, blasting a 5:06 4K bike split in the second stage, which is the fastest ever recorded in a Super League event. Say what you will about the real-world accuracy of Zwift, five minutes for 4K is completely insane and requires a level of suffering that very few can commit to. Well done, Lionel—and thanks for reading.
RELATED: We named Chase McQueen as “one to watch” this year – see who else made the list at 7 Triathlon Pros Set to Have a Breakout Year in 2023.
Norway vs. Frodo is on in Ibiza
As teased in this column last week, the long-awaited mano a dos manos showdown between Jan Frodeno and the Norwegian “boys” is on for May 6 in Ibiza. Well, it’s not official yet, because PTO needs to make a few more corny social media posts before making it officially official.
The race will be over the PTO’s now-standard 100K distance (2K/80K/18K), which probably doesn’t give Frodeno much of a chance, because it’s more of an Olympic-distance than Ironman effort. But there is a very real scenario in which Frodo can win. He is the best swimmer among the three and he can absolutely hammer a TT bike. If he can get away and stay away, there’s always the possibility that he can hold off the inevitable charge from Gustav Iden and Kristian Blummenfelt on the run. But both men are capable of running paces that Frodeno has never visited, and he’ll need a substantial gap to hold them off for 18 kilometers.
It’s worth remembering that, for all his Kona accolades, Frodeno’s best run performance ever came over the 70.3 distance, which is very similar to what they’ll be racing in Ibiza. He ran 1:06:33 at the 2018 70.3 world champs in South Africa, which remains one of the most eye-popping performances in the history of the sport. It was more than a minute better than Alistair Brownlee. Sure it was more than five years ago, but there’s still some serious speed in the former Olympic champion’s legs, and the man hasn’t lost a race that he’s started healthy since May of 2016. Shout out to Jesse Thomas for being the last man to beat a healthy Frodeno.
RELATED: Commentary: 9 Burning Questions We Have About Pro Triathlon in 2023