Gwen Jor­gensen or Daniela Ryf?

The ar­gu­ment for Gwen Jor­gensen

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Front Page - BY CLAIRE DUN­CAN BY KEVIN MACKINNON

To de­cide on the best fe­male triath­lete of the year, the most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion is who raced the best con­sis­tently against the deep­est fields. The women’s fields in ITU rac­ing are un­doubtably far more com­pet­i­tive than those in women’s long course right now. While Daniela Ryf will likely go down as one of the great­est fe­male ath­letes in Iron­man his­tory, she has never faced as much com­pe­ti­tion as Gwen Jor­gensen has in the past four years, dur­ing which she estab­lished an un­prece­dented win­ning streak in the prime of the Rio Olympic qual­i­fi­ca­tion pe­riod.

Jor­gensen has only ever named one goal over the past four years – she’s been solely com­mit­ted to win­ning Rio gold.

She went from 38th with a me­chan­i­cal is­sue at Lon­don 2012, to back-to-back world cham­pi­onships in 2014 and 2015. Begin­ning with the win at WTS Yoko­hama in 2014, she won 17 races in a row – in­clud­ing 15 WTS races against the best women in the world, two grand fi­nals, the Rio test event and two na­tional cham­pi­onships (there were two other Amer­i­can women with mul­ti­ple WTS wins un­der their belt at those races). All the while she only had her eye on Rio. Her win­ning streak was bro­ken this year when she fin­ished sec­ond to He­len Jenk­ins af­ter she had al­ready more than qual­i­fied her­self for Rio. She bounced back to win her next race, WTS Yoko­hama in May and then, as a prep race for the Olympics de­cided to en­ter WTS Ham­burg just a month out from Rio, and still landed on the podium in third.

Over the course of her win­ning streak, fans took no­tice of her sig­na­ture “kick” at the end of races. She reg­u­larly ap­pears to be fly­ing past her com­peti­tors on triathlon’s fi­nal leg, eas­ily win­ning the ma­jor­ity of her races thanks to her im­proved and strate­gic bik­ing and un­matched run­ning abil­ity. In ITU triathlon where strat­egy plays a huge role and fin­ish­ers are separated by mere sec­onds, Jor­gensen has proven time and time again that she’s the best of the best.

Jor­gensen faced far tougher com­pe­ti­tion at Rio this year than Ryf faced in any of her 2016 com­pe­ti­tions, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of the Iron­man 70.3 World Cham­pi­onships where Ryf didn’t even make the podium and lost to a dark horse in win­ner Holly Lawrence. In Rio, Jor­gensen faced the cur­rent world num­ber one, star cy­clist Flora Duffy, as well as a stacked three-mem­ber Great Bri­tain con­tin­gent, her two tal­ented U. S. team­mates and, most im­por­tantly, Lon­don 2012 win­ner Ni­cola Spirig. The most ex­cit­ing and po­ten­tially chal­leng­ing part of the race for Jor­gensen? No one could pre­dict what Spirig would bring to race day be­cause the Swiss ath­lete had barely raced on the ITU cir­cuit in re­cent years. In fact, Jor­gensen didn’t race her at all in 2015.

De­spite re­peated break­away at­tempts from Spirig through­out the gru­elling Rio bike leg, Jor­gensen, a rel­a­tively weak cy­clist in the field, hung on tight and proved her bik­ing was good enough for all the best women in the sport that day. Go­ing onto the run, a de­ter­mined Spirig still gave Jor­gensen a good run for her money, but by the last few kilo­me­tres of the run, it was clear Jor­gensen had ac­com­plished her four-year- old goal.

Less than a month af­ter win­ning Rio, Jor­gensen took sec­ond be­hind a highly de­ter­mined Duffy at 2016’s ITU Worlds in Cozumel. She then raced for the first time ever on the TT bike six weeks later and won her sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Is­land House ti­tle over some of the sport’s best non- draft­ing spe­cial­ists, in­clud­ing Lawrence.

There’s sim­ply no com­par­i­son be­tween the pres­sure and com­pe­ti­tion Jor­gensen has faced this year and last. Ryf may have set the Kona course record this year, but she only faced one com­peti­tor of her world cham­pion cal­i­bre that day – Mirinda Car­frae. By Rio this year, Jor­gensen had been prov­ing her­self against mul­ti­ple world cham­pi­ons and an Olympic gold medal­list for al­most two years.

While I have no qualms see­ing Gwen Jor­gensen win this cat­e­gory, I have a rough time for­get­ting Daniela Ryf’s im­pres­sive year. She started things off by dom­i­nat­ing the first leg of the mil­lion- dol­lar chal­lenge (which she won hand­ily last year) in Dubai, tak­ing that race de­spite the fact that she was back at school with lim­ited op­por­tu­nity to train.

Fast for­ward a few months. Af­ter fin­ish­ing her stud­ies in June, Ryf ar­rived in Frank­furt for the Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship. Sur­pris­ingly of­fi­cials made the race a non-wet­suit af­fair for the pros, de­spite that race morn­ing tem­per­a­tures were about 6 C. Ryf dom­i­nated the swim, but 5 km into the bike found her­self shiv­er­ing un­con­trol­lably. Within a few km she was on the side of the road des­per­ately try­ing to warm up and would even­tu­ally be pulled from the race.

Move ahead two more weeks. Frus­trated by the Frank­furt ex­pe­ri­ence, Ryf’s coach Brett Sut­ton re­al­izes that his ath­lete needs a good ex­pe­ri­ence to get her back on track. She heads off to Chal­lenge Roth. The goal? Have fun.

Ryf did that and more. She broke Chrissie Welling­ton’s bike course record in Roth by eight min­utes. She posted the third fastest full- dis­tance time ever, lit­er­ally danc­ing across the fin­ish line in 8:22.

A week later Ryf went sub-9 again in win­ning Iron­man Switzer­land and val­i­dat­ing her Kona spot.

From there Ryf went to Mooloolaba for the Iron­man 70.3 World Cham­pi­onship, where she fin­ished a “dis­ap­point­ing” fourth. It was the first time she’d done any­thing but win a race (that she fin­ished) in al­most two years. It closed the door for the mil­lion- dol­lar pay­day. More im­por­tantly, though, that per­for­mance piled on the pres­sure head­ing into Kona. For the first time in al­most two years peo­ple ques­tioned whether Ryf was the log­i­cal favourite head­ing into the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship.

Which all got for­got­ten once the race started. Ryf’s per­for­mance in Kona was so dom­i­nant that she lit­er­ally could have had a shower, cof­fee and crois­sant at the fin­ish line wait­ing for run­ner-up Mirinda Car­frae.

In case any­one tries to say that she “didn’t face the same level of com­pe­ti­tion that Gwen Jor­gensen had in Rio,” think about this: even though she won that race by al­most 24 min­utes, the woman she beat to do that was the for­mer course record holder. On a day when Jan Fro­deno went al­most three min­utes slower than the course record, Ryf’s 8:46:46 broke Car­frae’s course record by al­most six min­utes.

Ryf de­serves to be our in­ter­na­tional triath­lete of the year be­cause she not only beat all the best fe­male long dis­tance triath­letes in the world, but her time in Kona was bet­ter than all the best fe­male long dis­tance triath­letes in his­tory.

Gwen Jor­gensen’s Olympic per­for­mance was noth­ing short of in­cred­i­ble. She man­aged to overcome in­tense pres­sure to take that gold medal. She had to overcome some in­tense com­pe­ti­tion on race day. The Olympics were her main goal – she won that race in style. Along the way, though, she got beaten a few times and failed to de­fend her world ti­tle.

Does an amaz­ing Olympic per­for­mance trump some of the most im­pres­sive long- dis­tance rac­ing the world has ever seen?

ABOVE Daniela Ryf on her way to a Kona victory OP­PO­SITE Gwen Jor­gensen cel­e­brates her Olympic win in Rio

ABOVE Jan Fro­deno on his way to a Kona victory

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