Although the final U.S. triathlon team members were announced a little over a month ago, some members of the team (Summer Rappaport) earned their spots way back in 2019. With the weird last year, it’s been hard to know who is racing what and to follow these athletes’ journeys. A cancer survivor? A world champion? The youngest woman to ever make the US team? Medal favorites? They’re all here. So before they get on the start line this weekend, let’s get to know the three women and two men who make up the U.S. team.
Zaferes was named to the team as a discretionary pick back in June. Although a world champion in 2019, she crashed at the Tokyo test event and missed locking down her Olympic spot there. She then struggled at the next automatic qualifying race, in Yokohama this past May, just weeks after her dad suddenly passed away. Since then she’s been training with her squad in Portugal and has said she feels stronger and prepared for Tokyo now. Will we see the Zaferes who won five straight World Triathlon races in 2019?
Get to know more about Zaferes:
- Triathlete Hour Podcast: Katie Zaferes Tries to Get Better Every Day
- Behind the Scenes of an Elite Squad of Olympians Preparing for Tokyo
- Dreams Delayed: How Olympic and Paralympic Athletes Are Making the Most of This Extra Year
Rappaport was the first American to claim her Olympic spot back at the Tokyo test event in 2019. A former collegiate DI runner and swimmer she came into triathlon post-college via USAT’s collegiate recruitment program. Although she was recently married and her husband is based in North Carolina, Rappaport spends most of the (non-COVID year) traveling and training with her coach, Paulo Sousa, and his team, The Triathlon Squad. She’s considered a strong swimmer and runner, but is typically found in the pack on the bike.
Get to know more about Rappaport:
- Get to Know Future Olympian Summer Rappaport
- Triathlete Hour Podcast: Having Fun Prepared Summer Rappaport for the Olympics
At the WTCS race in Yokohama in May, the 23-year-old Knibb surprised (almost) everyone to win the race and secure her Olympic spot—becoming the youngest woman to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic triathlon team. A U23 world champion who came up through the junior elite circuit, Knibb graduated from Cornell during the pandemic and turned to triathlon full-time, moving to Boulder to train with Ian O’Brien. In Yokohama, Knibb won with an off-the-front bike breakaway, something she’s tried before at World Triathlon races in the past. With her bike being a strength, she could try a similar move in Tokyo.
Get to know more about Knibb:
- She Shocked Everyone With a Bike Breakaway—And We Have Her Workouts
- The Olympic Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree
The former pro runner has propelled himself to the front of the medal contenders list in this last year, and helped revitalize the U.S. men’s squad. Just four years ago, Pearson did his first triathlon and then made the move over from running. With consistent work on his biking and swimming in the last couple years, he took a podium spot at the WTCS race in Yokohama in May (earning his Olympic start) and then followed it up with a second at the WTCS race in Leeds three weeks later. Suddenly, the newbie national team member with the blistering run was a medal favorite.
Get to know more about Pearson:
- Get to Know Morgan Pearson, the Newest U.S. Olympic Qualifier
- A Day in the Life of First-Time Olympian Morgan Pearson
- Triathlete Hour Podcast: Morgan Pearson is Ready for Tokyo
After racing as a junior and into the elite circuit, McDowell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma the day after his first pro race, as an 18-year-old. It took him years to bounce back, even after he was recovered from cancer—in part, he thinks, because he pushed it too hard too quickly post-cancer and wrecked his body. He almost quit the sport three times. But now he’s stronger and better than ever, with an 11th place at that Yokohama race and an integral part of the previously successful relay team. With mixed relay making its Olympic debut in the Tokyo Games, McDowell was picked as part of the team in June largely because of his relay abilities and credentials.
Get to know more about McDowell:
- 8 Things You Should Know About Cancer Survivor and Olympian Kevin McDowell
- Triathlete Hour Podcast: Post-Cancer Kevin McDowell is Finally Headed to the Olympics
Can this U.S. squad medal?
Yes! Possibly more than one medal.
In the woman’s individual race, all three have proven they have podium potential. If Zaferes is on form, she’s certainly the best contender for a woman’s medal—but Rappaport has shown an ability to run up through the field and Knibb will try to get away on the bike and hold on. It’s also possible that they get edged out by a strong British and international contingent. (See the full list of women’s contenders here.)
In the men’s race, the medal hopes rest squarely on Pearson’s shoulders. With his third in Yokohama and second in Leeds, he became the first U.S. man to earn back-to-back podiums at that level and proved he’s a serious contender. He’ll have to rely on his pro runner speed, though, and in a deep men’s field he could get outmaneuvered. (See the full list of men’s contenders here.)
The main medal hope for the U.S. has to be in the relay, where they’re a heavy favorite. While the French team has been dominant and held off a closing (and displeased) Pearson on the final leg at the World Championship race in Hamburg this past fall, the Americans feel confident they can give them a run for their money. They’re also looking to win out over hard-charging British and Australian teams who have this race in their crosshairs.
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