The 2013 World Triathlon Series Grand Final
16th September 2013
On the triathlon circuit, everyone always talks about how unpredictable the sport is. Swim. Bike. Run. Three things most of us have at least tried at some point in our lives. But put those three things together and what you get is one of the toughest sports in the world. Triathletes can have tactics up their sleeves going into a race, but it’s how they respond to what is happening around them that really counts.
After seven races across four continents, this year’s World Triathlon Series staged its Grand Final in London’s Hyde Park this weekend. The race to be crowned world champion had come right down to the wire in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
There was a lot of talk about a British 1-2 on the podium. Of course most people were referring to a Brownlee 1-2. In the end, Britain’s women served up that tasty treat well before the two brothers from Yorkshire got anywhere near the startline.
On Saturday, Swansea’s Non Stanford made history by becoming the first woman to be named World Champion just a year after taking the under-23 world title. And she did it in style.
It was a dramatic race right from the start with the two leading athletes in the standings dropping out of contention. Germany’s Anne Haug had a shocker of a swim and it was game over for Gwen Jorgensen of the United States after she suffered a heavy crash on bike in the treacherous weather conditions.
What remained were two British women going for one world title. The widely-advertised Brownlee versus Brownlee had turned into Stanford versus Stimpson. They stayed close on the bike, but while Jodie had trouble putting on her shoes in the second transition, Non attacked, knowing she had to serve a 15 second penalty during the run for not putting her wetsuit into her box during the first transition.
Less than two months after breaking her arm during a race in Hamburg, Non dealt with everything thrown at her on the Olympic course with grace and guts. She went hard on the run and created enough of a gap so that by the time she had taken her punishment, she could start to relax. Roared on by the Hyde Park crowd, Non grabbed a Welsh flag to drape around her shoulders as she ran down the home straight.
Fellow Brit Jodie finished in fourth place, which was enough to take silver in the overall series standings, cementing her best year to date.
As I interviewed her after the race, Non was understandably emotional: ‘’I’m going from elated to nearly crying afterwards because I can’t quite believe it…the way the race panned out, it was nuts, it was all going off and it was about the person that was sensible and kept their head about them.’’
When asked how it felt to be part of a British 1-2, Non added: ‘’To stand on the podium with a fellow Brit, and with Jodie, was just fantastic…hopefully the boys will do the same tomorrow and it’ll be the perfect weekend for British triathlon.”
But someone had forgotten to give Spain’s Javier Gomez the script.
On Sunday, Gomez, Olympic Champion Alistair and his younger brother, reigning World Champion Jonathan, were the leading contenders to take the world title.
At first, the scene looked familiar with everything going according to plan…until the run. As the athletes prepared for the 10k, it quickly became clear Alistair would not be repeating his Olympic triumph – he was wincing in pain as soon as he stepped off his bike. The ankle that had been bothering him all year had finally caught up with him, on the grandest of stages.
That left Jonny and Javier to slug it out – both knowing only a win would secure the world championship. When Alistair passed the dueling pair he would yell at Jonny to use his head. There was almost nothing between them until 250 metres to go, when Jonny decided to kick, prompting Alistair to stop racing and start shouting at his younger brother to be patient. With the finish line in sight, Javier sprinted brilliantly to take the victory by just one second and claim his third world championship title, after wins in 2008 and 2010.
Speaking to me live on the BBC after the race, Jonny was heartbroken: ‘’I gave it everything and I'm absolutely gutted to be honest…to get beaten by just a few metres or so is hard to take but I don’t know what I could have done differently there…I was quite good tactically at the end of the sprint…at least I gave it my all. That’s all you can ask’’.
That is indeed all we can ask of any athlete at the top of their game. Most of us wouldn’t argue with Jonny’s assessment of his race and could feel his despair as he spoke. His older sibling, however, wasn’t quite so sympathetic and gave us his thoughts on live telly in his usual, delightfully frank, manner: ’I’ll be giving him a lot of stick for that. He’s given a world title away today for being a complete tactical numpty.’’ Alistair thought Jonny should have waited until he was closer to the finish before trying to outsprint Javier.
All this candid post-race chat just added to the drama of the whole weekend…it was the perfect display of sport at its most brutal… a demonstration of how the same level of fighting spirit, bravery and sheer determination can lead to opposite outcomes. And even though for most of the athletes, the overriding emotion was agony rather than ecstasy, it was triathlon at its very best.