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Men’s triathlon: Michael Phelps didn’t have the only close calls

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Along with the heat and humidity, excitement was in the air at the Ming Tomb Reservoir on Tuesday with the third running of the Olympic men’s triathlon.

As much as the women’s race was a runaway Monday, the men’s triathlon was not.

The winner of the race was determined in the last few meters, as Jan Frodeno of Germany sprinted past Canadian Simon Whitfield to win the gold by five seconds in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 53.28 seconds. Athens silver medalist Bevan Docherty from New Zealand followed another seven seconds later for bronze.

After a diving start off a pontoon, the swimmers quickly separated into two groups, with the stragglers attempting to stay with the pack and not lose the draft advantage. Kiwi Shane Reed led the pack with American Hunter Kemper close behind.

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Once the group transitioned to the bikes, a rather large main pack took off for the first four of six laps of the course. The Chinese flag squad was in full force again, adding color and pageantry in the background, as the riders circled the beautiful reservoir park.

On the fourth lap three riders broke ahead of the pack. Francisco Serrano of Mexico, Axel Zeebroek of Belgium and Dirk Bockel of Luxembourg managed to increase that lead by almost 45 seconds in the next lap before Serrano fell back. Zeebroek and Bockel managed to finish the bike leg about 50 seconds ahead of the pack, celebrating with some high-fives as they rode into the transition area.

That celebration, however, was to be short-lived as they were quickly run down by a group of runners, led by youngster Alistair Brownlee of Britain.

Initially, Kemper was part of the lead pack, along with most of the other key contenders, including favorite Francisco Gomez from Spain, his teammate Ivan Rana, Whitfield and surprise Germans Dan Unger and Frodeno. As the group moved into their final lap, the weaker runners fell off pace, with only Frodeno, Docherty, Gomez and a yo-yoing Whitfield remaining.

Fully expecting Gomez to kick into high gear, I was surprised to see him trail off (theory is some kind of side cramp) and the top three take off as they entered the stadium area. This quickly turned into an absolute sprint between Frodeno and Whitfield, with the tall German showing that he had more conserved energy than expected, as he blasted to the finish.

Canada’s team strategy of having the country’s two other athletes sacrifice themselves for Whitfield’s medal seems to have paid off. Although he didn’t equal the gold medal he won in Sydney, Whitfield seemed very happy to be accepting the silver medal, having come from behind.

Frodeno’s joy was infectious as he bounded onto the podium to accept his gold medal. Well deserved, since the man apparently trains up to 35 hours a week. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

While the U.S. didn’t medal, this was Kemper’s best Olympic result, coming in seventh after having finished ninth in Athens. As for the rest of the U.S. team, Jarrod Shoemaker finished 18th and Kiwi-born Matt Reed finished 32nd, two places ahead of his brother Shane, who was competing for New Zealand.

All in all, an exciting race that ranks with the touch-out victories earlier this week by Michael Phelps.

-- Elisa Nye


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