Gwen Jorgensen ran down the field to earn her fourth gold of the season in a dramatic end to the World Cup race in Vina del Mar, Chile. Gina Sereno earned silver and Vicky Holland (GBR) took bronze. The first two women who crossed the finish line — Katie Zaferes (USA) and Teresa Zimovjanova (CZE) — along with two other athletes were disqualified due to taking the wrong turn on the run course.
Forty-two women lined up at the El Sol beach in Vina del Mar, Chile, on Sunday ready for the last World Cup of the season, the one that will provide the last Olympic qualification points for this year.
The morning was chilly, the water was cold and choppy, and as soon as the horn gave the start, Djenyfer Arnold (BRA) and Vicky Holland (GBR) put themselves on the lead positions, a few feet ahead of other great swimmers like Mathilde Gaultier (FRA) or Katie Zaferes (USA), who had also Gwen Jorgensen (USA) behind her, both of them fighting to improve their rankings to try to guarantee a start on the USA team for the first World Triathlon Championship Series races of 2024.
Arnold and Holland navigated the waves coming back to the beach, but Holland struggled in the first transition to get out of her wetsuit, her hands too cold to manoeuvre. While the Rio 2016 bronze medallist struggled in transition, Zaferes had an incredibly fast one, and managed to catch the leading group, and led them out of transition slightly ahead of the chasing group.
The first kilometer of the bike course was vital, with the leading five (Zaferes, Arnold, Gaultier, Teresa Zimovjanova (CZE) and Anna Godoy Contreras (ESP) pushing really hard on the first climb up the hill, and the chasers, led by Holland, Jorgensen and Gina Sereno (USA), trying to get organized behind them.
The leading five managed to stay together in front for the whole 20km of the bike course, with a gap with the chasers always between 15 and 30 seconds, and by the time they hit the second transition to start the run, it was Gaultier the one faster and setting up the pace, followed closely by Zimovjanova and Anna Godoy, Zaferes, meanwhile, suffered trying to get her shoes on and lost a few seconds, but still managed to catch up with Godoy before they completed the first kilometer, and then Gaultier and Zimovjanova at the end of the first lap.
But little did they know the drama that was about to unfold. With Zaferes leading the small lead group of four, they all passed straight through transition under the finish gantry on a straight line, not following the race course that was diverting athletes beside transition as they completed lap one and back on the road a few meters after avoiding any potential lapped runners being in the finish straight. Behind the leading four, Arnold realized that she was going the wrong way and turned around, while Jorgensen and Sereno, at that moment in 6th and 7th place, followed the correct course, as did the rest of the field behind them.
Not conscious about the wrong turn, Zaferes sprinted with one kilometer to go to cross the finish line three seconds ahead of Zimovjanova, while Jorgensen had a fantastic run and climbed to the third place on the tape. Godoy was all smiles in fourth place, while Gaultier rounded the top five.
But as athletes kept crossing the finish line, some athletes and coaches started filing protests against the ones that had taken the wrong course, with the Head referee putting the results on hold and the protests — four of them — taken to the Competition Jury.
“I was concentrated on the course and took what for me at that moment was the logical path. There were no officials directing us and I did not realize that we were slightly off the course. We passed through the finish gantry in all the laps of the bike and ride and that is what I naturally did on the run. It is unfortunate and of course unintentional, but as the rules state you need to follow the prescribed course and I didn’t do that. I am really proud of my performance today, though. I executed the race exactly as I had planned and am trying to focus on that,” said Zaferes.
Their final decision, after hearing all the parts, was to disqualify Zaferes, Zimovjanova, Godoy and Gaultier for not following the prescribed course, and the final podium was awarded to Jorgensen, Gina Sereno — sixth initially on the finish line — and Vicky Holland — 7th on the finish line.