One of the most decorated female triathletes at standard distance, Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig has a full-to-bursting trophy cabinet. Pride of place, of course, is that gold medal she won in dramatic circumstances in London back in 2012.
Here’s what else she’s achieved in a spectacular career.
Who is Nicola Spirig?
The daughter of PE teachers, Nicola Spirig undoubtedly has sporting genes. This she showed at a young age, winning triathlon’s junior world championship more than 20 years ago.
As a former track athlete with national titles to her name, the run is her forte; indeed, in 2014, right in the middle of her triathlon career, she even represented Switzerland in the marathon at the European Athletics Championship.
That year she also won gold at Ironman Cozumel, the one and only time she’s competed at full distance.
It’s at standard distance where Spirig has excelled – less so in the ITU World Triathlon Series and more so at one-off events and championships.
Her crowning glory is inarguably the Olympic gold she won at London 2012 in one of the most enthralling triathlon races ever, when a photo-finish had to decide between herself and Sweden’s Lisa Nordén. A silver followed four years later in Rio.
Alongside Olympic glory have been no fewer than six European elite titles. It’s smaller wonder than many consider Spirig among the sport’s all-time greats.
All of these achievements would be more than enough for most, but Spirig is arguably the busiest triathlete around, finding time in her schedule to study for a law degree and have three children.
And what’s next? It’s an attempt to write herself another page in the history books by becoming the first woman to ever complete a full-distance triathlon in under eight hours before she retires at the end of the 2022 season.
How old is Nicola Spirig?
Nicola Spirig was born on 7 February 1982, making her 40 years of age.
Nicola Spirig’s career highlights
July 2001: The future is bright. Very bright
In a hint of the promise that’s to come, Spirig takes the sport’s junior world title in Edmonton.
July 2009: First of many European titles
Having previously ruled the continent as its junior triathlon champion, the Swiss takes the European Championships elite crown. It’s the first of six such titles for Spirig.
August 2009: Capital gains for Spirig after tight duel
Spirig takes her maiden World Championship Series race win when she pips Sweden’s Lisa Nordén by just two seconds in London. But it won’t be the closest race between the pair in the capital.
September 2010: World championship silver for the Swiss
Spirig claims overall second place at the end of the seven-race World Championship Series with a podium finish in Budapest, adding to a victory in Madrid and a second place in London.
June 2012: Two on the bounce in Kitzbühel
Having won in Madrid the previous month, Spirig triumphs in Kitzbühel to take back-to-back WTS victories. She comes sixth overall in the series, but by then she’d already bagged a bigger prize…
August 2012: A photo-finish at London 2012
It turned out that the battle between Spirig and Nordén in London in 2009 was merely warming us up for an extraordinary race at the Olympics.
A foot-to-the-floor sprint finish had to be decided by technology, with the Swiss and the Swede boasting identical times, right down to a hundredth of a second. Spirig got the nod. It was the tightest triathlon race in Olympic history, with Australian bronze medallist Erin Densham just two seconds behind.
November 2014: Full-steam Spirig on full-distance debut
Competing in her first Ironman in Cozumel, Spirig is undaunted by full-distance racing and an imperious run in the marathon (a distance she ran earlier in the year at the European Athletics Championships) sees her take the victory.
August 2016: A silver lining at Copacabana
Spirig is unable to successfully defend her Olympic crown in Rio, losing out to the American Gwen Jorgensen. However, silver makes her the most successful female triathlon Olympian in history (Georgia Taylor-Brown has an individual silver and a mixed team relay gold).
August 2018: Six of the best when it comes to the Euro champs
Despite being the second-oldest woman in the race, Spirig takes her sixth European title (top image). Not that she did it the easy way in Glasgow. Fifty seconds down on her rivals after the swim, and riding solo for four laps of the bike leg, she moves away from Jess Learmonth on the run to make history.
August 2019: Spirig truly becomes triathlon’s mother superior
Just 12 weeks after the birth of her third child, Spirig takes to the start line at the WTS Grand Final in Lausanne and, rather extraordinarily, achieves a top-10 finish (10th).
May 2021: World Cup win proves that age is just a number
At the age of 39, Spirig still shows there’s plenty left in the tank with victory in Lisbon in the World Triathlon Cup.
July 2021: Olympic Games number five produces another top 10
Spirig travels to Tokyo to take part in her fifth Olympics and chalks up her fourth top-10 position at the Games when she finishes sixth.
September 2021: Reminds the world of her greatness
Not that we needed much reminding, but Spirig proves she can master any distance she takes on, this time a 70.3 in Nice, France.
June 2022: Reminds the world again
August 2022: And again…
Racing for Team Europe as the captains’ pick, Spirig took the lead on the bike and never looked back to claim victory in Match 4. Team Europe would take the overall title.
Nicola Spirig in quotes
On that sprint finish to take gold at London 2012: “The run was most likely to be the discipline that would decide the win at the Olympics. I started training for it long before 2012, then got more specific in the months leading up to the Games. I practised sprinting for the end of a race over and over again with my training maters after hard sessions.”
On winning silver in Rio in 2016, making her the most decorated female triathlete in Olympic history: “On the run, I was the only one trying to stick with Gwen [Jorgensen]. Getting off the bike as the first athlete, she has been hard to beat for the last four years. I really left everything on the course and, on that day, she was stronger. But I was very proud to win the Olympic silver medal.”
On possibly competing in a sixth Olympic Games in Paris in 2024: “I’m very happy with my career and never thought I would go to five Olympics. With three kids, life is very busy and full of important things away from sport. We will sit together as a family and discuss how we will continue our life so that everyone is happy.”
On announcing that she would be retiring at the end of the 2022 season: “Over the past 25 years, I’ve achieved just about everything I’ve ever dreamed of, both athletically and personally. I am incredibly grateful and also somewhat proud to have been able to experience all of this over the years. I am at peace with my life and my career, which is why I have decided to retire from professional triathlon at the end of the current season.”
What’s next for Nicola Spirig?
Having won the only Ironman event she’s ever entered (Ironman Cozumel in 2014), Spirig has a particular goal in mind for 2022 – the Pho3nix Sub8 project, attempting to become the first woman to dip under the eight-hour barrier for a full-distance triathlon.
Top image credit: Jack Thomas/Getty Images