After an extra year of waiting for the chance to vie for Olympic glory, the women’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic triathlon event – held on Tuesday 27 July 2021 06:30 Tokyo time – will showcase a heady mix of pure athleticism, steely mental toughness and high-pressure excitement.
Five years since the last Games could be one too many for some of the favourites who were banking on a race in 2020, while new names have thrived and come to the fore ahead of the big day in Tokyo. Add in the effects of Covid on athletes’ training, limited racing opportunities and the high heat-humidity combination and it’s hard to know who’s going to arrive in Tokyo in the most scintillating form.
Read on for how the race might play out and the key athletes to watch. Don’t forget to check out our guide to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games triathlons, our men’s race preview and make your own picks in our Tri Fantasy Game.
The non-wetsuit two-lap 1500m swim, flat and corner-filled 40km bike course and flat 10km run make the Olympic course much the same as many World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) races. That means we’re likely to see a group of strong swim-bikers hoping to employ tactics already proven on the race circuit – create a breakaway that gains time on the chasers and hold off swifter runners to the finish. That approach could be even stronger here with fewer athletes from the strongest nations on the start list, meaning fewer feet to follow in the swim and a more broken up group.
However, with Olympic medals on the line, there will be a bigger incentive than ever for the chasers to ride hard and make the catch. There’s also plenty of firepower from the second-pack swimmers to do just that. If the breakaway doesn’t succeed, it’ll be a fascinating run with a savage pace from the first step out of T2.
Here’s who to look out for in this year’s women’s Olympic battle – along with their start numbers.
Maya Kingma – Netherlands – #1
Maya Kingma has been a revelation this year, using the swim and bike prowess we already knew she had to get away from the rest of the field and create a buffer before T2. The difference has been in her run, which has come on significantly, helping her earn third place in WTCS Yokohama and first at WTCS Leeds this year to lead the World Triathlon rankings. With plenty of confidence from those performances, if the same game plan comes to fruition in Tokyo, the Dutchwoman could certainly come away with a medal and maybe even Gold.
Katie Zaferes – USA – #14
Going into 2020 as the reigning World Triathlon Champion, Katie Zaferes was the athlete to beat and was the top pick for Gold in Tokyo. A year later and there was even a question around whether the American would make the team. With 23 WTCS podiums and six wins, Zaferes has been one of the sport’s most consistent top-level performers over the last few seasons. After tragically and suddenly losing her father earlier this year, the American has been a shadow of her former self, her best result being 18th place at WTCS Leeds. As one of coach Joel Filliol’s athletes, the saving grace could be that none of the squad – Olympic contenders all – have shown their best so far in 2021 and if Zaferes gives us that, she’ll be on the podium.
Nicola Spirig – Switzerland – #26
With a Gold medal from London and Silver from Rio, everyone will see 39-year-old Nicola Spirig as a serious threat in her fifth Olympic Games. She’s not raced the WTCS this season but has a pair of middle-distance wins from Challenge Gran Canaria and Challenge Walchsee as well as a World Triathlon Cup win in Lisbon, so her form is right where she wants it to be. If she misses the front pack in the swim, expect her to be the key driver on the bike to bridge up to the leaders before unleashing a frightening run backed by her unmatched race experience to claim a third Olympic medal.
Flora Duffy – Bermuda – #29
Flora Duffy will be the favourite for many going into the race. World Triathlon Champion in 2016 and 2017 and Commonwealth Games Gold medallist in 2018, injury side-lined the Bermudian for a while but she’s now back to her best and looking seriously dangerous. A top-class swimmer with the capacity to come out the water with the best, she’s also one of the strongest bikers in the field. Whether or not she gives herself the advantage of a successful breakaway on the bike, Duffy’s an incredible runner who’s the match of anyone else on the start list – proven with her race-best run split at WTCS Leeds. That means this all-rounder has more cards to play than most in her bid for Gold.
Cassandre Beaugrand – France – #30
A future world champion in the making, Cassandre Beaugrand is a great swimmer and one of the sport’s swiftest runners. If she can hang tough on the bike and come out of T2 with the leaders, that running class could keep her in the hunt for a medal. The 24-year-old is still on her way to cracking consistency at the Olympic distance, but showed great 10k form at WTCS Leeds, where she was only outrun by Flora Duffy and uber-runner Beth Potter. Beaugrand’s main focus is likely to be the Mixed Relay event so without the pressure to perform in the individual race, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her end the day on the podium.
Vicky Holland – Great Britain – #32
Along with Spirig, Vicky Holland is the only returning Olympic medallist in this year’s race – bronze from Rio. The 2018 World Triathlon Champion has described the Tokyo race as a ‘free hit’ with no pressure, a mindset that could see her coming away with another Olympic medal. Her only World Triathlon result this year has been fifth at a World Triathlon Cup in Lisbon, but having been selected back in 2019, her entire life has been set on peaking for Tokyo. If a good swim and bike can deliver her to T2 near the front, Holland’s running strength could yield more Olympic success.
Jess Learmonth – Great Britain – #33
Once known only as a swimmer, Learmonth has proven herself as a force to be reckoned with across all three disciplines, taking Commonwealth Silver in 2018 and nine WTCS podiums including second in Leeds in June. Able to best anyone else in the water, Learmonth has ushered in a reign of breakaway superiority. In Tokyo, she’s bound to try the same aggressive tactic and if the likes of Flora Duffy, Maya Kingma and Georgia Taylor-Brown are with her, it’s hard not to imagine some if not all the medals coming from that group.
Georgia Taylor-Brown – Great Britain – #34
Completing Britain’s trio of medal contenders, Georgia Taylor-Brown is an all-rounder with amazing consistency having taken seven WTCS podiums and two wins from 15 starts. The 2020 World Triathlon Champion also took series silver in 2018 and 2019, showing her true class. She crossed the line first alongside Learmonth in the Tokyo test event – an action that saw both DQ’d – but has proven herself in the heat on the course. Taylor-Brown’s powerful run will frighten many of the field and if she begins the footrace in a leading position from a breakaway, a medal is on the cards.
Tri Fantasy Game
To celebrate the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games triathlons, we’ve expanded our Tri Fantasy Game to get you even more invested in the outcome! Purely in the name of fun, you can put on your triathlon pundit’s hat and make your predictions for the Games to earn bragging rights with your friends.
Start by selecting a team of your top five men and women. You’ve got an imaginary budget of ¥350 to play with and different athletes warrant higher values. Once your 10 athletes are in your squad, it’s time to sit back and see how they do! The winner of each individual race will get 1500 points with points decreasing by 7.5% for every position after that. The more points you end up with, the higher your ranking will be.
To play, head to Fantasy Game Now