After a long wait, the Tokyo Olympics are finally set to get underway next week, with dozens of triathletes hoping they’ll be the ones heading home with a medal.
If the last few Olympics are anything to go by, we could be in for a showdown of epic proportions in the closing stages of the races, with the sapping heat of Tokyo bearing down on the athletes as they vie for Olympic glory.
Looking ahead to the races, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the fastest runners in tri. Who will come out on top? We don’t have to wait long to find out…
Strongest male runners in triathlon
Alex Yee, GBR
Fresh from his fourth-place finish at WTCS Yokohama and his win at WTCS Leeds, Alex Yee goes to Tokyo in fine form. While he’s certainly no slouch in the swim or bike, his background in distance running means it’s the final triathlon leg where Yee’s made his name.
He was the only athlete to run sub-30 minutes (29:46) in Leeds, while his time of 29:49 in Yokohama in May was only bettered by the three men ahead of him (Kristian Blummenfelt, Jelle Geens and Morgan Pearson). Pop back to Yokohama in 2019 and once again, Yee was smashing the run out of the park with a time of 29:58, which was the best effort of the day despite coming home in fifth.
When Yee is in full flight, he seems to glide through the air, with his slight frame often looking weightless. But when the going gets tough there’s a sheer look of determination in his face. If we’re lucky, next week’s event will come down to a spectacular showdown on the run, with Yee having the platform to show his electric pace and steely determination.
Mario Mola, ESP
Three-time world champion Mario Mola is one of the most decorated triathletes heading to Tokyo this summer. The Spaniard dominated the World Series in 2016, 2017 and 2018, securing the title three years in a row. During that time, he was regularly topping the run split charts with times often dipping under the 30min mark.
He has two Olympics behind him, having placed 19th in London and eighth in Rio, with just three other triathletes beating his run split of 31:12 on the Copacabana. This experience combined with his run pace looks like a potent concoction ahead of race day.
That being said, the 31-year-old has a limited amount of racing under his belt from the past 18 months. He finished 10th at the World Cup in Lisbon back in May, with the eighth-best run split (29:51), and followed that up with a third-place finish at the World Cup in Arzachena, posting an, admittedly, 5k run split of 14:56, which was only bettered by the two men ahead of him.
In the energy sapping heat of Tokyo, his experience and fast feet could well see him at the pointy end of the final stages of the race.
Morgan Pearson, USA
Like Yee, Morgan Pearson is a relative newcomer to triathlon, but the American certainly turned a few heads as he arrived onto the scene. He grew up as a competitive swimmer and an impressive cross-country runner, and his talent in the latter has certainly carried over to tri.
In 2018 he competed in a series of ITU World Cup races and the World Triathlon Grand Final on the Gold Coast. While only finishing 41st in the latter, he demonstrated his running power, with only five of the top six finishers running faster than his time of 30:35. In 2019 Person showed his pace in more ITU World Cup races during a mixed season.
In last year’s one-off World Triathlon race in Hamburg, he once again showed his running pedigree with the second-fastest run split over a sprint distance. His time of 14:27 was only beaten by fifth-place finisher and Brit Alex Yee.
But 2021 has arguably been this triathlete’s breakout season, with a third in Yokohama – where his run time of 29:38 was the second fastest on the day – and a second in Leeds. In Yorkshire, his run split (30:04) was once again the second fastest… to Yee’s 29:46.
Best of the rest
While the three men above are supreme runners, a number of other athletes are also known for their ability on the 10k. Vincent Luis (FRA), Richard Murray (RSA), Jonny Brownlee (GBR) and Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) are likely to be delivering strong run splits on race day, setting up what we hope will be an epic finish.
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Strongest female runners in triathlon
Nicola Spirig, SWI
Swiss supremo Nicola Spirig goes into these Olympics with the chance to become both the oldest Olympic triathlon champion and the most decorated. The mum-of-three won the Olympics at London 2012 and followed that up with a silver at Rio 2016. At the former, her run split of 33:41 was the best in field, while her time of 34:50 was the second best in Brazil.
She races sparingly on the world circuit these days, but has shown that she still very much has the legs with recent 70.3 wins at Challenge Walchsee and Challenge Gran Canaria. She also raced and won the World Triathlon Cup in Lisbon in May with the fastest run split of the day (33:57), beating both Vicky Holland and Summer Rappaport (who herself is no slouch!).
If she carries that form, along with her experience, into the Olympics, we could be set for a monumental battle in the final leg.
Vicky Holland, GBR
Besides tri newcomer Beth Potter, Vicky Holland is one of Britain’s most consistently fast triathletes. In fact, it was her running prowess that saw her secure bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016, finishing just three seconds ahead of friend and fellow Brit Non Stanford and five seconds behind runner-up Nicola Spirig.
In doing so, she secured Britain’s first female tri Olympic medal. Her run time (34:54) was only bettered by the two women ahead of her that day and the same is usually the case in most of Holland’s races.
Holland’s had limited racing in these past 18 months, but when she has competed her run splits have been up there with the best. For example, she won the sprint-distance Mooloolaba ITU Triathlon World Cup in March last year with a run time of 16:55, which was bettered by no one else that day. Looking back further, her wins at World Triathlon races in Edmonton and Montreal in 2018 saw her post the best run splits of the race. Here’s hoping she’s got enough running under her belt to do the same this summer.
Flora Duffy, BER
Looking ahead to the women’s race in Tokyo, Flora Duffy sits atop many people’s predicted podiums and it’s easy to understand why. She looked set for total domination back in 2018 after being crowned world champion in both 2016 and 2017, winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and then kicking off the race season with a win in Bermuda and Yokohama.
Injuries put paid to that, but she returned in 2019 with a win at the Olympic test event in Tokyo (after Georgia Taylor-Brown and Jess Learmonth were disqualified for crossing the line hand-in-hand). She’s famed for her bike-handling skills, but Duffy’s running ability is impressive too. Over the years she’s regularly posted the fastest run splits en route to victory.
More recently, she ran the fastest run split (33:47) in Leeds earlier this year, crossing the line in fourth. That followed two impressive showings during world cup races toward the end of last year. Her time of 35:34 was the fastest run split at the Karlovy Vary ITU Triathlon World Cup, where she finished first, while she edged out British running ace Beth Potter at the sprint event in Arzachena with a run split of 16:55.
She’s hitting form at the right time, but will the Bermudan ace complete her comeback with a win in Tokyo? Her country will certainly hope so.
Best of the rest
Summer Rappaport (USA) and Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR) also have great pace on the run, while Katie Zaferes (USA) and Laura Lindemann (GER) have demonstrated 10k strength in spades time and time again.
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Top image credit: Janos Schmidt/ITU via Getty Images