Amid the stunning beauty of Athens, Triathlon exploded onto the Olympic stage for the 2nd time in the sports history and the result was equally spectacular with a virtual unknown grabbing the gold in a spectacular sprint finish.
As has been the case in many ITU World Cup races, Taormina and Harrop quickly consolidated their lead on the bike, leaving Barb Lindquist on her own early in lap one. Lindquist was not alone for long, however, as she was soon joined by teamate Susan Williams (USA) who had a great swim and was working her incredible bike skills to perfection to make up time on the leaders. Over 30 seconds behind a large chase group formed, including the reigning Olympic champion, Brigitte McMahon (SUI), Germanys top threat, Anja Dittmer, Julie Dibens from Great Britain, Kathleen Smet (BEL) and a host of other top competitors.
Through most of the race, Harrop and Taormina continued to work well in the lead while Williams and Lindquist fought hard to stick with the pace and further back, Smet made a break from the main chase pack in pursuit of the leaders. By the final lap, Harrop managed a break from Taormina who then dropped back to join her teamates and Kathleen Smet continued to ride solo 45 seconds ahead of the main chase pack.
By the second transition, it was Loretta Harrop who took off on the run with a 20 seconds lead, ahead of the three Americans Taormina, Lindquist and Williams. A further 57 seconds back Smet came off the bike and was off on the run in 4th position. By the time the main chase pack entered the second transition they were 2 and a minutes in arreas of the leaders and faced a challenging 3 lap 10km run ahead. Leading the chase out of transition was Kate Allen from Austria, with Michelle Dillon (GBR), Anja Dittmer and Ana Burgos of Spain, followed by a stream of others. Out on the course, Harrop continued to look comfortable despite the 30 degree heat and maintained her lead right through to the final lap. Behind her the American women were trading off positions with Taormina and Williams moving ahead of Lindquist and then Taormina eventually falling off the pace. Meanwhile Smet was making a move back in fourth and running well but the story of the run came from the chase pack where Allen and Nadia Cortassa (ITA) were running their way through the field.
By the closing stages of the run it looked like the gold medal would certainly go to Australia and Loretta Harrop but Kate Allen had other plans as she blasted her way through Smet and the faltering American team in the final few kilometres. As Harrop made the final turn into the finish chute, Allen was on her shoulder and looking unstoppable as she blew past the heat exhausted Aussie to grab the gold by 7 seconds over Harrop. Coming across in the Bronze medal position was an ecstatic Susan Williams from the United States.
After the race, an awestruck Allen put her race and finish into words, “This was the best feeling of my career. I concentrated on one race in my whole career and this was it. I tapered for three weeks.I had no idea where I was [after the bike]. I thought there were maybe five girls in front of me. I was running for a place. It’s sensational I have the gold.”
Silver medallist Harrop, who lead the race from the start all the way to the closing few metres was satisfied with her result on the day despite not getting the gold, “I was very fast in all of the three sports and that’s why the others are disappointed, but I am not. I am very happy. The Australian also made an emotional dedication after receiving her medal, I dedicate this medal to my whole family, and especially to my brother.” Harrop lost her brother, also a triathlete, in a training accident in the spring of 2002.
Bronze medallist Susan Williams, whose speciality is the bike, was pleased with her performance over the difficult bike portion of the race, “When I was on the bike course hill, it definitely was a challenging hill, but at the top, I found it easy because I had practised getting over the top. It paid off, I felt really strong and good on the bike.”
It was another spectacular day for the young sport of triathlon and the president of the International Federation was also pleased with the days outcome, In the past you could predict who would win the race but today the hills separated the athletes and there was no way to know who would win making it a very exciting race. We were very pleased to have such an exciting result with many IOC members in attendance and all were very pleased with what they saw. The athletes are happy, the IOC is happy and so we are happy and we couldnt have done it without the incredible team who worked tirelessly to organise this great event.
The mens Olympic triathlon is set to take off tomorrow, Thursday, 26 August at 10am (Athens time) with the reigning Olympic champion, Simon Whitfield (CAN) ready to defend his title here in Greece.