The joke growing up in Chicago was always that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. Of course, that means the converse is also true. If it’s nice right now, it’ll probably suck soon. That’s exactly what race officials were worried about, with massive thunderstorms on the horizon, when they moved the women’s race up from 5 p.m. on Friday to 1 p.m.
Not that four hours makes much difference to Gwen Jorgensen. Just name the time. Whenever you’re ready, she’ll be there.
With Jorgensen coming into the ITU World Triathlon Series (WTS) Grand Final championship race having won 11 straight WTS races in a row, the Chicago event was essentially a case of Gwen against the field. Could anyone beat her? (Since she actually hasn’t lost a single race since April 2014, I’m going to take the house bet of: No.)
But there’s lots on the line, and so plenty of the women were willing to throw every monkeywrench they could into Jorgensen’s dominance. Both Katie Zaferes and Sarah True were certainly hoping to unseat their fellow countrywomen, plus lock up their second and third spots in the series standings. The Brit team of Non Stanford, Vicky Holland, and Helen Jenkins has been coming on strong in the second half of the season with all eyes aimed at Chicago. And never count out Andrea Hewitt or Emma Moffatt. Plus, everyone keeps saying how Flora Duffy‘s superior bike handling skills should serve her well in a 9-lap, 45-U-turn course.
The only caveat is that many nations were also competing in a race within this race, since some Olympic team spots are up for grabs, so they may have different incentives and motivations pushing them around and around and around Buckingham Fountain.
The Grand Final — the semi-evil-sounding awesome name for the championship race — caps off the WTS season. That means it’s worth 1.5x the regular number of points and has extra prize money. The winner in Chicago takes home $30,000, second gets $22,000, and third wins $16,000 for their two hours of effort — though, honestly, it isn’t really two hours of work; it’s more like years and years of work. That goes all the way down to $1,000 for the 25th person in the race.
Plus, and this is a big plus, there’s the bonus pool money for the year-end series rankings. If you (and by “you” I mean Jorgensen) come out on the top of the series at the end with the most number of points, then you get a bonus $80,000 — which isn’t so much a bonus as the whole point. Second in the series takes a $55,000 bonus, third earns $38,000, and 35th at the end of the year win $1,800 — which will totally pay all your bills.
Can Anyone Beat Gwen?
When the swim dove off into Lake Michigan for the two-lap swim, it was slightly chilly. I don’t really know how chilly because the announcer kept referring to Celsius even though this is the U.S., but the water was in the mid-50s Fahrenheit. That meant it was a wetsuit swim for the ITU racers, who are not typically accustomed to wetsuit swims. It didn’t slow down the top swimmers, though, with Carolina Routier, Duffy, and Zaferes leading a large pack. While they were at the front of a string of fast swimmers and hit the shore around 17:50, that huge group was right behind them, with True just a few seconds back and Jorgensen only a handful of steps after her.
After running across Lake Shore Drive and into Grant Park — where the majority of the race would take place — True got out onto the bike first with a masterful transition, followed by Holland. And everyone else.
Because there’d been no real gap established in the two-loop swim, everything became one giant pack on the bike with almost all the contenders in that front group of 22: Jorgensen, Zaferes, True, Holland, Hewitt, Moffatt, Duffy, Stanford, and 14 others. After a couple laps, that group became 29 — because it just wasn’t big enough before — with a chase about a half-minute behind. Duffy kept trying to make things happen and get a bit of a breakaway going, but no one was biting.
And after about 1:02 of riding for everyone, that huge group rolled into transition with all the women going in different directions to get ready for what it’ll all come down to: who can run the fastest 10k.
Most would assume that answer is obvious. (If it’s not obvious, think harder.) But maybe it wasn’t obvious to Stanford and Holland, who decided today might be the day the win streak was broken. They pushed hard from the beginning, trying to control the race and break away from the rest of the women, with Jorgensen loping along on their heels. True, Jodie Stimpson, and Hewitt led the second group about 10 seconds back.
It then became a battle within the race, with Zaferes farther back trying to hold onto her top three spot for the series, Hewitt and True trying to knock her off. And the Brits trying to lock up an Olympic spot — a podium finish in the race for Stanford or Holland would get them on the Rio team, per British qualification standards.
As the race came down to the finish, Jorgensen was finally able to pull away with a blasting kick, though it took her longer than usual to get to the front. Stanford stamped her Rio ticket with a second place. Holland took third and her Olympic spot. Both Brits were just relieved to pull off such an epic run and to have their Rio slots.
“I tried to play it down, but I was in a massive amount of stress and now that it is done I am quite relieved that we got both places on the team for the Olympics,” said Stanford after the race. “All I wanted to do was get on that podium.”
“Getting on the podium was a win. That’s absolutely all I wanted to do today,” said Holland.
Hewitt pulled away for fourth and Rachel Klamer was a surprise fifth-place finish, followed by Stimpson and True. Zaferes struggled and finished 24th, losing her third overall for the season series.
Listen to True talk about the race:
True’s finish was able to solidify her third for the season’s year-end podium, but Hewitt managed to sneak ahead of her by just seven points for the overall second-place spot for the series. Both were well behind Jorgensen’s perfect season score (which happens when you don’t lose a single race). The perfect score was also a first-ever for triathlon.
While Jorgensen was able simply pull away with her 32:43 10k, once she decided it was time to pull away, Stanford and Holland found a new gear with their 33:14 and 33:32 runs, respectively. And don’t worry, they’re planning on focusing on closing that run gap before Rio. “We have a year now to work on that,” said Holland.
“They’re pretty tough. I was really hurting today and I had no idea what was going to happen,” said Jorgensen after the race. Really, no idea?
Listen to Jorgensen’s comments on the race:
The men race tomorrow, Saturday, at 5 p.m. still.
- Gwen Jorgensen – 1:55:36
- Non Stanford – 1:56:05
- Vicky Holland – 1:56:20
- Andrew Hewitt – 1:56:44
- Rachel Klamer – 1:56:50
- Jodie Stimpson – 1:57:08
- Sarah True – 1:57:19
- Ai Ueda – 1:57:29
- Aileen Reid – 1:57:37
- Juri Ide – 1:57:39
- Gwen Jorgensen – 5,200
- Andrea Hewitt – 4,081
- Sarah True – 4,074
- Vicky Holland – 3,953
- Katie Zaferes – 3,900