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.
Gillian Backhouse, Matthew Hauser, Ashleigh Gentle and Jacob Birthwhistle added the Commonwealth crown to last year’s world championship title, with defending champions Team England finishing in second, and New Zealand third.
The first leg set the pace on a hot and sunny afternoon at the Southport Broadwater Parklands, on Saturday 7 April. Backhouse and Vicky Holland (ENG) opened up what would prove to be a decisive gap, racing together throughout the bike and the run segments of their leg.
In a furious sprint, both athletes tagged Matt Hauser and Jonny Brownlee with only a five second difference.
Behind them, the young Kiwi Nicole Van der Kaay rode with Non Stanford (WAL) and Joanna Brown (CAN) in a small group that pushed hard to keep up with the leaders.
The South African team had been expected to place well but they finished last after Simone Ackermann cramped up, leaving her team-mates – newly-crowned commonwealth champion Henri Schoeman, Gillian Sanders and Richard Murray – playing catch up on a 3.5min deficit.
With Hauser managing to keep up with the younger Brownlee, it was the third leg that swung gold in the host nation’s favour.
Jessica Learmonth (ENG) came out of the water 15 seconds ahead of Ashleigh Gentle but, after the Australian closed the gap on the bike, a stumble from Learmonth entering T2 gave Gentle the gap she needed to power away on the run.
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She then handed over to Birthwhistle with a 39sec lead over Alistair Brownlee, a gap that stretched to 52 seconds by the finish line as the Aussies took gold and England silver.
In the battle for bronze, Ryan Sissons did one of the fastest transitions ever to escape in the lead, and give his teammate Andrea Hewitt a slight margin over Canada.
Hewitt was then chased by Desirae Ridenour (CAN) on the bike, but came back in the run with a 7sec lead over the Canadians – the same time gap that the Kiwis’ last team member, Taylor Reid, managed to maintain until he crossed the line for bronze.
The remaining positions were filled by Canada, Bermuda – with newly crowned women’s champion Flora Duffy catching up two positions during her segment – Wales, Scotland and South Africa.
“I gave it everything,” said Australia’s Backhouse at the finish. “I tried to help Matt be as close to Jonny as possible. I’m so thrilled I didn’t let the team down.”
“I can’t thank the Gold Coast and Australia enough for the amazing support, getting behind us all the way, is unbelievable,” said a proud Gentle post-race. “It was honestly the biggest relief when I saw Jake crossing the finish line. It was absolutely nerve-wracking watching the last leg, anything could have happened at the end there.”
“That last leg could have gone either way,” explained Birtwhistle. “Going into it I was just thinking I’ll try to keep up as much as possible with Alistair in the cycle then I’ll take him in the run, but I had a decent lead.
“I definitely didn’t relax. I wasn’t going easy but the lead was more than I expected going into the run, so I was quietly confident coming into the end.”
Alistair Brownlee cemented: “I thought even if I got it together it would be close. We talked through every combination last night, and we knew it would be with Australia but we didn’t pick this.”
Jonny Brownlee added: “Obviously we would have preferred gold but we all did the best we could, and we were beaten by the better team at the end of the day.”