American Katie Zaferes’s perfect season ended on the streets of Leeds (GBR) on Sunday, but she was far from disappointed with her fourth medal in a row of this season, a silver behind home favorite Georgia Taylor-Brown.
“I am really happy,” she said. “Last year I struggled in the bike section, and during the race today I was just thinking that it didn’t hurt so much. And Georgia then ran so well, and ten seconds never seemed so far away, I never gave up. Racing here in Leeds is different, but I quite like it. This was the last Olympic distance for a bit so i’m excited for heading to some sprint distance races now.”
Britain’s Jessica Learmonth was first out of the water in Leeds, much to the delight of the large crowd, and a group of six leaders formed during the bike phase, including Taylor-Brown and Zaferes. Those two took a big lead on the first of the four laps of the run phase.
Taylor-Brown sped away from Zaferes on the second lap and opened a go of 14 seconds which Zaferes was unable to close and Taylor-Brown won her first career World Series gold by 11 seconds in 1:55:46. Learmonth was well back in third, trailed by Taylor Spivey of the U.S. in fourth place.
The men’s race was also historic for Australia’s Jacob Birtwhistle, who also logged his first career ITU World Series victory.
Henri Schoeman (RSA) was first out of the water and was chased by the crowd favorites Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, the gold and silver medalists from 2016 in Rio. The leading pack was as large as 25 during the cycling phase, but the time the running started, it was Schoeman who took the lead, with Birtwhistle, Vincent Luis (FRA) and Javier Gomez (ESP) all chasing. American Matt McElroy closed strongly to move into contention for the medals and Birtwhistle caught and passed Schoeman on the third lap and never looked back.
McElroy claimed the silver and Gomez finished third, just two seconds behind, as Schoeman held on for fourth.
“It’s been a long time coming, but today I guess after a rough start to the year it’s nice to finally come out and put in a performance to show the world what i’m capable of and get that first win on the card,” said Birtwhistle. “The swim was key, to be in the mix from the get go on the bike certainly makes my job a lot easier. We still had to work hard and it wasn’t easy but was able to stay at the front and stay safe and I was hurting on the run but could hang tough until the third lap when I wanted to go a bit earlier and not give Henri that gap.”
It was a satisfying performance for Birtwhistle, who had finished 8-28-23 in the prior World Series races this season, after winning three medals last season and the Commonwealth Games silver medal.
For McElroy, the silver was historic. It was not just his first World Series medal, but the first by an American man since Jarrod Shoemaker’s win at the Hamburg race on 26 July 2009! Over the last two seasons, his World Series finishes had been 17-34-11-21 in 2018 and 32-30 this season.
The Brownlees finished 35th (Jonny) and 44th (Alistair). Summaries:
ITU World Series
Leeds (GBR) ~ 9 June 2019
(Full results here)
Men: 1. Jacob Birtwhistle (AUS), 1:45:12; 2. Matthew McElroy (USA), 1:45:19; 3. Javier Gomez Noya (ESP), 1:45:21; 4. Henri Schoeman (RSA), 1:45:31; 5. Sam Ward (NZL), 1:45:42; 6. Vincent Luis (FRA), 1:45:46; 7. Marten van Riel (BEL), 1:45:47; 8. Pierre Le Corre (FRA), 1:45:47; 9. Fernando Alarza (ESP), 1:45:49; 10. Jonas Schomburg (GER), 1:45:52.
Women: 1. Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR), 1:55:46; 2. Katie Zaferes (USA), 1:55:57; 3. Jessica Learmonth (GBR), 1:57:22; 4. Taylor Spivey (USA), 1:57:38; 5. Non Stanford (GBR), 1:57:53; 6. Leonie Periault (FRA), 1:1:57:55; 7. Vicky Holland (GBR), 1:58:02; 8. Vittoria Lopes (BRA), 1:58:19; 9. Sophie Coldwell (GBR), 1:58:36; 10. Tamara Gorman (USA), 1:58:40.