CHICAGO — For the past two seasons, Gwen Jorgensen has dominated the ITU World Triathlon Series. She has won 11 straight WTS races, plus the Rio Olympic qualification event in August.
In the 2015 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Chicago on Friday, chances are that the 29-year-old triathlete will win her second consecutive world title.
But don’t tell Jorgensen that. She remembers London all too well.
At the 2012 London Olympic Games, she had a flat tire in the triathlon’s bike leg and finished 38th.
A year later, at the 2013 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in London, she crashed on her bike and didn’t finish the race.
“You can never be confident that you’re going to win a race,” she said in a pre-race press conference. “I’ve had some bad races. In London 2013, at the world championship, I crashed and was in a position where had I done well, I could have possibly been world champion. I didn’t get the job done. That can happen at any race.”
And on the Chicago course, with 117 corners — 45 of them U-turns — the bike leg offers many opportunities for mishaps.
If Jorgensen is beset by bad luck during the race, a U.S. triathlete could still prevail. Right behind Jorgensen in the standings are two U.S. women. Katie Zaferes is ranked second, 300 points out of the lead. And Sarah True is in third, 678 points behind Jorgensen.
A win in Chicago gives an athlete 1,200 points — 1.5 times the usual 800 — which would put Zaferes or True ahead of Jorgensen, should the defending champion not finish, or if she finishes fifth or lower. The second-place finisher receives 1,110 points, while third earns 1,027.
Zaferes has made the podium in six of seven WTS races this season.
True has three top-three finishes, including a win at the Stockholm WTS race a month ago.
But smart money is on Jorgensen to win her seventh (and 12th consecutive) WTS race on Friday. At the Chicago WTS race last year, Jorgensen came back from a tough swim, which put her in a chase group for the bike leg, and she still won the race.
Jorgensen’s husband, Patrick Lemieux, credits some of his wife’s dominance to her ability to remain injury free.
“In three years, she’s only missed two days of training,” he said.
Regular massage and physio work helps keep her healthy, he added.
Jorgensen’s main goal this season was to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games — which she did in August. If she claims her second world championship title, the season would end on another good note.
“That would be perfect, wouldn’t it?” she said. “I’ve had a pretty good string of good races. But I definitely know that anything can happen on race day, and you do everything you can to be prepared. And hopefully everything works out.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.