At her fourth Olympics, the 33-year-old improved on her eighth from Rio 2016 to complete the Odaiba Marine Park course in one hour 55 minutes and 36 seconds and win by one minute and 14 seconds.
Great Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown recovered from a puncture on the bell lap of the 40km bike leg to move from fifth of the bike and claim the Olympic silver medal. World Champion Katie Zafares, representing USA, who secured the discretionary spot on the Olympic team after losing her dad suddenly in April, proved her striking form to an emotional bronze 17-seconds behind Taylor-Brown – after being near the lead for the whole race.
It wasn’t the day that the Australian Olympic Triathlon Team had worked so hard for. There was a missed opportunity on the swim and only one of the three athletes completed the course.
Sydney’s Emma Jeffcoat had a strong Olympic debut to place 26th. The 26-year-old was eighth out of the first transition of the day but not within contact of the leading seven, who established an immediate gap on the rest of the field.
Jeffcoat, known for her powerful swim and bike combination, was near the front of the main chase pack on the 40km bike and moved through the final transition 1:08 down on the leaders in 15th position. On the run, the leading women were a force to be reckoned with and Jeffcoat just didn’t have what it took on the day to match their pace, dropping back and finishing in 26th place in 2:02.57, 7.21 behind Olympic champion Duffy.
Jeffcoat was pleased with her performance but she knew that connecting with the breakaway group in the swim was the key to Olympic triathlon success.
“I was just off the back of that lead group, I think that was a critical moment there for me,” she said.
“The most critical moment was probably about halfway through the swim, whether I got on the group or didn’t, and I was in no-man’s land in the middle so unfortunately missed an opportunity.
“I’ll learn from that, move on from it, but I’m really happy with how I held my composure on that bike and rode out there today in the tough conditions.”
Due to the rain, wind and overcast skies it was much cooler than the men’s race yesterday and the conditions the athletes were anticipating.
“It was absolutely crazy. I kind of feel a bit ripped off for all the heat work I did and for it to actually be kind of cool,” Jeffcoat said.
Jaz Hedgeland had a solid swim to be 1:18 back however Ashleigh Gentle, who was Australia’s strongest hope for the event, was well back in the swim and was 40th (1:45) on to the bike.
Hedgeland and Gentle avoided the crashes on the bike and were in a big pack and placed mid-30s and around seven minutes off the lead with the hope that they could produce a good run and move through the field.
The big gap the leaders had put on the field working together on the bike and in to the first run lap, meant that the chase pack that Gentle and Hedgeland were in couldn’t complete their final lap of the bike and into transition before the lead runners were coming through to complete their first 2.5km run lap.
It is devastating for the Australians to have a LAP next to their names, when they were working their way back into the race. They were estimated to only be 30-seconds to a minute off being allowed into transition. Twelve athletes were also lapped out on course and a further eight DNF (did not finish) due to crashes or physical issues, meaning only 34 of the 54 starters finished. As per the competition guidelines, athletes who have been lapped during the bike segment will be withdrawn from the competition by the Technical Officials.
Jeffcoat was devastated for her teammates.
“It gave me goosebumps when I came past I think it was on lap 7 and saw them sitting on the side of the road,” she said.
“It’s honestly heartbreaking. You know yourself how hard you work and what the dream is out there and to see them not be able to finish, it’s really disappointing and I’m really gutted for them. But I know the girls will put that behind them and move on and get their head in the game for Saturday.”
The Australia women will now need to regroup and focus on their recovery ahead of the Olympic debut of the Mixed Relay on Saturday, where Australians are predicted hopefuls for a medal.
“As a whole we are probably disappointed with our individual performances, but I have absolute confidence in our ability as a team in the mixed team relay,” Jeffcoat said. “I think we’ll be in medal contention and everyone should be excited to watch.”
Jeffcoat said she had the mixed team relay on her mind in the run and backed off a bit.
“My run over a 10k is definitely something I’m working on, my run over 1500’s is a different story and I’m really confident with that,” she said.
“I kind of knew that and was playing to that today. I was going to see how I was feeling on the bike, where I was sitting and make the smart call to make sure I was ready for Saturday.
The two women and two men to represent Australia will be confirmed closer to the Mixed Relay competition day.