England’s Jessica Learmonth delivered a gutsy performance to take Commonwealth Games silver behind Bermuda’s Flora Duffy on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Over the sprint distance of 750m swim, 20km bike, and 5km run, the two dominated from the start before the Bermudan dropped the reigning European champion early in the run to secure her island’s first-ever Commonwealth Games gold medal in 56min 50sec.
England’s Vicky Holland was unable to match her bronze medal feats of Glasgow 2014 and Rio 2016, as she was out-sprinted by Canada’s Joanna Brown and had to settle for fourth.
England’s Sophie Coldwell finished sixth on her major Games debut, with Non Stanford a disappointing eighth and Scotland’s Beth Potter in 12th.
In the opening event of the 2018 Commonwealths, it was no surprise to see the field broken up from the start in the choppy waters of the Southport Broadwater Parklands.
In scenes that have become familiar on the ITU World Series, Learmonth led out the swim with Duffy on her toes and after a swift transition they headed on to the Gold Coast highway.
Coldwell, who had been chosen ahead of 2014 Commonwealth champion Jodie Stimpson for just this eventuality, emerged a close third from the water but was just unable to bridge the gap to the leaders, which would ultimately put paid to her own medal chances.
Holland was a sizeable 43sec down on the swim, with Wales’ Non Stanford and Scotland’s Beth Potter – who is also competing in the 10,000m on the track – a further 3sec back.
After the first lap of four on the 20km bike course the lead duo had extended their lead over an isolated Coldwell to 39sec with the main chase pack catching the Loughborough-based triathlete fast.
Learmonth may have led Duffy on the swim, but it was the Bermudan – hunting her nation’s first major Games gold medal – who was prepared to do the lion-share of work on the bike.
By the halfway mark, the gap had widened to 57sec on the nine-woman chasing pack that contained Holland, Stanford, Potter and now Coldwell, but it already appeared they were racing for bronze.
This is how the race played out. @jllearmonth & @floraduffy worked really well together leaving the chase pack to exchange turns to give themselves a chance off the bike.
By the end of the third lap the lead had extended to 65sec and if Duffy needed any further incentive to stay clear, among the chasers was also Ashleigh Gentle, the Gold Coast local who - before the Bermudan crashed out in Abu Dhabi last month - had inflicted Duffy’s only defeat in her past nine outings.
The leading duo made it into T2 with a 73sec advantage over the pack and Duffy immediately made her mark, opening up an early gap.
By the end of the first of two laps on the run, Duffy was well clear, but Learmonth was holding the margin over the chasing runners led by Holland, Gentle and Canada’s Joanna Brown - although both Coldwell and Stanford’s medal chances were gone.
Duffy could relax in the final stages and although a fast-tiring Learmonth would only cross the line 5sec ahead of Brown, much of those in-roads were made late in the run and silver medal rarely looked threatened.
For Learmonth, who won the European title in Kitzbuhel last year and was second in the season-ending Grand Final in Rotterdam, it was another step forward. For reigning world champion Duffy, who had finished eighth three times in major Games races, it was justification of her position as the current leading female triathlete in the world.
Silver🥈for @jllearmonth 🏴 in the Women’s Triathlon. After leading the swim, Jess & @floraduffy 🇧🇲 made a breakaway on the bike gaining over 60 seconds. Flora won by 43 seconds and Jess held on to the 2nd from a fast finishing Jo Brown 3rd 🇨🇦 and @vixholland 🏴 in 4th. #220gram