Pre-race and fan favourite Flora Duffy put 16 months of injury and illness well and truly behind her on Tuesday 27 July when she became Bermuda’s first Olympic champion in a dominant display from start to finish. The silver medal went to Georgia Taylor-Brown, who fought back from a puncture 2km from T2 to take Team GB’s first women’s triathlon silver; while Katie Zaferes, a controversial choice for the US team at the time due to her lack of racing, rediscovered her podium-placing form to win bronze.
Twenty-four hours after human error – a too-early klaxon/slow RIB – forced the first-ever false start in an Olympic triathlon race for the men, the women’s race was also met with delay; this time due to the elements as Typhoon Nepartak drenched Odaiba Bay, pushing the start back 15mins. On the plus side, temperatures were cooler than for the men’s – 24°C in the air, 28°C in the water (still non-wetsuit) and 82% humidity.
GB’s Jess Learmonth from Leeds took her usual place at the helm of the 1.5km swim, dealing so well with the slight chop that she helped pull a group of seven solid swimmers away from the main pack. Joining Jess for the 8 x 5km flat bike course was Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes Brazil; 2019 world champion Katie Zaferes (USA); 10k specialist Summer Rappaport (USA); reigning world champion Georgia Taylor-Brown; two-time world champ Flora Duffy (BER); and Germany’s Laura Lindemann.
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Missing out on the lead group by 20secs was Rio bronze medallist Vicky Holland (GBR) and two-time Olympic medallist Nicola Spirig (SUI), who was a full 1min down out of the water. Both made their way into the chase pack, which, by the end of lap one, was also 1min down on the leaders, a deficit that didn’t budge after another lap had passed.
Upfront, seven became six before the end of lap three when Rappaport, not known for her cycling prowess, was unable to keep pace; the sextet no doubt relieved to see such a strong runner drop off. Halfway through and their lead had inched up by a few more seconds, but anyone hoping for a British clean sweep had to reassess, as the 11-strong chase group came through without Holland, who’d dropped back into the third group nearly 2mins back.
Lap five and it was Lopes to call it a day in the limelight, leaving five to duke it out in T2. By the bell lap, the deficit to the chasers – where 39-year-old mum of three Spirig rarely left the head of the train – was 1:15secs. And then drama for Team GB, as Taylor-Brown seemed to slow down – a rear puncture, but thankfully almost within sight of transition.
As the quartet shot out for the 10k, Taylor-Brown was seen heading in, 22secs down but far from out. Duffy, looking in phenomenal form, found the head of the race and planted the Bermudan flag firmly in place; Zaferes running in second, Lindemann third, Learmonth fourth… before teammate Taylor-Brown, after passing her a bottle of water, swept through to overtake. Halfway through lap two of four, Taylor-Brown had taken Lindemann for bronze. Duffy, meanwhile, was already a colossal 47secs ahead of Zaferes.
Fast forward to the final lap and Taylor-Brown drew up alongside Zaferes to step into the highest position ever for a British female triathlete, going one better than teammate Holland in Rio. And so the podium was decided: Duffy taking the tape in 1:55:36 to become Bermuda’s first-ever Olympic champion – in any sport; Taylor-Brown the silver on debut to become GB’s most successful female Olympic triathlete; and Zaferes the bronze for Team USA, a fitting result for the former world champ following the sudden death of her father, Bill, in April. (Plus, unlike the majority of the field, Zaferes was only picked for the team two months prior, taking a slot many thought would go to Taylor Spivey.)
The Netherlands’ Rachel Klamer finished fourth; Spirig an outstanding sixth; ninth for Learmonth, 13th for Holland.
“I wasn’t happy when I saw the weather,” said silver medallist Taylor-Brown, 27, “but I had a really good swim, and the wet favoured a small group, which we got [on the bike]. I got a puncture and I panicked, I didn’t know what to do, so I just rode on the flat. The first lap of the run was panic mode, I think I definitely paid for it in the latter end of the run, but it paid off. To be honest, the lead-up hasn’t been great, but I was just happy with a top five today.”
“I was a bit nervous about my swim but I was really happy that I was on the feet from the start,” said Olympic bronze medallist Zaferes, 32. “When we got onto the bike, I just tried to follow the lines, and we worked so well together. On the run, Duffy just ran off and I was saying ‘just stay focussed’ until I got to the finish line.”
Joining Taylor-Brown for a chat was bestie and teammate Learmonth, who only wanted to talk about Georgia: “I can’t believe how amazing this [Taylor-Brown] girl is. If you knew what she had been through… I can’t put it into words. I’ve just had a really good time, it’s really emotional.”
Holland added: “I got to the first turn buoy but after that I just didn’t have it. I was involved in a crash on the bike, so I lost about a minute and a half there. But you two are amazing [facing Jess and Georgia], I am so proud of you both.”
For a full results list, visit triathlon.org/results/result/2020_tokyo_olympic_games/501765
As if two silvers weren’t enough, Team GB also have a strong chance of collecting another medal this coming Friday, 30 July at 11:30BST (7:30am local time 31 July), in the first-ever Olympic Mixed Relay event.
Images credit: Wagner Araujo (@wags.photo) / World Triathlon