Imperious Gwen Jorgensen is back in business
Seven years. 2,569 days. It is the time that took Rio 2016 Olympic champion, Gwen Jorgensen to step back on top of a podium on a World Triathlon individual race. And she did it in an imperious way at the World Triathlon Cup in Valencia. It was hard for the American to hold back the tears when she grabbed the finish tape, almost 30 seconds ahead of the two Germans accompanying her on the podium, Nina Eim and Marlene Gomez-Goggle.
Valencia welcomed the participants of the World Cup with an impressive storm just a few hours before the start of the races. Still, the sun was starting to shine again in the Mediterranean city while the 32 women were lining up this Saturday afternoon, ready for a challenging race along the Marina that used to host Formula 1 races.
It was Belgium’s Jolien Vermeylen the first one to lead the women in the unusual format of 2 laps of 750m each but without leaving the water for the second lap. She quickly stretched the group buoy after buoy, with Switzerland’s Anja Weber right at her feet, and both of them led the large line of athletes on the long run and ramp to the first transition.
Some of the favourites of the race, like Gwen Jorgensen, managed to stay close to the leaders, exiting the water only seven seconds behind, but some others, like Lisa Terstch (GER) or Claire Michel (BEL) struggled in the first section of the race, almost 30 seconds behind the leaders, which proved to be too much for them.
Both of them were not able to catch the lead group, of 22 women, and the game was over for them, losing almost one minute on each of the first three laps of the bike course. By the time the leaders, commanded by Valerie Barthelemy (BEL), Yuko Takahashi (JPN), Nina Eim (GER), Noelia Juan (ESP) and with great runners like Tilda Mansson (SWE), Jorgensen or Vermeylen safely situated in the middle of the pack, trying to save some legs for the run.
With another 20km to go on the bike, the group just slowed down a bit, but the gap with the chasers was just too big for them to try to catch up before they headed to the second transition.
Valencia was promised to be a run race, and so it was. The group of 22 leaders racked their bikes together, and it was again Anja Weber leaving transition on the lead for the second time on the day, but she was quickly chased by Vermeylen, Eim, Maria Carolina Velasquez Soto (COL), and Valerie Barthelemy.
It was just a matter of meters that Gwen Jorgensen made it up front of the small group, with young Spanish athlete Noelia Juan and Germany’s Marlene Gomez-Goggel chasing with them. Halfway through the 20km flat run course, the lead group had stretched, with Jorgensen making her final move with two laps to go, no one able to follow her.
Behind the American’s feet, Vermeylen slowly faded away in the last 5km and was passed by Nina Eim first, and on the last lap Gomez-Goggle and Juan moved themselves to third and fourth place, respectively.
Entering the blue carpet and with the finish tape on sight, Jorgensen’s face was a mix of tears and smiles, knowing that it had been seven years, 2,569 days since her last victory at the Rio 2016 Olympics. It was just a few months ago when Jorgensen, now a mother of two and seven years after announcing her retirement from triathlon, decided that she wanted to give herself another chance on the sport and try to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics. It won’t be an easy task, but she seems to be on a mission.
“I came out here and I really wanted to focus on the process and performance, more so than the place. Getting back in the sport after seven years is not easy, I forgot the difference between open water and pool swimming and I am excited, I know my fitness is there in the swim and now I know how to execute it,” she explained after her victory.
“Only one (US) person qualified in the Paris Test Event and there’s another qualifying event in Pontevedra but I am not on the start list but I am here and I just know that every race I get into, I am going to show up and give my best,” she said.
Behind them, the German duo of Eim and Gomez-Goggle crossed the finish line in second and third place, respectively. “ I am really happy about the result, even with my swim I was pretty happy about it, I was out of the water in the front and that is a good sign for me,” said Eim.
Bronze medallist Gomez-Goggle said: “I am super pleased, I am not a heat person so today I had to dig so deep to really earn the podium spot and I am super pleased with the race today. I had some of my best races this year but also my worst, so I am just super content with that race today to get some consistency in progressing.”
The fourth place on the day was for Spain’s Noelia Juan, Valencia native, who delighted the local crowds with her performance, while Vermeylen rounded the top 5.