TOKYO — Summer Rappaport qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event, held Aug. 15 at Odaiba Marine Park. The race, held on the 2020 Olympic course, marked the first auto-selection opportunity for U.S. triathletes for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Rappaport (Thornton, Colo.) took fifth in the race, using a strong run to move into the top eight to earn an auto-selection spot to the Tokyo 2020 Games. Rappaport, 28, has had a strong season on the ITU World Triathlon Series. She returned to the WTS podium for the first time since 2016 this season, earning two silver medals and a bronze in the series to date.
“I feel amazing. I don’t think it sunk in at all until my coach told me that I was going to the Olympics,” Rappaport said. “I came very close to leaving the sport last year. I wasn’t racing well — I think there were a few races where I was second- or third-to-last. I just have a lot of pride in really turning things around for myself and staying mentally tough and not giving up when it got difficult, because I really wanted to. I think 12 months ago I wasn’t on anybody’s radar to automatically qualify for the Olympics, not even my own, and I’m just really proud of myself for not giving up.”
Athletes covered an Olympic-distance 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run. The run was shortened from a 10k to a 5k by International Triathlon Union (ITU) officials due to high Heat Stress Indicator levels, as temperatures in Tokyo were approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity.
Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth was first out of the water after the swim, with Rappaport and world No. 1 Katie Zaferes (Santa Cruz, Calif.) right on her heels.
A lead pack of 12 formed early on the bike, including four of the five U.S. women racing — Rappaport, Zaferes, Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, Calif.) and Kirsten Kasper (North Andover, Mass.). Other big names in the pack included Learmonth, Great Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown, Italy’s Alice Betto and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, who made her return after 14 months away from racing due to injury.
Zaferes and Kasper were involved in a bike crash before the halfway point of the 40k ride, causing Zaferes to withdraw from the race. Kasper was able to keep riding as she joined the chase pack, which included U.S. teammate Taylor Knibb (Washington, D.C.). Rappaport also dropped back to the chase group, as the leaders thinned from 12 to six.
By the end of the bike, only Spivey, Learmonth, Taylor-Brown, Betto, Duffy, and Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes remained in the lead pack. The chasers were nearly 2 minutes down as they headed onto the 5k run.
Rappaport then executed the run she needed on the day, recording the second-fastest 5k of the field in 16 minutes, 36 seconds. That was enough to bridge the gap to the lead pack, as she overtook Spivey and crossed the line seventh overall with a time of 1 hour, 41 minutes, 25 seconds. Great Britain’s Learmonth and Taylor-Brown were the first two athletes across the line, finishing hand-in-hand as teammates. However, both were disqualified due to the violation of an ITU rule that states athletes may not finish in a contrived tie situation — thus, all athletes moved two places up in the standings and Rappaport took fifth on the day.
“I didn’t really think I had a chance to qualify at the end of the bike after I fell out of the front pack, and then I realized that there really weren’t that many people in the front pack,” Rappaport said. “I just kept trying to run up and move up and do everything I could to close the gap. But I still wasn’t sure I could get it done, so I’m just so amazed that I was able to find that last gear in order to get the job done today.”
Duffy was ultimately crowned the race winner in 1:40:19, followed by Betto for silver in 1:40:54 and Great Britain’s Vicky Holland for bronze in 1:41:11.
Spivey took eighth in the official results with a time of 1:41:38. Kasper finished 14th with a time of 1:42:40, and Knibb was 16th in 1:43:07.
Per USA Triathlon Olympic selection criteria, two U.S. athletes would have qualified in today’s race if both athletes finished on the podium (top three). If one U.S. athlete finished on the podium 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, Rappaport’s fifth-place finish qualified her for the Olympic team, and she is the only U.S. woman to qualify on the day.
The next auto-selection opportunity for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team is the 2020 ITU World Triathlon Series stop in Yokohama, Japan, on May 16-17. At that event, one additional U.S. woman can qualify for the team, but she must finish on the podium. After the Yokohama race, the remaining available Olympic slots will be selected via discretion by the USA Triathlon Games Athletes Selection Committee.
“Obviously, whoever qualifies is going to represent the U.S. the best that they can. I’m so happy for Summer today that she was able to execute and get the auto-spot,” Kasper said. “That’s the cool thing about all of us, is that we all want everyone to do well. At the end of the day, we’re representing the U.S. and we’re all going to try to do that to the best of our abilities.”
Olympic Team selections are subject to the U.S. earning its predicted two to three country slots per gender at the conclusion of the ITU Olympic Qualification Period in 2020. In addition, all Olympic Team nominations are pending final approval by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
The U.S. men race next for Olympic qualification in the elite men's race, set for Thursday, Aug. 15 at 6:30 p.m. ET (Friday, Aug. 16 at 7:30 a.m. local time). Click here to view the complete men’s start list.
In addition to the individual elite competitions, race week at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event also includes an ITU Paratriathlon World Cup (Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET/Saturday at 6:30 a.m. local time) and an elite Mixed Relay event (Saturday at 7 p.m. ET/Sunday at 8 a.m. local time).
All races will be broadcast live at triathlonlive.tv, and subscriptions are available for purchase.
Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event
1,500m swim, 40k bike, 5k run
Elite Women — Complete Results
1. Flora Duffy (BER), 1:40:19
2. Alice Betto (ITA), 1:40:54
3. Vicky Holland (GBR), 1:41:11
5. Summer Rappaport (Thornton, Colo.), 1:41:25
8. Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, Calif.), 1:41:38
14. Kirsten Kasper (North Andover, Mass.), 1:42:40
16. Taylor Knibb (Washington, D.C.), 1:43:07
Katie Zaferes (Santa Cruz, Calif.), DNF
About USA Triathlon
USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. Founded in 1982, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,300 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work at the grassroots level with athletes, coaches, and race directors — as well as the USA Triathlon Foundation — USA Triathlon provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of the ITU and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).