After nearly two hours of swimming, biking and running, the Olympic women's triathlon came down to a matter of miliseconds.
With the top two finishers ending their race in essentially identical time, officials needed a photo finish check to determine that Nicola Spirig of Switzerland had actually defeated Lisa Norden of Sweden in the grueling race across three disciplines, even though both racers had finished in 1:59:48. Australian Erin Densham came in third, two seconds behind the top two racers to clinch the bronze.
Things had been fairly close throughout the grueling race through London's Hyde Park. Both Spirig and Norden were at or near the front of the pack of leaders through the swimming and biking stages, keeping themselves close until they could make up their gap in their strongest event—the run at the end.
Once they transitioned off the bike, it appeared as though Spirig would win gold easily. With just 20 meters to go, she had pulled away from both Norden and Densham, but the Swede had other plans. Norden used a herculean effort over the final stretch of the course to push the Swiss leader to the absolute limit.
The distance running specialist couldn't have run a much better race than the one she delivered early on Saturday. She kept herself in the top-10 after both the swimming and biking disciplines, close enough to the front-runners that she could make her move. Once she got to the front, she did her best to stick there, taking a big lead before the final stretch and weathering an incredible charge from Lisa Norden to bring home the gold medal.
The Swedish racer wound up showing everyone just what she was capable of with a spectacular showing in this race, pushing the eventual champion to the absolute limit and nearly stealing gold over the final 20 meters of the race. She, much like Spirig, delivered solid times in both the swimming and cycling stages, and made extremely strong transitions between the events, keeping herself close to the leaders throughout.
Unlike Spirig, Norden had a bit of trouble in the swimming-to-biking transition, but more than made up for it with a strong showing in the middle discipline and running down the stretch. The incredible effort she exuded at the end of the race to catch Spirig and force one of the closest finishes in Olympic history is certainly to be commended. And while she came up a hair's breadth short of getting that gold medal, it's hard to find a lot of fault in her performance.
The best American hope in this discipline came up just short of bringing home a medal of any color, finishing in a flat 2:00:00.00, 10 seconds behind third. Groff has been looking to enhance the profile of her sport in the U.S. and through the first two events of the race, it looked like she might just pull it off. She stayed close to the leaders in both the swim and the bike race, and delivered extremely strong transitions between the disciplines, which is absolutely critical to any triathlon racer's hopes.
Unfortunately for the American, it was the 10k footrace where she saw her hopes of medals slip out of her grasp, losing 11 seconds to Spirig and Norden. That slip was costly, and Groff is going to have to wait until the next Olympics to get that medal she so desperately wants. She gave a strong effort, but one that came up just short.
Team GB's best hope for a medal in this event, Jenkins was the favorite coming into the race and the defending world champ in the triathlon. However, a pair of lackluster transitions cost her precious seconds, and she faded badly in the final leg of the race, finishing the 10k 32 seconds behind Spirig and Norden. Her time of 2:00:19 wasn't bad, but in a race this competitive, it was certainly a disappointment for the Brit to finish so far away from a medal.
There was certainly plenty of excitement surrounding the fantastic finish of this race, helped along by the London Olympics' official Twitter feed, which was more than happy to provide us an idea of just how close things got:
Triathlon fan Erik Jonsson was in awe of just how close the end of the race was:
The triathlon took two hours, and Lisa Nordén was 0.009 seconds from the gold medal. Incredible.— Erik (@erkjonsson) August 4, 2012
Patrick Thomas pretty much echoed the sentiments of everyone who watched today's race, and summed it up perfectly:
If you missed the Womens Triathlon I instill you to watch it. The finish -Nicola Spirig & Lisa Norden -one of the best things I've ever seen— Patrick Thomas (@designstranger) August 4, 2012