Triathlon Magazine Canada
Duffy’s day finally comes
It can’t be easy to live with the expectations of an entire country on your back. In 2018 Flora Duffy became the first Bermudan to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. When she won the first World Triathlon Series Bermuda race that year, pretty much all of the 60,000 people who call Bermuda home were on the course to watch her race. How’s that for a bit of pressure heading into the Olympics? Add to all that the fact that the last few years weren’t exactly a smooth build up for Duffy, either – even though she dominated the WTS series in 2017 after winning the world title in 2016, she spent the next few years dealing with injuries.
That struggle will no doubt have made her race in Tokyo, where she was competing at her fourth Olympics, all the sweeter. Duffy was simply dominant in all three components of the race to take a huge win.
The conditions for the race were, basically, brutal, with the start being delayed 15 minutes thanks to heavy rain and high winds. The rain would eventually stop, but early on things were definitely challenging for the athletes, especially on the bike as the slippery course saw a number of athletes crash.
Learmonth leads the swim
Great Britain’s Jess Learmonth led the way out of the water, having set up a breakaway group through the first 950-m loop, and cementing the group’s lead by the end of the swim. Behind Learmonth was Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes, American’s Katie Zaferes and Summer Rappaport, Great Britain’s Georgia Taylor Brown, Duffy and Germany’s Laura Lindemann. By the time they hit T1 they had 40 seconds on the next group, with the woman everyone was worried about in this race, Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig 1:08 behind. Canada’s Joanna Brown had a great swim and was 48 seconds behind the leaders, but her countrywoman, Amelie Kretz, seemed a bit off her swim form, hitting T1 1:12 behind.
Learmonth and Duffy really drove the pace through the first loop of the eight-loop, 40-km bike course, but got some help from others in the lead group as they started to get organized. Rappaport struggled to stay with the group and would eventually be dropped. Lopes was the next to have issues staying on. As the rest took their turns on the front, she was typically at the back, and often a few metres behind. She was eventually dropped on the sixth lap of eight.
The chase group was being driven by Spirig, who was getting precious little help from any of the other athletes in the group. Brown, who was in that first chase group initially, would have her race derailed with two flat tires and would eventually be lapped out.
For the first half of the ride every time the cameras focused on the group it was Spirig in front, pulling everyone else along. The Swiss gold (2012) and silver (2016) Olympic medalist who tried to keep the gap to as close to a minute as possible, but lap by lap the lead group gained a few seconds. One minute turned to 1:04 turned to 1:09 turned to 1:13 – by 25 km, the gap was 1:15.
In the final lap of the race Taylor-Brown got dropped from the lead group after she got a flat. That left Zaferes to lead the way into T2 followed by Duffy, Learmonth and Lindemann. Taylor-Brown would end up pulling on her shoes 22 seconds behind. Spirig’s amazing ride allowed her to hit the run course 1:01 behind the leaders. Kretz managed to get back on track after the swim to hit T2 in the second chase group.
Duffy dominates the run
The word in triathlon circles heading into the Games was that Duffy was in amazing run shape, and it didn’t take long for her to prove those rumours to be true as she blasted clear of the rest of the women on the run course. Zaferes tried to stay with her early on, but couldn’t maintain the Duffy’s impressive tempo. Taylor-Brown quickly moved her way past Learmonth and Lindemann, and set her sights on Zaferes.
There was no touching Duffy as she kept up the pressure and continued to pull clear of the rest of the women. Taylor-Brown bided her time, staying about five seconds behind Zaferes until the end of the third of four laps, at which point she made her move and pressed on into second. By that point Duffy was 1:07 ahead, and didn’t seem in any danger of losing that lead. Starting the bell lap France’s Leonie Periault and the Netherlands’ Rachel Klamer managed to get past Lindemann and started a 2.5-km footrace for fourth.
Duffy would run into the finish line well ahead to take the win in 1:55:36. Taylor-Brown would take the silver, 1:14 behind, while Zaferes, who had almost not been selected to compete at the Games, took the bronze medal, 1:27 back. Klamer outsprinted Periault for fourth, with Spirig finishing her fifth Olympics in sixth.
Kretz would hang tough for a 15th-place finish, 4:57 behind Duffy.
Mixed Team Relay
Great Britain led the way to take the inaugural mixed team relay race at the Olympics. France’s Vincent Luis made a dramatic charge in the final leg to turn what appeared to be an insurmountable British lead into a thrilling finish. Team USA’s Morgan Pearson ended up getting past Luis in the final leg to take silver to France’s bronze, but there was no touching Jessica Learmonth, Jonathan Brownlee, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee for gold. Canada’s team of Joanna Brown, Alexis Lepage, Amelie Kretz and Matthew Sharpe would end up 15th.
Blummenfelt blasts to Olympic gold
The sight of Kristian Blummenfelt throwing up on the finish line after he took the gold medal in Tokyo said it all – the Norwegian is renowned for his hard training and his ability to push harder than the rest of his competition. On paper he shouldn’t have been able to outrun Great Britain’s Alex Yee, but stastitics get thrown out the window with 2.5 km of running to go at the Olympic Games, and Blummenfelt simply out-gutted Yee and bronze medalist Hayden Wilde to give Norway its first Olympic triathlon medal.
Luis leads the swim
Heading into the Games the man who seemed best equipped to deal with a variety of race strategies was two-time defending world champion Vincent Luis from France. Things seemed even more likely to go his way as he pushed the pace early in the swim. After a bizarre false start that saw about half the field head off early as the start horn sounded with a media boat still in front of roughly half the field, the men restarted and it was Chile’s Diego Moya who pressed the pace early on. Toward the end of the first loop Luis made his move to the front, pressing the pace up onto the pontoon at the end of the first 950-m loop. Behind him were Moya, Russian Dmitry Polyanski and Rio bronze medalist Henri Schoeman.
Luis kept up the pressure through the rest of the swim, leading the way into T1 and appearing to be on track to set up a small breakaway group. At first it looked like he’d be off with four others, but Canada’s Tyler Mislawchuk had an amazing swim and was among a group of five more who managed to bridge up to the five leaders. That group of 10 would be pared down to nine in short order – Luis, Polyanski, Schoeman, Jonathan Brownlee of Great Britain, Jonas Schomburg of Germany, Marten van Riel of Belgium, Kenji Nener of Japan, Mislawchuk and Taylor Reid of New Zealand.
The group was only able to stay clear for a few laps before the huge chase group reeled them in, putting a bunch of 37 in front of the race. Luxembourg’s Stefan Zachaus took a flyer for a bit, but the big group led by Canada’s Matthew Sharpe reeled him back in. Then Switzerland’s Andrea Salvisberg decided it was time to give things a go as the group appeared happy to trail Sharpe around the course at a pedestrian pace. Salvisberg would rack his bike in first, but his lead was just 14 seconds. Towards the end of the bike all the scrambling for the front of the pack started to derail the Canadian strategy – instead of Sharpe hammering at the front and helping Mislawchuk lead the way into T2, the Canadian winner of the Tokyo Test event found himself in a big group as he started the run.
Then there were three
Things quickly started to spread out on the run, though, as Yee used his prodigious running talent to move to the front and spread things out. He was joined at the front by Blummenfelt and Wilde. Through the first loop they had some company in the form of Brownlee, American Kevin McDowell, Switzerland’s Max Studer and France’s Dorian Conninx, but the group gradually whittled down until it became clear that the medals would be decided among Yee, Blummenfelt and Wilde.
Blummenfelt made his move with about two kilometres to go, pulling clear of the two other men and pushing hard for the line. Obviously suffering, the Norwegian pushed hard right into the finish chute, only slowing down to enjoy the moment in the last 50 m. He took the biggest win of his life in 1:45:04, 11 seconds ahead of Yee and 20 seconds ahead of Wilde. Van Riel would cross the line fourth, with Brownlee taking fifth.
A disappointed Mislawchuk would finish 15th, the same spot he took in Rio four years ago. “I am super angry with myself,” the 26-year-old from Oak Bluff, Man., told CBC after the race. “I just didn’t have it on the run. I am really disappointed … I had some cramping and I couldn’t run as fast as I’ve trained. I just couldn’t go any faster.”
Sharpe, who was in the race to help Mislawchuk, finished 49th, the final finisher of the day.—KM