Gordon Benson swam, cycled and ran into the history books on Sunday when he became Great Britain’s first gold medal winner at the European Games.
Benson stood on the top step of the podium to accept his award from Prince Albert of Monaco after an incredible display of determination and grit in the triathlon.
The Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonny, who won gold and bronze respectively at the 2012 Olympics, were missing from the 57-strong field in Baku but that should take nothing away from the 21-year-old from Leeds. “I do not know if it was the perfect race but it was close enough,” said an exhausted Benson, who finished the three-stage event 11 seconds ahead of Portugal’s Joao Silva as temperatures pushed over 30C on a course overlooking the Caspian Sea.
He proved what an exciting competitor he is and could be one to watch ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics. “I was aware that I was not among the favourites,” he said. “You could have written down 10 different names that could have possibly won the race and I would not have written myself on that list. But I wanted to go out and put everything on the line.”
Whether Benson can challenge the dominance of Olympic champion Alistair and world title-winning Jonny, absent as they focus on the World Series competition and a Rio test event in August, remains to be seen.
But his success has guaranteed Britain a berth at next summer’s Olympics and improves his chances of joining the Brownlees in Rio.
After a strong 1500m swim, team-mates Tom Bishop and Philip Graves played an important role in helping Benson to the front during the 40km cycle leg. It was clear as the athletes slipped on their running shoes that the medals would be decided in the final 10km stage and Benson broke clear 5km from the end.
He held off a late push from Silva to win in 1hr 48min 31sec, with Azerbaijan’s Rostyslav Pevtsov in third. After setting up the victory, Bishop came home in 16th and Graves finished 46th.
By the end, Benson could walk the final yards across the line with a Union flag draped around his shoulders as he wrote a new chapter in Team GB folklore.
“Triathlon is an individual sport but I could not have done it without Tom and Phil,” he said. “The boys really delivered and I owe them a lot. We got a breakaway, left all the better runners behind and I had the legs to hang on. It was a real team effort. It is a shame we could not all get medals but getting the gold is brilliant.
“I train with Alistair and Jonny and I am sure they will be happy. It is good that we can train with such a good group of mates who all enjoy doing what we do together.”