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The pre-race favorite held off a challenge from the defending Olympic champion to earn the biggest victory of her career.
As the 55 athletes lined up for the start of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic event they were greeted with warm and humid conditions, as well as fairly rough waters off of Copacabana Beach. The rough waters did spread out the field, but the majority of the medal contenders made it through the 1.5K swim near the front.
Super swimmer Carolina Routier of Spain led the women out of the water, with a long string of women following her into T1. All three Americans—Katie Zaferes, Sarah True and Gwen Jorgensen—were within striking distance and all made that front group out of T1 and onto the bike. All of the 2012 London Olympic medalists—Nicola Spirig (SUI), Lisa Norden (SWE) and Erin Densham (AUS)—were also part of the mix early on.
Eventually a group of 18 formed and the fiery pace put forward by athletes like Spirig and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy meant that the chase group had no chance to catch up. Jorgensen and Zaferes remained steady in that group, while True’s race quickly started to go downhill. The American, who finished fourth in London, struggled and fell off the back and then crashed on the fourth lap. (Update: True tweeted after the race that it was a leg issue that derailed her race, writing “Thanks everyone for the concern. My leg seized up at the start of the bike. While I fought to ride as long as I could, I had to pull out.) She tried several times to get back on her bike, but the pain was too much and she eventually got lapped and was forced to drop out.
Meanwhile the group of 18, which also included 2015 Rio Test Event podium finishers Non Stanford and Vicky Holland—both of Great Britain—continued to hammer out front. Duffy and Spirig each made attempts to form breakaways, but nothing came to fruition. By the end of the eight-lap, hilly bike course the lead off the front stood at almost four minutes—making it clear that the three medalists would come from that lead pack.
Out of T2, both Jorgensen and Spirig immediately broke away from the rest of the group. The two ran with one in front of the other for the majority of the 10K, with some interesting race tactics taking place on the third lap. With neither wanting to be in the front spot, Spirig swerved across the road and slowed in an attempt to get Jorgensen to take charge. This went on for a while (read both athletes’ take on this interaction here) until Jorgensen decided to break away. Once the American decided to push toward the finish line, there wasn’t much the defending gold medalist could do.
Jorgensen looked comfortable all the way to the famous blue carpet, taking the win in 1:56:16. She is the first American to earn Olympic gold in triathlon. American Susan Williams is the only other American triathlete to earn an Olympic medal—a bronze in 2004.
“It’s pretty crazy to show up on the day—after four years—and be able to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish,” Jorgensen said after the race. “It’s a huge testament to both my husband, Patrick Lemieux, and my coach, Jamie Turner. They have invested way more in me than anyone will ever know, unless they’ve seen us work together. This is as much their medal as it is mine.”
Spirig cruised in for the silver at 1:56:56, becoming the first female to win more than one Olympic medal. The bronze was close, as friends Stanford and Holland sprinted to the line. Holland got the edge to earn third at 1:57:01. Zaferes was the second and final American across the line in 18th.
2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games – Women’s Triathlon
Aug. 20, 2016 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K Run
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 (CHI) 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
18. Katie Zaferes (USA) 2:00:55
DNF Sarah True (USA)