Great Britain’s London 2012 triathlon gold medalist Alistair Brownlee won the competition’s Rio Olympic final on Thursday morning, finishing in 1:45:01. The feat makes him the first triathlete to earn back-to-back gold medals.
Alistair was followed by his brother, Jonathan Brownlee, who earned silver with a time of 1:45:07. Bronze went to South Africa’s Henri Schoeman, who crossed the finished line in 1:45:43.
At the London 2012 Games, Alistair won gold with a 1:46:25 finish, while Jonathan took bronze by completing the race in 1:46:56. They were split by Spain’s Javier Gomez Noya, whose 1:46:36 time earned him silver.
Up until a month ago, it seemed like Rio could see a repeat scenario with the same top three competitors earning medals. But in July, Gomez Noya broke his arm and had to withdraw from the Olympics, opening the field to a number of strong triathletes.
The triathlon exemplifies the concept of an “endurance race”. It kicks off with a 1.5km swim (approximately .93 of a mile), followed by 40km of biking (approximately 24.8 miles), and ending with a 10km run (approximately 6.2 miles). Additionally, the transition periods factor into the overall race time. Athletes must train to mount their bikes and slip into their shoes as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The Rio Olympic course has been described as “highly technical”, with an open water swim giving way to a windy, hilly road.
The weather was cooperative – if muggy – on Thursday morning, and the waters off Copacabana Beach calm. At the 10:00 AM ET race star, a blaring horn cut through the quiet, and the competitors thrashed and dove into the ocean.
Slovakia’s Richard Varga, currently 30th in the ITU World Triathlon Series Rankings, held the lead coming out of the water. He finished that portion of the race in 17 minutes and 18 seconds, about 13 seconds ahead of the other triathletes. As the race approached the 18 minute mark, the competitors took to their bikes.
During the bike portion, Great Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee soon became head of the pack, with older brother Alistair close behind. For a few moments in the middle of this leg, Tuscon, Arizona native Ben Kanute fought all the way to fourth place.
Kanute enjoyed some social media buzz earlier in the Rio Olympics. Forced to miss the Opening Ceremonies so he could fully prepare for his race, the American was filmed walking down a road outside his Arizona training camp.
The video was published to Kanute’s Instagram account, and later featured on the TODAY Show.
But by the end of the bike section, Kanute lagged behind both Brownlees and other contenders, including France’s Vincent Luis. Luis and the British siblings were neck-and-neck with one another during the early part of the run, far ahead of all other competitors. At the 1 hour 20 minute mark, the siblings had established a significant lead over the Frenchman.
It was the running segment where the Brownlees really broke away from the pack. Alistair gained a comfortable lead over his brother about halfway through that section. The elder Brownlee was so far ahead, he walked past the finish line.
After the siblings finished, they collapsed to the ground and gripped one another’s hands. Both Alistair and Jonathan had encountered physical issues in the years following the London 2012 Olympics: Jonny dealt with a stress fracture in his leg, while Alistair required ankle surgery in 2015. But they overcame their respective injuries to make history in Rio.