Triathlon Preview

USA Triathlon is experiencing an exciting level of success on the international stage in the lead-up to the postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo, led by 2016 Olympian and 2019 world champion Katie Zaferes. Zaferes dominated the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series and was crowned the 2019 world champion after earning five golds and a silver across the eight season races. She steadily climbed the world rankings from 2015-2019, finishing fifth in the ITU World Triathlon Series in 2015, fourth in 2016, third in 2017 and second in 2018.

Zaferes isn’t the only U.S. woman who could contend for a medal at the Tokyo Games. Summer Rappaport, Taylor Spivey, Kirsten Kasper and Taylor Knibb have all reached the podium in WTS competition — the highest level of the sport — in the last three years. Spivey and Rappaport finished the 2019 WTS season ranked fourth and fifth overall, respectively. In May 2019, Zaferes, Rappaport and Spivey earned the fourth U.S. women’s podium sweep in WTS history and the first since 2016. Rappaport became the first athlete to officially earn a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team with a fifth-place finish at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event, held on the Tokyo Olympic race course at Odaiba Marine Park in August 2019.

The U.S. men are also on an upward trend of breakthrough performances, demonstrating they can compete among the best in the world in Tokyo. In June 2019, Matt McElroy earned the first WTS medal by a U.S. man since 2009 – and the second in history – with a silver medal in Leeds, England. Eli Hemming, Tony Smoragiewicz, Kevin McDowell and Morgan Pearson have all reached the ITU Triathlon World Cup podium in the last two seasons, and Pearson has finished as high as sixth in WTS competition.

Appearing on the Olympic program for the first time at the Tokyo Games, the mixed relay event offers the opportunity for triathletes to earn multiple medals at a single Olympic Games. In the mixed relay format, each athlete on a team of four (two men and two women) completes a super-sprint-distance triathlon before tagging off to the next teammate. Top-end speed, technical finesse and laser focus are the key attributes of success in this event. The U.S. is ready to contend for an Olympic medal after claiming the mixed relay world title in 2016, a silver medal at the 2017 world championships and a bronze medal at the championships in 2018. The U.S. mixed relay team also earned a bronze medal at the Tokyo test event in August 2019, and is currently ranked third in the world in the ITU’s Mixed Relay Olympic Qualification rankings.

Updated on July 17, 2020. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

The Defense Does Not Rest: The U.S. has a difficult task ahead at the Tokyo Games: defending the historic Olympic gold medal earned by Gwen Jorgensen at Olympic Games Rio 2016. But if there’s any team up for the challenge, it’s the U.S. women. Katie Zaferes, Taylor Spivey and Summer Rappaport finished the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series ranked first, fourth and fifth respectively, and could all be within reach of the podium in Tokyo.

Accelerated Development: One lap to go in the race of his life and Matt McElroy thought to himself, “What happens if I podium?” This was new territory for the 27-year-old California native who grew up surfing, lifeguarding and joining local group rides in Huntington Beach. But on June 9, 2019, in Leeds, England, he earned his first career WTS medal, a silver, to become the first American man in a decade to do so. McElroy isn’t the only U.S. man primed to make his mark on the world stage, as McElroy, Eli Hemming, Kevin McDowell, Morgan Pearson and Tony Smoragiewicz have earned a combined 16 medals on the ITU World Cup circuit since 2018. Thanks to their recent success, the U.S. men are ready to take the triathlon world by storm in Tokyo.

Debut of the Mixed Relay: The mixed relay format has quickly become a fan favorite in the world of triathlon, and for good reason. The fast-paced, spectator-friendly event has led to some of the most exciting finishes in ITU competition, and it will make its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. The U.S. is historically strong in the mixed relay format, earning the 2016 world championship title, 2017 world silver medal and 2018 world bronze medal.

Adjusting During COVID-19: Along with the mental and emotional toll of a postponed Olympic Games and international racing season, every U.S. elite triathlete was faced with adjusting their training without access to a swimming pool, gym or regular squad when COVID-19 abruptly shut down facilities across the U.S. in the spring of 2020. Each athlete found creative ways to stay fit and connected. Some took part in virtual cycling races on the Zwift platform. Katie Zaferes went live on Instagram each night to host a 10-minute “Planks in Pajamas” workout for her followers from her parents’ home in Hampstead, Maryland. Kevin McDowell and fellow U.S. Olympic hopeful Renée Tomlin joined the Toyota U.S. Paratriathlon Resident Team to participate in a cycling relay across the state of Colorado to fundraise for COVID-19 relief. While each individual’s routine has been turned upside down, they all share a new goal: to peak for the performance of their lives in Tokyo in the summer of 2021.

Katie Zaferes (Santa Cruz, California)

Zaferes made her first Olympic team in 2016, placing 18th in the women’s race at the Rio Games. She has been the picture of consistency over the past six years, steadily climbing the world rankings from fifth in 2015 to first in 2019 – earning 23 WTS medals in the process. Zaferes was in a bike crash at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event on Aug. 15 — sustaining a broken nose, needing 23 stitches in her mouth and missing the first opportunity to auto-qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team. Just two weeks later, she rebounded to win gold at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland, securing the 2019 world championship title in the process.

Summer Rappaport (Thornton, Colorado)

 Rappaport became the first athlete to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team when she placed fifth at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event on Aug. 15, 2019. For Rappaport, 2019 was a comeback season, as she returned to the ITU World Triathlon Series podium for the first time since 2016. She earned two silvers and a bronze in WTS races in 2019, finishing the season ranked fifth overall. Rappaport also contributed to two bronze medals for the U.S. at the 2019 ITU World Mixed Relay Series races in Tokyo and Edmonton, Alberta.

Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, California)

Spivey reached the WTS podium for the first time in 2017 with a silver medal in Leeds, England. She has hovered near the top of the world rankings since then, closing the 2019 WTS season ranked fourth overall. In 2019, she reached the WTS podium twice – earning a silver medal in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and a bronze medal as part of a historic U.S. podium sweep with Zaferes and Rappaport in Yokohama, Japan. She also contributed to a silver medal as part of the U.S. mixed relay team in Abu Dhabi.

Matt McElroy (Huntington Beach, California)

McElroy came to triathlon from a collegiate running career at Northern Arizona University, where he was a three-time All-American. In June 2019, he earned the second WTS medal for a U.S. man in history — and the first since Jarrod Shoemaker in 2009 — capturing a silver medal in Leeds, England. To do so, he outraced the “Magnificent Seven”: multi-time world champions Javier Gomez Noya and Mario Mola of Spain; defending Olympic gold and silver medalists Alistair and Jonny Brownlee of Great Britain; WTS leader Vincent Luis of France; and South African powerhouses Henri Schoeman and Richard Murray.

Fifty-five men and 55 women will qualify for the individual races at the Tokyo Games, with a maximum of three athletes per country and gender (i.e., three men, three women) if all three rank in the top-30 of the ITU Individual Olympic Qualification Rankings by the end of the ITU’s revised Olympic qualification window (the qualification period was suspended due to COVID-19, and the new dates have not yet been announced). All countries that do not earn a third athlete quota may have a maximum of two quota places per event. All individual athletes must also be ranked in the top 140 on the ITU’s Olympic Qualification list.

The seven highest-ranked countries on the ITU Mixed Relay Olympic Qualification Ranking as of a TBD date in 2021 (not yet announced by the ITU) will be allocated two quota places per gender for their country at the Tokyo Games. The athletes who make up each country’s four-person mixed relay team (two men and two women) must come from the same athletes qualified for the individual events.

USA Triathlon is aiming to earn the maximum number of quota spots (three men and three women) for the Tokyo Olympic Games, and is the only country currently on track to qualify three men and three women. At the 2019 Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event, Summer Rappaport earned automatic selection to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team by finishing as the top American within the top-eight in the women’s race, earning a fifth-place finish. As of July 2020, she is the only U.S. athlete to have officially locked in her spot on the team.

The second and final auto-selection event for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team will be a TBD event in 2021 (event will be determined once the International Triathlon Union announces the revised Olympic qualification window). The event will be an Olympic-distance ITU World Triathlon Series race in spring 2021 — most likely the 2021 ITU World Triathlon Series stop in Yokohama, Japan (exact date TBD).

Athletes may be auto-selected to the U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team at the final auto-selection event under the following circumstances:

· In the women’s race, the first U.S. athlete finishing on the podium, who has not already qualified for the team, will earn automatic selection. (E.g., only one U.S. woman can auto-qualify at this event, and she must be on the podium).

· Because no U.S. men were auto-selected from the 2019 ITU World Olympic Qualification Event, the top-two U.S. men to hit the podium at the final selection event will be selected to the team. (E.g., two men can qualify, but only if they are both on the podium).

· If no U.S. men reach the podium, the highest-placed U.S. man finishing within the top-eight overall will be selected to the team. (E.g., one man can qualify if he is the top U.S. finisher within the top eight, regardless of whether or not he is on the podium).

All remaining spots not filled at one of the two auto-selection events will be selected via discretion by the USA Triathlon Games Athletes Selection Committee. If the TBD second auto-selection event is unable to occur before the Games nomination deadline, all remaining team members other than Summer Rappaport will be determined by the USA Triathlon Games Athletes Selection Committee.

The four athletes who make up the Olympic Mixed Relay Team will come from among the athletes competing for the U.S. in the individual Olympic events.

· Aug. 15-16, 2019: ITU World Olympic Qualification Event (Tokyo, Japan) (Summer Rappaport is the only athlete to have auto-qualified for the Tokyo U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team at this event)

· Date and Event TBD, Spring 2021: Final Tokyo U.S. Olympic Team auto-qualification event

· Date TBD: ITU Mixed Relay Olympic qualification period ends

· Date TBD: ITU Individual Olympic qualification period ends

· Date TBD: Tokyo 2020 sport entries deadline