The Olympics are the biggest stage for almost any sport. Triathlon is no different. One could argue that the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii is a bigger event due to the larger number of competitors and yearly schedule, but the Olympics are… well, the Olympics. The Men’s Triathlon race took place yesterday (8/18) and boy what a race it was. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First of all, it is an Olympic race, and that means it is run at the olympic distance.The athletes had a 1500m swim, 40k Bike, and 10k run. A few things made this course a little unique. The first is that it was the first beach start at an Olympics. The athletes usually start on a pontoon and simply dive in the water. This year, they lined up on the beach and got a running start. This is kind of like when you were a kid and finally got to the beach and could run as fast as you could to dive into the waves and rinse all that sunscreen off that your mom just slathered on you.
The bike course was also unique in that it was an 8 lap course through the city with one big climb at the beginning of each lap. Most triathlons aim for a flatter course profile, but the inclusion of this climb added to the difficulty of the course.
If you’ve never watched an ITU (International Triathlon Union) race, it is a lot different from your local short course race. First of all, it’s a small group of professional athletes, and second it is draft legal. This means road bikes and pack dynamics.
The swim started off as expected. The men ran into the water and swam in the ocean for 1500m. The group finished fairly close together, with 30+ men within 50 seconds of each other. But coming out of transition, 50 seconds is a lot to overcome.
The bike was split into 3 groups. The lead pack of 10 men, the chase group, and everyone else. After first lap or two the lead pack, including the Brownlee brothers and American
Ben Kanute, had more than a minute advantage over the chase pack which included American Joe Maloy. That lead grew a bit over the next few laps and then coming into T2 it was back down to about 1:10. With 10 men all coming into transition together, it was all about the transition times for a good run.
As the run started, it was pretty clear everyone was racing for bronze. The Brownlee brothers pulled ahead of everyone and ran their own race. Back in the pack, Ben Kanute struggled after a hard bike and slowly drifted back, finishing 29th. Joe Maloy, on the other had, still had his legs for the run and finished a nice 23rd.
At the front of the race, Alistair Brownlee pulled ahead of his brother. He was able to jog easily down the blue carpet and walk across the line, soaking in the moment. Jonathan finished 6 seconds after him and both collapsed to the ground with smiles on their faces. Henri Schoeman of South Africa was a surprise finish in third. This was South Africa’s first medal ever in triathlon. The final record of note is that this is the first time an athlete has been able to defend his gold medal in triathlon.
This was a great race to watch (until NBC cut the live stream because I don’t have cable). It makes me want to go out and race some more… and maybe even try my hand at a draft legal race… of course, the first step for that is finding one near me and then convincing my wife to let me buy a new bike!