RIO DE JANEIRO(Reuters) - Britain’s Alistair Brownlee and American Gwen Jorgensen finally buried the Olympic triathlon’s “favourites’ curse” as their emphatic gold medal performances underlined their status as the sport’s eminent practitioners.
Brownlee has a claim to be the best-ever, having become the first triathlete to retain an Olympic title, while gold for Jorgensen rubber-stamped a dominance that was built on a remarkable 13-race unbeaten streak.
Triathlon has totally embraced the Olympics from the day it was accepted back in the 1990s, even renaming its then “standard” 1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run “Olympic Distance”.
Olympic recognition has brought exposure, expansion and funding while in return the sport has delivered spectacular backdrops and memorable moments.
A 1.5km sea swim in the Atlantic then a 40km bike leg and 10km run alongside Copacabana beach were always going to make captivating viewing, but two great races completed the picture.
One of the most enduring images of the 2016 Games will be that of the totally exhausted Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonny collapsed on the floor of the finish line reaching to embrace each other after their family 1-2.
They dominated the race from the start and on a tough, hilly bike leg drove relentlessly from the front to ask questions nobody could answer.
Alistair broke clear on the run to retain his title, with Jonny adding silver to his 2012 bronze and Henri Schoeman claiming a first medal for South Africa in the sport.
What made the Brownlee’s crushing display even more impressive was the fact that they have both come back from serious injury in the last 12 months, with Alistair saying after his Rio win that he had to “go through hell” to get here and was in pain every day.
“But we’ve got that attitude that the Olympics is everything,” he said. “To win an Olympic Games, you have to be better than you are the rest of the time.”
Jorgensen is well placed to become the first real superstar of triathlon, with sponsors lining up to get a piece of the well-spoken 30-year-old former tax accountant who epitomizes its wholesome appeal.
Although the United States invented and codified the sport, they had managed only one medal – Susan Williams’ 2004 bronze - since it joined the Games at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Jorgensen swum strongly then, unusually for her, stayed with the lead pack through a testing bike leg.
As the class runner in the field, victory looked assured but it took until the 8km mark for her to shake off the challenge of defending champion Nicole Spirig-Hug, the 34-year-old back in action after having a baby.
Vicky Holland outsprinted housemate and best friend Non Stanford for bronze - Britain’s first medal on the women’s side as Australia failed to make the podium for the first time.
Editing by Brian Homewood