With controversial disqualifications, thrillingly close finishes and a much-heralded new mixed relay, the triathlons held between 15 and 18 August proved to be perhaps the most fascinating Tokyo 2020 test events so far.
The first race, the women’s elite, attracted worldwide headlines after British competitors Jessica Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown, who had matched each other pace for pace throughout the course, decided on the spur of the moment to join hands and cross the line together.
The duo’s moment of triumph and solidarity was undone by the International Triathlon Union (ITU) rulebook, which states that competitors must not “finish in a contrived tie situation where no effort to separate the finish times has been made”.
The pair were disqualified, giving Flora Duffy of Bermuda the gold, Alice Betto of Italy silver, and Great Britain’s Vicky Holland the bronze. The event was an official ITU World Triathlon Olympic qualifier.
The race was also notable for the organisers making contingency plans for Tokyo’s current heatwave: with temperatures rising above 30C and the humidity above 80%, they opted to halve the running distance of the women’s elite event on the day to 5km, and start at 7.30am.
The men’s elite event was not as controversial but just as exciting. Canada’s Tyler Mislawchuk won gold in an incredibly tight sprint finish against Casper Stornes of Norway, who was four seconds behind and had to settle for silver. New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde, 12 seconds adrift of Mislawchuk, got bronze.
“If you want to do it on one course, it’s this course,” Mislawchuk said afterwards. “Now we know how to prepare for next year.”
As if all that hadn’t been thrilling enough, the brand-new mixed team event, which will be contested for the first time in an Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020, was probably best of all, culminating in an incredible photo finish, with the winners prevailing by just eight one-hundredths of a second.
“It was a big responsibility and a big stress,” admitted Coninx about the pressure of anchoring in an event in which two men and two women from each country (tagging female-male-female-male) swim 300m, cycle 7.4km and run 2km. “I tried my best to save the most energy as I can, and it worked so it’s unbelievable.”
The closeness of the race suggests that it could be a real highlight of Tokyo 2020, and the course won approval, too. Starting and finishing in Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Bay, it has been used for Japan’s National Championships for years.
Competitors swim 1.5km alongside Tokyo Bay’s sandy beaches and stunning high-rise waterfront buildings, before biking 40km and running 10km around the West Promenade district of Odaiba (featuring waterfalls and lush greenery).
“I love this course,” USA’s Summer Rappaport said. “I’m excited to come back next year, and it was great to check out the relay course with these guys.”
“I am extremely proud of the courses that will stage the Tokyo 2020 Olympic individual triathlon races, the mixed relay and the paratriathlon races,” Marisol Casado, president of the ITU and an IOC Member, said. “We have been working hard with Tokyo 2020 to develop courses that will be exciting for the athletes and spectators alike.
“The location is perfect and it is incredibly exciting to be right in the heart of Tokyo at the Odaiba Bay. It is a great opportunity to showcase this amazing city to the whole world.”
The men’s Olympic triathlon will take place on 27 July 2020, the women’s takes place on 28 July, and the mixed relay is on 1 August.