TOKYO — Two-time U.S. Olympian Katie Zaferes (Cary, N.C.) earned her first career Olympic medal, taking the bronze at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 women's triathlon event Tuesday morning in Tokyo.
The bronze by Zaferes, a 32-year-old Syracuse University graduate, is the third U.S. medal in women's triathlon history at the Olympic Games. Gwen Jorgensen won gold at the Rio 2016 Games, and Susan Williams earned bronze at the Athens 2004 Games.
Zaferes completed the 1,500 meter swim, 40-kilometer draft-legal bike and 10-kilometer run in 1 hour, 57 minutes, 3 seconds. Flora Duffy of Bermuda won the gold, pulling away early on the run to win Bermuda's first Olympic gold medal in any sport with a time of 1:55:36. Georgia Taylor-Brown of Great Britain earned silver, finishing in 1:56:50.
Zaferes' father, Bill Hursey, passed away unexpectedly in April of 2021. She struggled in her first two races of the 2021 season, the World Triathlon Championship Series events in Yokohama, Japan, in May, and Leeds, England, in June. When the rain abated and the sun started to come out during the bike portion of the race, a rainbow appeared — and Zaferes said she knew it was a sign that her dad was watching and supporting her.
"There are so many people who I am so thankful for who supported me through a really, really hard time, and my whole team got me to here today," Zaferes said. "I feel like I used everything, every ounce of support, every lesson learned. I saw a rainbow during the race and I thought, 'Hey, dad.' Everything came together for me. I know I didn't win, but it feels like it."
Triathletes at the Tokyo Games competed at Odaiba Marine Park, a coastal tourist attraction with views of Tokyo’s iconic Rainbow Bridge. Athletes covered a 1,500-meter swim in Tokyo Bay, followed by a 40-kilometer draft-legal bike and 10-kilometer run around the park and surrounding city streets. The race was delayed by 15 minutes due to torrential rain, which abated slightly by the start. The weather created slick and technical conditions on the bike, causing several crashes while rewarding technical skill. Temperatures during the race hovered around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with water temperatures at 81 degrees and on-and-off rain throughout.
All three U.S. women competing in Tokyo finished in the top 20. Summer Rappaport (Thornton, Colo.), a Villanova University graduate, placed 14th with a time of 2:00:19. Taylor Knibb (Washington, D.C.), a Cornell University graduate, finished 16th in 2:00:59. Both Rappaport, 29, and Knibb, 23, are first-time U.S. Olympians. Knibb is the youngest woman in history to represent Team USA in women's triathlon at the Olympic Games.
Zaferes started the day with a strong swim, exiting the water in third place just behind Great Britain's Jessica Learmonth and Brazil's Vittoria Lopes, with Rappaport right on her heels. A seven-woman lead pack formed on the bike, also including Rappaport, Taylor-Brown, Duffy and Germany's Laura Lindemann. By the end of the eight-lap bike course, the lead group had thinned to five, as Rappaport and Lopes joined the chasers.
Starting the four-lap run, the leaders had a gap of more than a minute on the rest of the field. Duffy immediately pulled out ahead, while Zaferes settled into second place until she was overtaken by Taylor-Brown on the final lap.
Zaferes ultimately crossed the line for bronze in 1:57:03, 13 seconds behind Taylor-Brown.
"Knowing how much I've done to get here and learned since I started triathlon and since Rio 2016, I feel like I used all of those things during every part of the race," Zaferes said. "During the run, it was, 'Stay focused, stay focused, stay confident.' Flora was pretty far ahead and then Georgia passed me, but I knew that if I could keep my rhythm and not let it get to me mentally I could still get on the podium."
Zaferes made her Olympic debut at the Rio 2016 Games, placing 18th. She has progressed steadily through the international ranks ever since — placing fifth in the overall World Triathlon Championship Series rankings in 2015, fourth in 2016, third in 2017, second in 2018 and finally earning her first career world title in 2019.
"I'm so proud of (Katie)," Knibb said. "She has been awesome this whole week. I have to say it's been great to spend time with Katie and Summer. I look up to them. I got to run with Katie a few days ago. She said to me, 'I hope you guys look up to me and that I can be a role model in some way.' I was like, 'Katie, I hope you know everyone has the utmost respect for you and like don't ever question that. You're a great person first — an even better person than athlete.' It was just so awesome to see. She's a great ambassador for the sport and a great person."
Knibb and Rappaport, while both taking some lessons learned from their Olympic debuts, were proud of their performances while facing tough conditions on the day.
"I'm really proud of myself for hanging tough," Rappaport said. "There were definitely a few moments in the race where I just didn't feel as strong as I hoped. I just refocused and hung tough when I wanted to give up.I t was definitely a little bit overwhelming. I've heard from a lot people who say it's challenging to perform at your first Games. I definitely see how that's true. I'm hoping to come back in three years with the experience from today to better manage my emotions and everything."
"I'm proud of the fact that I was present and focused on executing in the moment for every part of the race, even though a lot didn't go the way I wanted it to or envisioned," Knibb said. "It wasn't my ideal race, I was racing from behind and that's not a strength of mine. I need to be a more well-rounded racer. The swim wasn't great, but the bike and the run weren't horrible, and I didn't let the swim dictate the rest of the race."
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 — Women's Triathlon
1,500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run — Complete Results
1. Flora Duffy (BER), 1:55:36
2. Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR), 1:56:50
3. Katie Zaferes (Cary, N.C.), 1:57:03
3. Katie Zaferes (Cary, N.C.), 1:57:03
14. Summer Rappaport (Thornton, Colo.), 2:00:19
16. Taylor Knibb (Washington, D.C.), 2:00:59
Later This Week: Triathlon Mixed Relay
The Triathlon Mixed Relay, a first-time medal event at the Olympic Games, will take place Friday, July 30, at 6:30 p.m. ET. The final four-person mixed relay team (two men, two women) will not be determined until race morning, but will come from among those athletes competing in the individual events. The race will be broadcast live on USA Network and will also be available via livestream on the NBC Sports App and NBCOlympics.com. Barb Lindquist, 2004 U.S. Olympian, and Joe Maloy, 2016 U.S. Olympian and member of the U.S. team that won the 2016 ITU World Mixed Relay Championships, will provide pre- and post-race commentary from the USA Triathlon Facebook page from 4:45-5:15 p.m. ET (pre-race) and 8-8:30 p.m. ET (post-race). Click here to learn more.
Media Opportunities from Tokyo
Photos and video footage of all U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team members are available for media use here (credits included in the filename for each). USA Triathlon will share flash quotes, photos and team updates via its press release distribution list throughout the Olympic Games. Media can contact Caryn Maconi at email@example.com or 443-534-5954 (or via the same number on WhatsApp) to request interviews with individual athletes and to be added to the distribution list.
For more information about USA Triathlon at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, visit usatriathlon.org/tokyo2020.
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 4,000 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 World Triathlon Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of World Triathlon and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).