In 2015, dominant female athletes like Ronda Rousey in the UFC and Serena Williams in tennis drew plenty of attention, though both suffered defeats, snapping their respective winning streaks. But in the often forgotten sport of triathlon, Gwen Jorgensen stamped her case as one of the most underrated female athletes—she went undefeated in all eight of her races (including the test event in Rio, which also served as the U.S. Olympic Trials) and captured her second consecutive World Triathlon series crown.
Jorgensen, who’s the heavy favorite to win Olympic gold, wants redemption at the Games more than anything; four years ago, Jorgensen suffered a flat tire on the bike in London, and she finished in a disappointing 38th place.
Jorgensen’s biggest strength comes on the run as she boasts a 32-minute personal best in the 10K, which can erase even the largest of deficits. In June’s World Triathlon Series stop in Leeds, Jorgensen overcame a gap of one minute and 40 seconds in the 10-kilometer run to win the race by 51 seconds over Bermuda’s Flora Duffy. Her 33:29 split on the run was 67 seconds faster than everyone else in the field.
The Olympic year has exposed some of Jorgensen’s weaknesses. Her competition has started to figure out her weaknesses, and that’s led to defeats in the World Triathlon Series stops in the Gold Coast and Hamburg. The question is whether her competition will be able to construct race plan that will allow them to do so in Rio.
Athletes to watch
Gwen Jorgensen, USA
As previously mentioned, Jorgensen has been the strongest female triathlete of the last three years. She went undefeated in her 12 races between 2014 and April ’16. Jorgensen’s undefeated season in 2015 made her the first woman to capture the world triathlon title without a loss, the second U.S. woman to win two career titles and the first American woman to win back-to-back world championships.
The losses this season have not bothered Jorgensen because she’s previously stated that her one goal of the year is to win at the Olympics. She has the experience of already having won on the Rio course, which includes a steep hill on the bike. What do the rest of her competitors have up their sleeves when it comes to challenging Jorgensen? We’ll have to see in Rio.
Helen Jenkins, Great Britain
Jenkins, the 2008 and ’11 World Triathlon Series champion, snapped Jorgensen’s winning streak with a 41-second win over the American star in the Gold Coast WTS stop on April 9—her first WTS victory since 2012. She finished fifth at the 2012 Olympics and missed 18 months of competition after the Summer Games with an injury. Winning in Rio may be a tough task, but she has already proven herself to be a Jorgensen-beater in the right race.
Flora Duffy, Bermuda
Duffy is among the athletes who’s changed her approach on the bike in order to try and open up a significant gap on Jorgensen before the run. Duffy heads into the Summer Games with some momentum from three WTS podium finishes, including a win in Stockholm. She has competed at two Olympics but never finished better than 45th.
Alistair Brownlee, Great Britain
Brownlee could become the first man to defend his Olympic title since the sport was introduced to the Summer Games in 2000—only Canada’s Simon Whitfield and New Zealand’s BevanDocherty have medaled twice at the Summer Games. Brownlee struggled with injuries in the years since London but appears to be rounding into form at the right time with WTS victories in Leeds and Stockholm before heading to Rio.
Mario Mola, Spain
Mola will have big shoes to fill for Spain as five-time world champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Javier Gomez will miss the Rio Games with a broken arm. This year, Mola has won the WTS stops in Abu Dhabi, Gold Coast and Yokohama. Fellow Spaniard Fernando Alarza will also be one to watch as he is ranked No. 2 in the WTS rankings.
Jonathan Brownlee, Great Britain
Brownlee took bronze at the 2012 Olympics behind his brother and Gomez. Much like his brother, he has also been banged up since London but 2016 has fared well for him. He owns four WTS podium finishes with his last two coming behind his brother in Leeds and Stockholm.
The triathlon in Rio consists of a 1,500-meter swim, a 24.9-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run on Copacabana Beach.
Aug. 18 – Men’s triathlon race
Aug. 20 – Women’s triathlon race