Summer Rappaport survived a brutally hot morning and a technical course that saw teammate Katie Zaferes wipe out on the bike and is now officially the first member of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team.
The 28-year-old from Thornton, Colorado, finished fifth at the Olympic test event in Tokyo on Thursday, and as the top American who was in the top eight overall, she now has her spot on next year's team secured.
The race was full of unexpected twists, beginning with 2016 Olympian Katie Zaferes, who’s ranked No. 1 in the world, exiting after a crash during the third lap of the bike leg. She was reportedly receiving stitches at the local hospital but was otherwise OK.
Zaferes was in the lead group at the time, chasing Jessica Learmonth of Great Britain. After that, it seemed that Taylor Spivey would be the top U.S. finisher. Spivey fought to remain in the lead group of six that built up a sizable lead on the bike but she fell behind early on as they set off on the run.
That’s when Rappaport made her move, moving from the chase group up to overtake Spivey and get past the critical No. 8 cutoff.
When the race first ended, Learmonth and countrywoman Georgia Taylor-Brown were declared gold and silver medalists; within the following 40 minutes, however, they would both be disqualified for holding hands and intentionally tying the race as they crossed the finish line. The new winner became two-time world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 19 seconds. Rappaport moved up from seventh to fifth (1:06 back from Duffy). Spivey's result improved from 10th to eighth (1:19 from Duffy).
Per USA Triathlon Olympic selection criteria, two athletes would qualify if both finished in the top three. If one was in the top three and another was in the top eight, then both would also qualify. If no one reached the podium, only the single highest-ranking athlete in the top eight would earn a spot, thus even with the revised results Spivey does not qualify at this time. She, Zaferes and the rest of the U.S. women's triathletes will have their next shot at the Olympic team next May.
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Rappaport entered the race ranked sixth in the ITU world rankings, with two silver medals and one bronze in World Triathlon Series events this season. This was her first year reaching the WTS podium since 2016.
In addition to giving athletes the chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, the official test event also have them the opportunity to learn just what they’d be dealing with a year from now.
The competitors dove off a pontoon into the water for a 1,500-meter, two-lap swim in Tokyo Bay then took off on a 40-kilometer, eight-lap bike on a technical, tight course before the run around Odaiba Park.
Great Britain’s Learmonth was first out of the water with Zaferes and Rappaport on her heels, coming out in second and third place, respectively. Learmonth started with an eight-second lead on the bike and stayed out in front for the first two laps but the chase pack started to close in with Zaferes leading the way. Zaferes and teammate Kirsten Kasper were tangled in the crash, however, and Rappaport had dropped off the lead pack by the halfway point on the bike.
The course wasn’t the only thing competitors got a taste of, however. Tokyo is also hot and humid in the summer, and that was the case early Thursday morning in the city with the temperature at 84 degrees and humidity at 83 percent.
Given the conditions, officials announced two hours prior to the race that because of heat stress indicator they were shortening the run from 10K to 5K in order to protect the athletes’ safety.
The U.S. will not technically obtain Olympic quota spots in triathlon until next year, once the ITU Mixed Relay Olympic Qualification Rankings end March 31, at which time seven countries receive two spots per gender with another three being granted two per gender at the ITU Mixed Relay Olympic Qualification Event that follows, and the ITU Individual Olympic Qualification Ranking ends May 11, when nations secure as many as three total quotas per gender.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.