Hot favourite Gwen Jorgensen produced the perfect race to win the Olympic women’s triathlon gold on Saturday, the American unusually staying with her rivals on the bike before surging clear of defending champion Nicola Spirig-Hug on the run.
Jorgensen has dominated the swim-bike-sport over the last two yeas but usually wins her races by chasing down the stronger bikers during the 10km run.
On Saturday, however, she gave as good as she got on the hilly 40km bike course and broke the challenge of 34-year-old Spirig-Hug on the run to win America’s first gold in the sport since it was introduced to the Games in 2000.
Switzerland’s Spirig-Hug, who has had a baby since her photo-finish victory in London, held on to take silver and become the first woman to win two Olympic medals in the sport.
British team mates Non Stanford and Vicky Holland, who live and train together in Leeds and are great friends, battled it out for bronze, with Holland just taking it.
Jorgensen’s victory, following Briton Alistair Brownlee’s successful defence of the men’s title, means that the sport’s reputation for upset Olympic champions has been firmly put to bed.
It was also a long overdue gold for the country that invented the sport after the United States had previously managed only Susan Williams’s bronze in 2004 since it joined the Olympic party in 2000.
After a choppy sea swim off Copacabana Beach a group of 18 quickly formed on the bike leg, including all the favourites.
Everyone in the field knew that if Jorgensen remained in that pack going into the run it would be next to impossible to beat her.
However, despite occasional digs by her chief rivals on the main climb on the eight-lap 40km course, the American sat in looking comfortable and nobody seemed prepared to put it on the line to push the pace.
Spirig-Hug eventually tried to make a break but she got no help and was duly reeled in and they all rolled into the second transition together.
The defending champion, who has competed sparingly since 2012 and taken time off to have a baby, was not about to sit back and hand over her title, however, and went clear with Jorgensen from the start.
It was an unfamiliar sight in a major triathlon as Jorgensen is invariably cruising through the field in the early stages of the run and the vastly-experienced Spirig-Hug seemed to be getting under the American’s skin as they exchanged words and clashed arms heading into the final lap.
Jorgensen did not seem to be enjoying the head-to-head but removed herself from it with an injection of pace at the 8km mark that immediately took her clear and allowed her to enjoy her run up the finishing chute with a beaming smile.
Four years ago, Spirig-Hug dipped Sweden’s Lisa Norden in a photo-finish but this time she was comfortably clear of the fast-finishing British duo, with Holland collecting the country’s third triathlon medal of the Games following the Brownlee brothers’ 1-2 in the men’s race.
Fabienne Saint-Louis, the 22-year-old from Mauritius who made the start line despite being diagnosed with cancer nine months ago and undergoing chemotherapy, dropped out during the bike leg.