Two British women staked out a large lead during a dangerously hot triathlon in Tokyo on Wednesday and crossed the finish line together, hand-in-hand.
They were then disqualified.
Jess Learmonth, 31, and Georgia Taylor-Brown, 25, built a strong lead along with four others through the swim and bike portions of the heat-shortened 2019 Tokyo ITU Traithlon Olympic Qualification Event. By the time they hit the run, they had sped away from the pack and went stride-for-stride over the rest of the course, Triathlon World reported.
They continued together through the final sprint and crossed the finish line hand-in-hand. A photo finish awarded Learmonth first place. But when it came time for the medals, their hands were each empty.
International Triathlon Union voided their results based on Rule 2.11.f.
“Athletes who finish in a contrived tie situation, where no effort to separate their finish times has been made, will be DSQ.”
An initial appeal was rejected, per The Guardian. The ITU received backlash on social media given the race was a test event in extreme heat. Learmonth and Taylor-Brown worked together down the stretch at aid stations to keep each other hydrated.
Bahamian world champion Flora Duffy earned gold instead, though she finished 11 seconds behind the two Brits. Italy’s Alice Betto and the Britain’s Vicky Holland finished second and third, respectively.
Controversy hit even before the race began. Officials decided to shorten the run from 10 km to 5 km (approximately 6.2 miles to 3.1) due to sweltering heat. It was 86 degrees Fahrenheit with 85 percent humidity at the 7:30 a.m. start.
The water temperature came in just under the FINA limit, per NBC Sports. It was 86 degrees Fahrenheit at 5 a.m. and the cut-off is 88. The ITU limit is lower and came in sixth-tenths of a degree Celsius under the threshold.
The event is an Olympic qualifier for many countries, including the United States.
Former Villanova swimmer and cross-country runner Summer Rappaport qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a high enough finish before the qualifications.
She came in seventh, the highest-placed U.S. racer after top-ranked Katie Zaferes was a part of a crash, and earned a spot as the top U.S. qualifier in the top eight.
If the disqualifications are upheld, she finishes fifth. Up to two more spots can be filled.
As for Learmonth and Taylor-Brown, a British Triathlon spokesperson told The Guardian both women, as well as third-place Holland, will have to wait until May to hear the country’s Olympic selections. Three men and three women are chosen.
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