Ever since her first Olympic experience in 2012 — when a flat bike tire knocked her out of contention — triathlete Gwen Jorgensen has been plotting a course toward the podium at the 2016 Games in Rio. Sunday, the St. Paul resident took a big stride toward that goal, earning a place on the U.S. Olympic team with a victory on the Olympic course.
Jorgensen won the International Triathlon Union World Olympic Qualification Event on Copacabana Beach, becoming the first Minnesotan to secure a berth in next summer’s Olympics. The defending world champion finished the 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike race and 10K run in 1 hour, 58 minutes, 46 seconds, beating silver medalist Non Stanford of Great Britain by 19 seconds. The victory kept Jorgensen, 29, undefeated in seven events this season.
The U.S. offered two Olympic spots for women and two for men to athletes who finished in the top eight at the Rio event, a test run for the course that will be used for the Summer Games next August. Sarah True also earned a place on the U.S. Olympic team with a fourth-place finish.
“I’ve been working toward this for a while, since the London Olympics,” said Jorgensen, who finished 38th in those 2012 Games after the flat tire. “I’m excited to be able to come back [to Rio] next year.
“It’s amazing to have qualified for the Olympics. This has been the first step in my goal of aspiring to win gold in Rio next year. This whole season, this has been the focus race.”
A native of Waukesha, Wis., Jorgensen was a swimmer, track athlete and cross-country runner at the University of Wisconsin. She qualified for the 2012 Olympic team only 17 months after her first triathlon. Jorgensen lives in St. Paul during the offseason and is married to pro cyclist Pat Lemieux of Mankato.
Since the London Games, Jorgensen has become the top female triathlete in the world — and one of the best in history. She has not lost a race since April 2014, finishing atop the podium in 13 consecutive events. In 2013, Jorgensen became the first American woman ever to win an ITU World Triathlon Series race; she now has a record 14 World Triathlon Series victories, including 11 in a row.
Jorgensen and True are among the first American athletes to earn berths for the Rio Games. Modern pentathlete Nathan Schrimsher and table-tennis player Jennifer Wu qualified at last month’s Pan Am Games. Open-water swimmers Jordan Wilimovsky, Sean Ryan and Haley Anderson earned Olympic berths at the world swimming championships, which began last week.
In Sunday’s race, Jorgensen was part of a lead pack of about 25 women coming out of the one-lap ocean swim. She stuck with that group through the eight-lap bike race, then broke away with Stanford, True and bronze medalist Vicky Holland of Great Britain during the run. Jorgensen, an extraordinarily strong runner, pulled away and finished the 10K in 33:57 to earn the victory.
Jorgensen will not compete in the next two World Triathlon Series races as she prepares for her season finale, at the WTS Grand Final on Sept. 18 in Chicago.