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The first-ever Olympic Games triathlon was contested in Sydney in 2000. (Delly Carr/ITU)

Olympic Rewind: Sydney

A look back at the inaugural Olympic Games triathlon

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Sydney Women's Recap, Sept. 16, 2000 - Complete Results
U.S. triathletes Joanna Zeiger, Sheila Taormina and Jennifer Gutierrez didn’t win any medals, but did themselves and their country proud as they finished fourth, sixth and 13th respectively, in the inaugural women’s Olympic triathlon race.

Brigitte McMahon of Switzerland won the race in 2 hours, 40.52 seconds. The Swiss surprise stole the glory many thought would be reserved for Australia’s Michellie Jones, who placed second in 2:00:42.55 (an Australian newspaper ran a photo of Jones on its cover with the headline “Our First Gold). Switzerland’s Magali Messmer took the bronze (2:01:08).

Zeiger was thrilled with her finish (2:01:25.74) and felt she, Taormina and Gutierrez had proven something to the world.

“A lot of people didn’t give the Americans any credit at all and we have three girls in the first pack. We had two people finish in the top 10. I think we put on an unbelievable performance,” Zeiger said.

“I hope that in the future, people will realize it’s anybody’s game in these races.”
The weather was sunny but cool as the triathletes dove off the pontoon into Sydney Harbor for the first leg of the race. As expected, Olympic swimming gold medallist Taormina (Livonia, Mich.) jumped out to a 50-meter lead in the swim. She was followed out of the water by Germany’s Joelle Franzmann and Australia’s Nicole Hackett and Loretta Harrop.

After a smooth transition, Taormina jumped on her bike in the lead, but had trouble finding any help and realized she couldn’t hold the lead by herself.

“I said, ‘All right, the first lap of the bike, enjoy the crowd. Smile at ‘em. Let the pack catch you because you know they’re going to catch you anyway,’” Taormina said.

“There are a few girls who are really strong on the bike – Joelle Franzmann (Germany) and Jennifer Gutierrez. I thought maybe we could make a break at one point. But then the other girls were just hammering to catch up. Halfway through the bike, I realized there’s no point in making a break.”

A crash on the second lap of the bike took Canadian running star Carol Montgomery out of the race along with Mariana Ohata of Brazil and Great Britain’s Sian Brice. The Americans, however, were not aware that Montgomery was involved in the crash.

Gutierrez had held a brief lead on the bike, but lost track of the laps and took almost 30 seconds to transition from bike to run.

“On the bike, when I took off, I wasn’t really paying attention when I was in the group,” Gutierrez said. “All of a sudden, I saw them taking off their shoes. I said, ‘Whoops, we’re done.’”

Zeiger credited Gutierrez and Taormina with helping her on the bike. But she ran into trouble in the first kilometer of the third leg when she dropped her asthma inhaler. She said that without it, she was more cautious than she might have been.

“Going over the hills, I could feel my heart rate going up. I had to back off a little bit so I wouldn’t have an asthma attack.”

The event drew huge crowds and fans were lined 15 deep in places along the course. At times, as many as nine television helicopters hovered over the course, along with a blimp. Chelsea Clinton was among those who enjoyed the action at triathlon’s Olympic debut.

Sydney Men's Recap, Sept. 17, 2000 - Complete Results
Another beautiful day in Sydney proved to be less than optimal for the U.S. men’s triathlon team as it was shut out of the top 10 in the event’s Olympic debut in Sydney.

Hunter Kemper (Colorado Springs, Colo.) led the U.S. team with his 17th-place finish. Simon Whitfield of Canada used a tremendous run to win the race in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 24 seconds. Stephan Vuckovic of Germany finished second (1:48:37.58) as he exhorted the crowd to cheer him on, and Jan Rehula of the Czech Republic was third (1:48:46.64).

Kemper, who left the water in 18th and stayed there through the bike, admitted he didn’t run as well as he would have liked.

“At worlds earlier this year, when I got seventh there, after 5k I just kept getting faster and faster and I was flying at the end. I could feel it,” Kemper said. “Today it was like, man, the legs just weren’t there.”

U.S. triathlete Ryan Bolton (Gillette, Wyo.) finished 25th and teammate Nick Radkewich (Hudson, Ohio) placed 40th.

Bolton was involved in a crash on the sixth lap of the bike that also involved Whitfield among others. Fortunately, Bolton was able to get up quickly and continue.

“It wasn’t that bad really,” said Bolton, who had a scrape on his leg and a hole in his uniform. Bolton said the crash happened too fast for him to avoid it. “It was on an incline and people ride up on people’s wheels and it kind of causes a chain reaction.”

Australia’s Craig Walton and Great Britain’s Simon Lessing came out of the swim with a lead of about six seconds; but the pack reeled them in on the bike.

While France’s Olivier Marceau and South Africa’s Conrad Stoltz made a break on the bike, the race came down to the run. One by one, the lead runners passed the two. Vuckovic and Whitfield battled for the lead until they neared the Sydney Opera House on the last lap, when Whitfield made his move and took the lead for good.

Radkewich said he tried to just enjoy the experience of the race from the back of the pack.

“I got on the run and just continued to not feel well. I kind of wanted to enjoy the spectacle of it and finish up. The whole thing is great. The crowd out there was an amazing experience,” Radkewich said.

Related Topics

2012 Olympic Games

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