Thursday morning in Tokyo saw Flora Duffy emerge victorious from a demanding 2019 World Triathlon Olympic Qualification Event in the most unexpected fashion. This was the Bermudian’s first event back after a year out with injury. After a bike display that showed she has lost none of her trademark power and rhythm on two wheels, she hung tough on the run so that, after the leaders Jessica Learmonth and Georgia Taylor Brown had taken the tape hand-in-hand ahead of her, their subsequent disqualification for causing a deliberate tie earned Duffy the gold.
“There was a lot of cobwebs to blow away and it was hard from the start,” admitted Duffy. “I haven’t done this intensity in over a year and there were times that I didn’t think I’d be back at the pointsy end of a race so this is best case scenario. I loved the course, it was great to be back out with the girls again. I love racing hot and humid conditions and the whole point was to come here and check out the conditions and for me that felt pretty good out there today.”
The officials’ decision was taken in accordance with rule Rule 2.11.f, that states: “Athletes who finish in a contrived tie situation, where no effort to separate their finish times has been made, will be disqualified”.
The disappointment was clear from the two Brits who looked to have the beating of the tough course and high summer temperatures, and teammate Vicky Holland was magnanimous as she assumed the third place, Italy’s Alice Betto now taking the silver and a place at the Olympic Games. Elsewhere, fifth place for USA’s Summer Rappaport was enough to book her a place on the Tokyo 2020 start line.
Despite the early start, with temperatures forecast to climb towards the climax of the race, officials had taken the decision to shorten the run length to 5km in accordance with the ITU rules to safeguard the athletes. USA’s Katie Zaferes was first onto the pontoon as race number 1 and took up position on the near side, joined by Summer Rappaport and Vicky Holland as they sought the quickest route to buoy one.
It was Jess Learmonth who found her stroke fastest, however, quickly building up an advantage with Rappaport and Brail’s Vittoria Lopes on her feet. By the end of the second of the two laps, that lead had stretched to ten seconds over the American, Zaferes, Maya Kingma (NED) and Georgia Taylor Brown (GBR) also well-placed. Vicky Holland emerged over 30 seconds back, Duffy 20 seconds.
Out onto the 8-lap bike, Learmonth was well clear of Zaferes and the no.1 likewise from the chase pack, but that group was being spearheaded by one of the sport’s great riders and a two-time World Champion. On a mission to test herself on her return, Duffy was driving the pack and closing in.
First, Zaferes was swallowed up then Learmonth followed suit, but the drama was only beginning as Zaferes and Kirsten Kasper came together, Kasper remounting but her teammate unable to continue the race. For the Americans also hunting down their Olympic qualification that was a big moment, and it was Rappaport and Spivey in the front pack of six with Australia’s Emma Jackson falling off the pace.
Even with Holland, Non Stanford (GBR), Rachel Klamer (NED) and Yuko Takahashi (JPN) working hard to push the chasers, the gap remained more than 90 seconds to the front group as they took the bell, and once the bikes were racked and the run shoes on, it was Learmonth, Taylor Brown and Duffy who still had the legs to pull away over the first few hundred metres.
The British training partners were stride for stride as they pulled away from Duffy, the Bermudian short on race conditioning but thriving being back in a big-race situation. Together for so much of the race, Learmonth and Taylor Brown crossed the line hand-in-hand, Duffy delighted with third, but in accordance with the ITU rules designed to prevent a contrived tie finish, the Brits were disqualified. That put Alice Betto into second place and Vicky Holland third, Vittoria Lopes hanging on for a superb fourth place ahead of Summer Rappaport and Germany’s Laura Lindemann.
Sixth for Lindemann saw her qualify for Tokyo 2020, while Lisa Perterer also booked her place as the highest-finishing Austrian athlete.
“I am so happy,” said Alice Betto. “This is my third test event and the first one that I have done well. It was very tough with the high temperature but I felt good on the swim and the bike and luckily the run was only 5km, but I can’t believe that result. I just wanted to take the run step by step and not think about anything else and it worked.”
“It was a mixed bag for me today and I wasn’t really happy with parts,” said Vicky Holland, “but we lost a bit of time on the bike and were about 1 minute 40 on the bike to the leaders. Then on the run I was gaining on and passing people and guess I was satisfied with that and felt had it been the full distance I could have picked off a few more places. I felt ready for these conditions and wanted to show my form but i’m pleased with that finish. I don’t know how British Triathlon will choose things now, I wouldn’t want to be a selector!”
- Flora Duffy BER 01:40:19
- Alice Betto ITA 01:40:54
- Vicky Holland GBR 01:41:11
- Vittoria Lopes BRA 01:41:21
- Summer Rappaport USA 01:41:25