Australia’s youth proved too sharp for an experienced England quartet as the home nation finally won the Commonwealth triathlon gold they were craving on the Gold Coast.
Team England 🏴🥈 #220gram #triathlon #mixedrelay
The reigning mixed relay world champions from Down Under were brought home by Tasmanian Jacob Birtwhisle - who held off Alistair Brownlee on the final leg - with New Zealand taking the bronze
It was an Australia v England battle almost from the hooter, with neither Vicky Holland, Jonny Brownlee, nor Jessica Learmonth able to make the break that would give the double Olympic champion the opportunity to defeat Birtwhistle.
The decisive moment came when Learmonth – neck-and-neck with Ashleigh Gentle on the penultimate leg - stumbled dismounting her bike and the fast-running Aussie dashed clear to open a winning gap.
Southport Broadwater Parklands played host to the triathlon for the last time at this year’s Commonwealth Games, concluding with the most fast-paced action of the programme.
Eight nations lined up on the pontoon and Holland, who was fourth in the individual event, and Australia’s Gillian Backhouse, led out the opening 250m swim.
Although all eight teams were within 11sec coming into transition, England and Australia made the break stick immediately on the 7km bike leg.
Behind them Wales’ Non Stanford, New Zealand’s Nicola Van Der Kaay and Canada’s Joanna Brown quickly dropped South Africa’s Simone Ackermann, with Scotland’s Beth Potter and Bermuda’s Erica Hawley even further back.
The leaders were 26sec clear by T2 and Holland immediately set about establishing a lead on the run to give Jonny Brownlee 5sec grace over Matt Hauser on the second leg.
Although in their wake, Stanford proved the most fleet of foot of the field, clawing back a few seconds to hand over to a fresh Iestyn Harrett – who didn’t race the individual competition – in third.
But Ackermann, who was set to hand over to newly-crowned Commonwealth champ Henri Schoeman, finished the leg injured, bringing a premature end to the challenge of the 2014 mixed relay silver medallists South Africa.
Hauser joined Brownlee to extend the lead to 49sec on the bike over the chasing Ryan Sissons (New Zealand), Tyler Mislawchuk (Canada) and Harrett in the tussle for bronze - with Sissons snatching some vital seconds by not changing his shoes from bike to run (a tactic that would be successfully repeated by his team-mate Tyler Reid)
Up front, Brownlee and Hauser were shoulder-to-shoulder in tagging Learmonth and Ashleigh Gentle, with Sissons’ smart tactics paying dividends to put veteran Andrea Hewitt clear in third.
Learmonth, the silver medal winner in the individual event and just about the fastest female swimmer in the sport, gained a 15sec advantage out of the water, but once on bike Gentle, with home support, forced her way back on to Learmonth’s wheel.
Canada’s Desirae Ridenour was also making up ground to Hewitt – 17 years her senior – in the fight for bronze as Wales’ brave effort finally faded.
Learmonth stumbled dismounting into T2 and Gentle, the only women to defeat world champion Flora Duffy last year, took the opportunity to run clear, and by the time a tired Learmonth handed over to Alistair Brownlee, England were 39sec behind with the double Olympic champion facing a monumental task.
Third place was chopping and changing with Hewitt running back into bronze and handing over to Reid, who’d impressed to finish 11th in the individual competition, and kept Canada’s Matthew Sharpe at bay.
In pursuit of gold, Brownlee clawed back 6sec in the swim and another 8sec on the bike, but it was never likely to be enough as Birtwhistle enjoyed a 1.5km lap of honour for the gold medal.