Four years on, it’s strange to say that the women’s 2012 Olympic race is something of a lost classic, overshadowed by the unforgettable 46 minutes of Super Saturday hours later in the Olympic Stadium and, in UK triathlon, by the Brownlees’ exploits in Hyde Park three days later. But what remains is a bruising encounter full of blood, sweat and tears.
With British hopes resting on Helen Jenkins to repeat her winning 2011 Hyde Park form, the day started well with Jenkins’ GB domestique Lucy Hall first out of the water. Early rain had left the SW1 roads slippery, with former ITU World Champ Emma Moffatt one of the bike course casualties. A lead group of 22 would enter T2 together before the true drama was unleashed.
By the midpoint there were five contenders for the title: Jenkins, Australia’s Erin Densham, USA’s Sarah Groff, Lisa Norden of Sweden and Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig. Spirig dictated the unrelenting pace, with Groff being dropped before returning to the pack and Jenkins – who’d reveal post-race that she’d been carrying an injury for 10 weeks – the next to go at 8km.
Groff was again dropped as the three-way fight entered the finishing chute, with Densham the next to go as Spirig – whose coach Brett Sutton had sent to race an Ironman 70.3 event two weeks before to quell her urge to train – pushed the pace further.
20m from the line and the gold looked to be heading to Switzerland before a late Norden comeback pushed it literally to the line. Both athletes broke the tape together and plummeted to the floor. There was brief talk of a tie as Norden raised both arms first in celebration, with third-placed Densham still assuming that the Swede had won until the podium presentation. But it was to be Spirig to take the title. Groff would finish fourth and Jenkins fifth, then a best-ever position for a Brit female at the Olympics.
Following their efforts on that muggy London morning, the top three have rarely been seen on the ITU scene in the intervening period, with Spirig becoming a mother in 2013, Norden experimenting with longer-course racing and Densham plagued by injury. We’ll find out today if they’ll trouble the finish line photographers at Rio 2016.
GB HISTORY IS MADE
After injuries, broken bikes, tummy troubles and more, Alistair Brownlee finally broke the British Olympic curse in 2012 to become Olympic champion. In the process, the 24-year-old from Leeds secured Britain’s first-ever triathlon medal since the sport was accepted into the Olympics at Sydney 2000.
In front of a packed Central London, with crowds 10 deep lining the Mall and watching on giant screens in Hyde Park, the fourth ever men’s Olympic triathlon event began at 11.30am with a 1.5km wetsuit swim in the Serpentine.
The Brownlees followed their training partner, Slovakia’s Richard Varga, out of the water and quickly established a five-man breakaway with Gomez and Italy’s Alessandro Fabian.
The gap wasn’t enough, however, and by the end of the 43km bike leg that took in seven laps of Hyde Park, the leading pack contained just over 20 riders, including the dangerous Russian trio of Brykhankov, Polyansky and Vasiliev, Swiss Sven Riederer, 2008 Olympic champion Jan Frodeno and the Brownlees’ domestique, Stuart Hayes. (Simon Whitfield, the four time Olympian and winner at Sydney 2000 was missing, however, after a nasty crash exiting T1).
During the bike leg, Jonny Brownlee had been notified that he had to serve a 15sec penalty for mounting his bike too early after T1. The 22-year-old Sprint World Champion knew he had to serve the penalty at the start of one of the four 2.5km laps, and chose to do it at the end of the third/start of the fourth.
By that stage the medal contenders were down to three after Alistair had opened the run leg at a high intensity and dropped everyone bar Gomez and Jonny. The younger Brownlee was beginning to drop off the staggering pace at the end of lap three, which saw the race for gold come down to Ali and Gomez, both double World Champions and the two previous winners of the Hyde Park ITU World Series event.
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But it was to be Alistair’s day as he started to drop Gomez on the southern side of the Serpentine with 2km to go. Gomez desperately clung on to keep the gap to a handful of seconds but Alistair’s continued pace had extended the lead to nearly 20secs by the home straight, enough time for the older Brownlee to celebrate in front of a rapturous grandstand, with his overall split being 1:46:25, 11secs in front of Gomez.
Jonny would come home in 1:46:56 and was taken straight to the medical tent for a check-up (he’d return for the medal ceremony). Stuart Hayes would come home in 37th.
“Alistair’s as tough as teak and he showed it today,” Malcolm Brown, Olympic performance manager said post-race. On his penalty, Jonny said, “The first thing I thought was “What an idiot, getting a penalty.” Then I realised it was me!”