The most glorious of rainbows formed over Rainbow Bridge here in Tokyo early on Tuesday morning, as the world’s greatest triathletes swam, pedalled and puffed their way around the Odaiba Marine Park. At the end of it, Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown could not quite find a pot of Olympic gold. But after suffering a flat tyre on her rear wheel on the bike, the 27-year-old from Manchester discovered the sweetest of silver linings.
As the pre-race favourite Flora Duffy powered clear to become Bermuda’s first Olympic gold medallist in 1hr 55 min 36 sec, Taylor-Brown was on the mother of all retrieval missions. After losing 22 seconds and dropping to fifth because of the puncture, she picked off three of her rivals to take a deserved second, with the American Katie Zaferes claiming bronze.
“I had a really good swim and I got out and we had 35 seconds and I thought this is perfect,” said Taylor-Brown afterwards. “The bike – we worked really well, I got a puncture coming out of the park with about 2k to come and I panicked – I didn’t know what to do so I just rode on the flat.
“I lost maybe 15 seconds on the group. The first lap of the run I was in panic mode. I think I definitely paid for it on the latter part of the run but it paid off.”
But no one, surely, was going to stop the brilliant Duffy, who took the lead at the start of the run and rapidly extended it to win in 1hr 55 min 36 secs, 74 seconds clear of Taylor-Brown, with Zaferes another 12 seconds back.
As she entered the home straight Duffy pumped her fists, waved at the crowd and then collapsed in joy over the line. A couple of years ago the 33-year-old was awarded an OBE by Prince Charles for services to Bermuda and triathlon after being twice crowned world champion and winning the 2018 Commonwealth Games. But surely now she will be upgraded. Dame Duffy certainly has a nice ring to it.
What made her performance even more impressive was that overnight the tropical storm Nepartak had ripped through Tokyo, with the high winds and heavy rain delaying the start by 15 minutes and making conditions treacherous on the bike, with multiple crashes as a result. One of the victims was Britain’s Vicky Holland, who after finishing ninth said she had lost a minute and a half as a result.
Britain’s Jessica Learmonth had been leading out of the swim in a time of 18.24, but all the big favourites were in a small pack of seven that soon established a minute’s lead on the bike. The group of seven was whittled down to five just before the run, until Taylor-Brown’s puncture. At this stage Learmonth was in the leading group but she couldn’t hold on and finished ninth.
Meanwhile the silver medal was also a moment of redemption for Taylor-Brown. In 2019 she and Learmonth had crossed the line together in a test event in Tokyo, having spontaneously joined hands to celebrate – only to be disqualified after falling foul of the International Triathlon Union’s competition rule 2:11f, which states that triathletes must not “finish in a contrived tie situation where no effort to separate the finish times has been made”.