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Laura Bennett finished fourth in Beijing
Laura Bennett finished fourth in Beijing
photo: USAT Communications

Bennett Just Misses in Beijing

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If it weren't for a bit of cramping on the run, U.S. triathlete Laura Bennett (N. Palm Beach, Fla. / Boulder, Colo.) may have found her place on the Olympic Games medal stand on Monday.

Instead, the 33-year-old will have to wait four more years for another shot at glory after finishing fourth at the Beijing Olympic Games at the Ming Tombs Reservoir.

"I'm pleased with fourth. I started cramping on the third lap and lost touch with third place, so that's a little disappointing, but I feel I tried to pull out what I could today and I'm really happy with fourth," Bennett said.

Triathlon fans were able to witness the much anticipated head-to-head matchup between three-time world champion Australian Emma Snowsill and Portuguese sensation Vanessa Fernandes. But the race was over by the time the run started as Snowsill pulled away from all the other competitors to grab gold in 1:58:27. Fernandes won the silver in 1:59:34, with Australian Emma Moffat finishing third in 1:59:55.

Bennett's result in 2:00:21 led the three-person American team, with Sarah Haskins (St. Louis, Mo. / Colorado Springs, Colo.) finishing 11th  in 2:01:22 and Julie Ertel (Placentia, Calif. / Irvine, Calif.) finishing 19th in 2:02:39.

The U.S. athletes were among the top five out of the water after the 1.5k swim and were part of a large lead group of close to 15 athletes on the bike. The team strategy of gaining an edge with a breakaway on the bike didn't come to fruition as this group stayed together throughout the 40k bike course that took the competitors in front of the grandstands filled with close to 10,000 supporters six times.

"There was a big group on the bike. I tried to attack on the bike, but the pack kept us in it," said Haskins. "So it came down to a strong run. I felt good on the run. But 11th place, you know, I can't complain."

Ertel said the challenging bike course set the tone for the rest of her race. "It was a hard bike," she said. "I just got a lower back cramp on the first hill and it was hard for me to recover. It lasted the first three laps of the run. The last lap I felt great. I wish it was a 20k.

"I was still happy with my performance, but the bike was definitely the hardest part today. I knew going in that this wasn't a course that played to my strengths. I feel it did well. My goal was to stay with that lead pack [on the bike]. I can't say it was easy but I managed to do that. And then the run, I was kind of out of gas."

Once the athletes started the 10k run, the lead group began to separate. Snowsill quickly put space between herself and her pursuers, gaining a 15-second advantage by the time the first of four laps was complete. Bennett, Fernandes, and Moffatt led the group in pursuit, with the American pulling into second for much of the second lap. Unfortunately, that's when the cramps set in and Bennett lost three places, as Fernandes began to find her legs, Moffat gave chase and Juri Ide pulled into fourth.

"I felt great after the swim, getting on the bike and staying with the girls. We all worked the hill quite well. I felt strong and was ready to get out on the run where I knew it was going to come down to," said Bennett, a first-time Olympian who was team alternate in 2004. "I knew it was going to be fast and was going to take some deep digging to keep with the girls. I did my best to dig and stay with them. A little bit of cramping set me back, but that's part of racing."

Bennett was smiling as she entered the stadium for the last time, on the heels of Ide, but out of reach of a medal. She passed the Japanese athlete in the homestretch and maintained her smile across the finish line.

"The whole experience has been fantastic," said Bennett as she made her way through the post-race throngs of reporters. "We had a great time at the Opening Ceremonies. We're taking in the whole experience and taking in what the Olympics is all about."

When she gets back to the States, Bennett and her teammates will turn their attention to London in 2012. But there is one athlete that they have their sights set on. "Emma is definitely the mark, and that's what we'll build toward over the next four years," said Bennett.

Ten of the 55 athletes were unable to finish the race.

This was the third year for triathlon on the Olympic Games program. The lone medal for the U.S. (men or women) came in 2004 when Susan Williams won bronze in Athens.

The men race at 10 a.m. local time on Tuesday, August 19.

Beijing 2008 Olympic Games - Women's Triathlon

Gold - Emma Snowsill (AUS) 1:58:27
Silver - Vanessa Fernandes (POR) 1:59:34
Bronze - Emma Moffatt (AUS) 1:59:55
4th - Laura Bennett (N. Palm Beach, Fla. / Boulder, Colo.) 2:00:21
5th - Juri Ide (JPN) 2:00:23
6th - Nicola Spirig (SUI) 2:00:30
7th - Daniela Ryf (SUI) 2:00:40
8th - Andrea Hewitt (NZL) 2:00:45
9th - Kiyomi Niwata (JPN) 2:00:51
10th - Debbie Tanner (NZL) 2:01:06

Other U.S. Athletes

11th - Sarah Haskins (St. Louis, Mo. / Colorado Springs, Colo.) 2:01:22
19th - Julie Ertel (Placentia, Calif. / Irvine, Calif.) 2:02:39

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