With just one spot left for the U.S. women and just one spot left for the men (after this past weekend’s races confirmed the U.S. men would only have two Olympic spots total), and two or three solid contenders for each of those places, the USA Triathlon selection committee had been stuck with a difficult decision: Who was going to get to go to Tokyo?
RELATED: Sleepless Nights at USAT
Now, we have our answer. Kevin McDowell and Katie Zaferes were the semi-surprising picks announced this morning as the final members of the Team USA triathlon squad.
In the press release announcement, USA Triathlon’s high performance general manager John Farra thanked all the athletes and the support staff for their hard work, and then also thanked the selection committee for the difficult decision.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the very difficult decisions that the Games Athlete Selection Committee faced in order to finalize this team. USA Triathlon has an incredibly deep field of athletes, with more individuals deserving of a nod than there are spots available to Tokyo,” he said.
For most armchair experts, it was clear on the women’s side the choice had come down to 2019 world champion Katie Zaferes or Taylor Spivey, who is currently ranked third in the world. Zaferes, though, has looked less dominant in recent races, since the death of her father earlier this year—with a 22nd at the WTCS race in Yokohama in May and then 18th at the WTCS race in Leeds last weekend. Spivey had been 4th and 6th at those respective races.
The selectors, who followed a set of criteria that prioritizes medals, however, felt Zaferes was a stronger pick when weighing the individual race and the relay. They did not state a reason for their selection in the announcement.
On the men’s side, the pool of potential Olympians was slightly larger, but selectors went with McDowell over Matt McElroy or 2016 Olympian Ben Kanute. McDowell was 11th at the WTCS Yokohama race, but perhaps more importantly to selectors was also part of the relay team that got a close second to France at the world championships in Hamburg this past fall.
The other spots on the team had already been earned by automatic selection. On the women’s side, Summer Rappaport locked down the first spot back in 2019 at the Tokyo Test Event and 23-year-old Taylor Knibb won the WTCS Yokohama race in May to earn her spot. On the men’s side, Morgan Pearson’s third in Yokohama got him an automatic spot on the Tokyo team—which he followed up with a second at the WTCS Leeds race three weeks later.
While the make-up of the team relay won’t be determined until the athletes are in Tokyo—because it depends on the individual races and crashes, injuries, or individual performances—the team requires two men and two women, so it will certainly have Pearson and McDowell on it, and it seems likely to include Zaferes and Knibb, given past track records on relays.
Get to know your Olympic team: