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The top two finishers share what was said in the final miles of the run
If you were watching the live coverage of the Olympic women’s triathlon on Saturday, you were probably: 1. On the edge of your seat during the nail-biter battle between Nicola Spirig and Gwen Jorgensen, and 2. Wondering what on earth they were saying to each other. (If you missed it, read the recap here and view the photos here)
Four-time Olympian Spirig and two-time Olympian Jorgensen hadn’t gone head-to-head since London 2012 (where Jorgensen finished 38th after a flat). Since then, Spirig has had a baby, explored long-course and marathon racing and suffered a bike crash that left three plates and 23 screws in her hand, while Jorgensen has dominated the ITU circuit. Still, Spirig wasn’t off of Jorgensen’s radar heading into Rio. “You definitely can never count out an Olympic gold medalist,” she says. “We knew she was going to bring her A game.”
And on Saturday, she did. It was reigning gold medalist versus gold medal favorite—and they put on a show with a back-and-forth dynamic that lasted nearly two hours.
The two exited the swim side by side and left T1 together. Then Spirig set out onto the bike course with a purposeful tactic. “I think I’m one of the fittest athletes in the field on tired legs, and my goal on the bike was to make everyone tired,” she says. “I think I achieved that goal. Gwen was right there as well. She had to cover a few attacks from me and she did very well.”
“Nicola was pushing it on the bike, and we have her to thank a lot for gaining so much time on that chase pack,” Jorgensen says. “She put her head in the wind for a lot of it.”
At one point in the run, Jorgensen and Spirig looked like they were arguing and slowed almost to a weird shuffle-walk.
“There was a windy side of the course, so no one wanted to lead and I said we should share the work,” Spirig explains. “She said no, I was leading before—you go.”
“We were saying ‘you take a turn,’ ‘no you take a turn’ and she said, ‘I already have a medal’—you go,” Jorgensen says. She adds, jokingly, “but now she has two and I only have one!”
Spirig admits she was pulling every trick out of the hat she could to break Jorgensen. “It was just some mental games—I knew she was a strong runner so I had to try everything to get her out of the rhythm a bit,” she says.
At the majority of ITU races, Jorgensen is known to break away from the field and lead a big chunk of the 10K. But today she had the gritty Spirig right on her shoulder from the moment they left T2.
“When I was watching the two of them duke it out in the front, I could see that they were running together for a long time before Gwen surged away,” says Rio bronze medalist Vicky Holland. “It’s become almost inevitable—we’ve seen it in so many races. And when Gwen is gone, it’s very hard to get her back again.”
With 2K to go, Jorgensen initialized her famous surge, and Spirig couldn’t match her pace. “I was very well prepared,” Spirig says, “and I haven’t seen anyone running with her longer than I did today. I knew she was running really, really well, and I tried everything to beat her, but she was just too good in the moment.”