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Gold Medal Moments: The Top Triathlon Moments in U.S. Olympic and Paralympic History

by USA Triathlon

Triathlon and Paratriathlon made their debuts at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, respectively. Since then, Team USA triathletes and paratriathletes have emerged as top global contenders, showcasing their talents on the world stage. From gold medals to inspiring stories, relive the top Team USA moments in Olympic and Paralympic history.

The stage was set at the Sydney Opera House, where triathlon officially made its Olympic debut. The women’s race for Team USA included Jennifer Gutierrez (Team Captain), Sheila Taormina and Joanna Zeiger. Zeiger and Taormina just missed the podium, placing fourth and sixth, respectively.

The men’s team included Hunter Kemper, Nick Radkewich and Ryan Bolton (plus his long hair.) Kemper led the men’s team and would go on to compete in four Olympic Games representing Team USA, the most Games for a U.S. elite triathlete. 

You can take a look at how the 2000 Sydney team is doing today, here.

2004 brought a breakout performance from Susan Williams, earning the U.S. its first podium spot at the Olympics, a bronze medal. Barb Lindquist finished in ninth place with Sheila Taormina not far behind. Williams famously received her medal while holding her daughter on the podium.

At his second Olympic games, Hunter Kemper ran to a top-10 finish followed by U.S. National Team swimmer-turned-triathlete Andy Potts.

Laura Bennett led the U.S. women with a fourth-place finish, followed by Sarah Haskins and Julie Ertel, who was the team captain of the U.S. water polo team that won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Hunter Kemper, in his third games, placed seventh, which was the best finish ever for a U.S. man at the Olympics in triathlon. The other U.S. men competing included Jarrod Shoemaker and Matthew Reed.

In Kemper’s fourth and final Games – he finished 14th to cap his Olympic career. Shortly after in 2018, he was inducted into USA Triathlon’s Hall of Fame.

Sarah True, in her first Olympic appearance, led the U.S. women with a fourth-place finish, the second consecutive Games the U.S. placed fourth. True also competed in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and has gone on to have a successful long-course career.

Gwen Jorgensen — of “Gwensanity” fame — came into Rio as the overwhelming favorite to win Olympic gold. She delivered.

Set at the iconic Copacabana Beach in Brazil, Jorgensen ran to first place by over 40 seconds, capturing the first Olympic gold medal in triathlon for the U.S. The gold capped an incredible run for Jorgensen, who came to triathlon through USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Recruitment Program, which identifies and trains collegiate runners and swimmers. Jorgensen had a meteoric rise in the sport of triathlon following her running career at the University of Wisconsin, winning 13 consecutive World Triathlon Series events in 2014 and 2015 – a feat called “Gwensanity.”

Jorgensen’s gold was just the beginning for the U.S. in Rio.

Paratriathlon (finally) premiered this year, and the U.S. came to play. In an exciting fashion, the U.S. swept the podium in the women’s PTS2 category. Allysa Seely ran to her first gold medal, followed closely by Hailey Danz and Melissa Stockwell who earned silver and bronze, respectively. Teenager Grace Norman won gold in the women’s PTS5 category, while also winning a bronze in para track and field in the 400 meters.

In addition, Mohamed Lahna secured a bronze in the men’s PTS2 category while representing Morocco, but you can find him representing the U.S. today. You can read his incredible story here.

After pausing the Olympics and Paralympics another year, world viewers were on the edge of their seats looking forward to the first world event since the pandemic started.

In the women’s event, Katie Zaferes won bronze, a triumphant race for her just months after losing her father

She then teamed up with Kevin McDowell, Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson to win silver in the first triathlon mixed relay in an Olympic Games.

McDowell, a cancer survivor, finished sixth in the men’s race – the best-ever finish for a U.S. man at the Olympic Games.

Making another huge statement in Tokyo was the U.S. Paralympic team.

Brad Snyder, guided by Greg Billington, won the first men’s U.S. gold medal in paratriathlon in the PTVI category.

Allysa Seely became the first U.S. Paralympic triathlete to secure back-to-back gold medals in an event, and Hailey Danz ran her way to back-to-back silver medals in the women’s PTS2 category. Grace Norman earned a silver medal in the PTS5 category and, in the day's most exciting finish, Kendall Gretsch secured her first gold medal in the women’s PTWC category.

As we gain momentum of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic games, we have many events to look forward to.

Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson have auto-qualified for their spots in Paris, and the last Olympic auto-qualification is the World Triathlon Championship Series Yokohama on May 11. After that, it is a discretionary process to decide the remaining spots for the team. You can learn more about the qualification process here.

On the Paralympic side, the U.S. has 10 athletes who have auto-qualified to compete in Paris: Hailey Danz (PTS2), Kelly Elmlinger (PTS4), Kendall Gretsch (PTWC), Mohamed Lahna (PTS2) and Grace Norman (PTS5), who all qualified last year, and Mark Barr (PTS2), Carson Clough (PTS4), Owen Cravens (PTVI), guided by Ben Hoffman, Howie Sanborn (PTWC) and Melissa Stockwell (PTS2) who qualified this March in Miami. You can read about their races here.

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