Olympics-Triathlon-Swiss Spirig leaves Federer in the shade

LONDON Sat Aug 4, 2012 3:58pm BST

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LONDON Aug 4 (Reuters) - Nicola Spirig spent Friday afternoon watching fellow Swiss Roger Federer push his body to the limit to reach the Olympic tennis final, then went the extra mile the following morning to win their country's first gold medal at the Games.

Every sportsman and woman in the Alpine country plays second fiddle to the winner of 17 grand slam titles but on Saturday morning in London's Hyde Park, the 30-year-old Spirig stole the spotlight by winning the women's triathlon.

Three-times European champion Spirig, competing in her third Olympics, prevailed by the narrowest of margins in desperate sprint to the line with Sweden's Lisa Norden.

After a 1,500m swim in the Serpentine, 43km in the saddle of her racing bike and four 2.5km loops of the central London park, she took gold by approximately 15cm w i th not even the official clock being able to separate the leading duo.

Both collapsed to the floor after one the most dramatic finish to a race the Olympics is likely to witness and she admitted she did not know for sure that the gold was hers.

"I had a feeling I had won when I crossed the finish line but it took an official to tell me," she told reporters.

"It took a few minutes and those minutes were really hard.

"I've never had a finish like that in an important race. I knew I had a good sprint but I could see on the screens that Lisa was coming back strongly."

Asked what it was like to steal some of the limelight from Federer, who faces Britain's Andy Murray on Sunday after taking four and a half hours to beat Juan Martin del Potro in a record-breaking semi, she said that his display had been inspiring.

"I watched Roger, it was an amazing performance and he is such a great athlete for our country," she said.

"I was glad that he was guaranteed a medal for Switzerland, at least one, but this is a great honour to win a gold medal. It's the most amazing experience for an athlete."

Spirig was 18th after the swim, but by the time she got off the bike following seven incident-filled loops around a circuit that took in Buckingham Palace and Wellington Arch, she had put herself right in the mix with the leading bunch.

As British hope Helen Jenkins got dropped on the final lap of the run, the leading group of four, which also included Australian bronze medallist Erin Densham and Sarah Groff, knew that one of them was going to be unlucky.

"When I came out of the water and saw all the big names around me, I knew I was in the hunt," Spirig said.

"When we got off the bikes, all the athletes in the first pack had a chance to win the gold medal.

"The run it was fast, but not as fast as I thought it would be. I had slight cramps after the bike ride, so I used the first lap in the run to relax and settle.

"I knew if I kept the pace high all the athletes will be tired but I wasn't sure if I would be able to sprint."

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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