A dramatic end to the World Cup race in Chile saw Gwen Jorgensen run down the field to earn the fourth gold of the season. Gina Sereno was awarded silver and Vicky Holland (GBR) ends the season with World Cup bronze. The first two women who crossed the finish line -Katie Zaferes (USA) and Teresa Zimovjanova (CZE) along with two other athletes were disqualified due to taking the wrong turn on the run course.
42 women lined up at the El Sol beach in Vina del Mar, Chile, on Sunday ready for the last World Cup of the season, the one that will provide the last Olympic qualification points for this year.
The morning was chilly, the water was cold and choppy, and as soon as the horn gave the start, Djenyfer Arnold (BRA) and Vicky Holland (GBR) put themselves on the lead positions, a few feet ahead of other great swimmers like Mathilde Gaultier (FRA) or Katie Zaferes (USA), who had also Gwen Jorgensen (USA) behind her, both of them fighting to improve their rankings to try to guarantee a start on the USA team for the first World Triathlon Championship Series races of 2024.
Arnold and Holland navigated the waves coming back to the beach, but Holland struggled in the first transition to get out of her wetsuit, her hands too cold to manoeuvre. While the Rio 2016 bronze medallist struggled in transition, Zaferes had an incredibly fast one, and managed to catch the leading group, and led them out of transition slightly ahead of the chasing group.
The first kilometer of the bike course was vital, with the leading five (Zaferes, Arnold, Gaultier, Teresa Zimovjanova (CZE) and Anna Godoy Contreras (ESP) pushing really hard on the first climb up the hill, and the chasers, led by Holland, Jorgensen and Gina Sereno (USA), trying to get organized behind them.
The leading five managed to stay together in front for the whole 20km of the bike course, with a gap with the chasers always between 15 and 30 seconds, and by the time they hit the second transition to start the run, it was Gaultier the one faster and setting up the pace, followed closely by Zimovjanova and Anna Godoy, Zaferes, meanwhile, suffered trying to get her shoes on and lost a few seconds, but still managed to catch up with Godoy before they completed the first kilometer, and then Gaultier and Zimovjanova at the end of the first lap.
But little did they know the drama that was about to unfold. With Zaferes leading the small lead group of four, they all passed straight through transition under the finish gantry on a straight line, not following the race course that was diverting athletes beside transition as they completed lap one and back on the road a few meters after avoiding any potential lapped runners being in the finish straight. Behind the leading four, Arnold realized that she was going the wrong way and turned around, while Jorgensen and Sereno, at that moment in 6th and 7th place, followed the correct course, as did the rest of the field behind them.
Not conscious about the wrong turn, Zaferes sprinted with one kilometer to go to cross the finish line three seconds ahead of Zimovjanova, while Jorgensen had a fantastic run and climbed to the third place on the tape. Godoy was all smiles in fourth place, while Gaultier rounded the top five.
But as athletes kept crossing the finish line, some athletes and coaches started filing protests against the ones that had taken the wrong course, with the Head referee putting the results on hold and the protests -four of them- taken to the Competition Jury.
Their final decision, after hearing all the parts, was to disqualify Zaferes, Zimovjanova, Godoy and Gaultier for not following the prescribed course, and the final podium was awarded to Jorgensen, Gina Sereno -sixth initially on the finish line- and Vicky Holland -7th on the finish line-.
“This is not the way that you want to win a race. I would have much rather raced to the line on a fair competition, but we all knew the course and the map. When I saw them going straight I was very confused, I didn’t know why they were going that way and didn’t know what to do, but I decided to trust myself. I told myself that I know the course and I just should follow the course, and I took a longer line. It is a really unfortunate situation and we are all sad about it. But I had a good race. My swim was almost there. I’m coming from a lot of racing and I feel like I haven’t had the chance of training, I’m always either racing, recovering or traveling, with so many trips that I had to do to get points. But today I gave everything I had until the end, and I am proud of that,“ said Jorgensen after the medal ceremonies.
For the American, Vina del Mar is her fourth World Cup victory this season, where she has podiumed in six of her seven World Cups on her comeback season.
Today’s silver medal was the first of the World Cup season for Sereno, who also got silver in Vina del Mar last year, and who was also second in the Pan American Games Mixed Relay race last week. Talking about the incident, Sereno said: “We heard people yelling at us ‘izquierda, izquierda’ -left, in Spanish- and I was familiar with the course, because I had done it last week and also last year. But these type of things are mentioned usually in the race briefing. My heart goes to those who are being penalized for this, because they were at the front, they were dominating the race and we don’t want to be on the podium because of this but at the same time we all have to follow the rules”.
Her third place today was the first podium for Vicky Holland since Moololaba World Cup 2020, on her fourth race after giving birth to her first child nine months ago. “It is really nice to be back on a podium even if it is in unconventional circumstances, and absolutely not the way that I wanted to be on the podium. But there’s nothing I can do about it. Thinking about my race, I am really pleased with my swim, I came out of the water in second place today. I have been swimming really well on training, so I was delighted with that. Then I struggled in transition and lost like 30 seconds, but overall I managed to get on the chase group of the bike and work really hard, and had a great run as well”, she said.
Italy’s Angelica Prestia ended in the fourth position, and Djenyfer Arnold closed the top 5.