Triathlon: No gold for Team GB in Hyde Park as Nicola Spirig of Switzerland shines


The obvious signs of the struggle were all around the finishing line, where Britain’s Vicky Holland hobbled around with a lacerated knee and the American Sarah Groff, her face still caked in the mud of the Serpentine, described riding over a downed competitor in the triathlon’s cycling stage. Helen Jenkins, the major British hope whose push for gold perished only in the last mile, has been carrying her own pain, quietly and anxiously, for weeks. She only revealed after finishing fifth yesterday that a knee injury had been limiting the frequency and intensity of her training sessions.

“I didn’t really feel any pain when I was running. There were too many painkillers inside me,” said Jenkins, the sport’s world champion, though the British team had actually been suffering agonies long before the 28-year-old  began dropping off the leading group of four, as they approached Hyde Park’s Diana Memorial for the last time. The team’s fervent hope had been that the Serpentine waters would be deemed warm enough to be tackled in swimsuits. The judges instead decreed at 8am that it would be wetsuits, whose buoyancy help those weaker swimmers whom Jenkins and Lucy Hall – the (ital)domestique(close) of the team, working for Jenkins as much as Chris Froome has for Bradley Wiggins all summer – had hoped to burn off, leaving them too much ground to make up in cycling and swimming.

Hall, the British heroine of the day, played her part unstintingly, emerging first from the 1,500m swim before proceeding to haul Jenkins up to the front of the 40km cycling stage, peering back under her arm, over and over again, to see where the British gold contender might be. But they had not put enough daylight between themselves and the Swiss Nicola Spirig, whose reputation as a ‘weak’ swimmer is a relative use of that term. Spirig lurked ominously just off the lead, awaiting the sprint finish which would deliver her gold by a photo-finish over the Swede Lisa Norden, in a finale more extraordinary than perhaps any this Olympics will bring. No British gold, but the crowds approaching 200,000 around the course were rewarded.

The potential to grind Spirig and Norden into the dust might have been greater had not Holland been involved in a crash on the greasy track, on the first of seven laps of the cycling course, and then sustained a puncture on the last lap. “Someone took me out from behind and someone clipped me,” Holland related. The crash left her stranded, unable to ascend through the field for fear of bringing up others with her who might later run strongly. “It was a case of sitting in and waiting for the run,” added Holland, who finished 26th. “I hadn't done a lot of run training, though. My focus here was swimming and bike training, to try and put Helen in contention.” The immense tactical complexities of the triathlon team event were certainly beyond many of the masses who felt so exhilarated to see Hall emerge first from the water.

Jenkins allowed that audience some very substantial hopes. She threatened to give the Wellington Arch its biggest piece of combat history since George IV had it built to mark the Napoleonic wars, as she powered under it, easing through the field. And after the transition from cycling to running she was dominant in a leading bunch, gradually whittled to eight – then five. The Austrian Erin Densham, who took bronze, tried to shake them all off, twice accelerating out of a bend in the course to gain extra moment. The triathletes call it ‘sling-shotting.’ Twice, Jenkins reeled her in. Time was running out on her gold, though, even as the pack headed for home. Spirig’s trademark strong sprint finish demanded that the Briton build a lead over her. Instead, it was Jenkins who was dropped, reaching deep inside to find if she might have anything else to offer and finding nothing.

Jenkins did not attempt to mask the disappointment. “It was bit of an unknown where I would be but this is one of the biggest set backs,” she admitted. “When am I going to be in front of a home crowd like this again? I have never heard noise like it.” She spoke of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and of the Rio Olympics two years later - “you learn more from the set-backs,” she said - though you didn’t feel her heart was in that.

It will be of no consolation to Jenkins that others took a far more visceral type of punishment. Groff, who finished fourth, was trying to find the competitor who had been left beneath her tyres. “She crashed right in front of me and I rode over this poor girl. Right over her torso. It was kinda out there,” Groff said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
travelFrom Notting Hill Carnival to Zombeavers at FrightFest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home