Great Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee put himself in a class above the rest of the field by taking charge on the bike and dominating the run today at the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Series in San Diego. Although Brownlee’s performance was stellar, the biggest drama of the day took place behind him.
The pressure was on for the American men: The first to cross the finish line would earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. If two men finished in the top nine, then two spots would be handed out—which is exactly what happened. Three-time Olympian Hunter Kemper crossed in fifth, while Manny Huerta squeezed in taking ninth to earn Olympic berths.
The race kicked off at 2:30 p.m. PDT with a run-in start in Mission Bay. After 1500m in the calm bay waters, a large pack headed into T1 and onto the bike. In the early miles of the 40km ride it looked like there would be a replication of Friday’s women’s race, with eight men building a gap at the front. Both Brownlee and American Olympic hopeful Matt Chrabot looked eager to increase the gap to the chase pack. No one else was motivated and eventually the two groups melded into a pack of around 30. A few athletes, including Australia’s Chris McCormack, took their turn at the front of the peloton and tried to create to make a break. No efforts to build a gap paid off, making for a chaotic T2.
The large pack started the three-lap run at a fiery sub-five minute per mile pace. It quickly became evident that this race belonged to Brownlee. Only South Africa’s Richard Murray was able to keep pace with the British athlete, but eventually Brownlee broke away and built a commanding lead. Further back on the course the American Olympic qualification story was heating up. Huerta, a Cuban-born athlete who immigrated to the United States as a child, held the top American spot throughout much of the run. When the athletes reached the third and final lap, Huerta struggled and was passed by Kemper. Kemper, who has spent the last seven months rehabbing an injured elbow from a crash last fall, found the top five and worked to stay there.
At the end of the day, Brownlee’s 30:01 10km run was the icing on the cake of a dominant day. He crossed the finish line in 1:48:46 to take his first ITU World Triathlon Series win of 2012.
“We had to work really hard on the bike It was different not having Alistair [Brownlee] there because there were less aggressive people from the back,” Brownlee explained after the race. “I found myself and Kris Gemmell doing a lot of the work, but then on the run I went hard on the second lap. That was tough, but I had to hang on.”
Switzerland’s Sven Riederer also had a fast run to finish second. Murray’s valiant effort on the first lap paid off and he earned third. Kemper’s 30:28 run gave him fifth position and a punched ticket to London.
“This is my first race of the year,” Kemper said at the finish line. “I can’t believe it. I’m over the moon. It’s a tremendous day for me. I didn’t know if I would actually be back here. I went through so much… It’s been a struggle.”
A few moments later Huerta crossed the finish line and immediately started to count the athletes ahead of him. He realized that he did in fact finish ninth, giving him the second—and likely final—spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
“After Sydney, where I had a tough day, my coach told me that I needed to have the race of my life,” Huerta said. “I’m very happy that I’ll be part of this team and hopefully in London I can have a race just like today.”
2012 ITU World Triathlon Series San Diego
May 12, 2012 – San Diego, Calif.
1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run
1. Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) 1:48:46
2. Sven Riederer (SUI) 1:48:52
3. Richard Murray (RSA) 1:49:02
4. Mario Mola (ESP) 1:49:08
5. Hunter Kemper (USA) 1:49:17
U.S. Olympic Team Update
Barring an improbable situation where the American men earn a third spot, we now know the entire U.S. Olympic roster. Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah Groff earned their spots back in August of 2011 at the Olympic test event in London. Laura Bennett rounded out the women’s selection yesterday in San Diego with a third-place finish. Today’s results from Huerta and Kemper give them the two men’s spots. Three pre-selection favorites, Sarah Haskins, Matt Chrabot and Jarrod Shoemaker, are not on the team.