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Olympic Games Triathlon: Who is not racing at Paris 2024? Brownlee, Jorgensen and more

The Olympic Games triathlon at Paris 2024 is just weeks away. A host of star names are IN but some will not be racing - John Levison lists the big names who will not be in action.

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In recent days and weeks, the focus – quite rightly – has been on the athletes who have made the cut for the Olympic Games triathlon at Paris 2024. But there will be a galaxy of swim/bike-run stars not in action in the French capital.

For various reasons – be it failure to achieve selection, injury, retirement or moving up to longer distances – we will miss out on watching an incredible slew of triathlon talent doing their thing on an iconic course.

Wednesday’s Team GB announcement provided the last major chips to fall as countries agonise over discretionary picks, and it also heralded the end of one incredible era for Olympic triathlon.

John Levison looks at who won’t be racing in Paris, what they are up to now – and for some – what comes next.

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Elite Women

Let’s start with some previous Olympic medallists who, unless called upon as late replacements, won’t be adding to their collection in Paris this summer.

Gwen Jorgensen (USA): Olympic champion at Rio 2016, the fleet-footed American shocked the sport in 2017 when she announced that she was departing the triathlon world to take up professional running. The news that she was returning to triathlon that arrived in December 2022, was equally unexpected.

There was a gap of almost six-and-a-half years between 2016 Grand Final in Cozumel, and her first race back at the Oceania Cup Taupo. The challenge was a significant one, made even tougher by the strength in depth of Team USA’s female roster of athletes.

Four World Triathlon Cup wins were achieved in 2023, but matching those results in WTCS racing proved a tougher task, indeed, simply getting race starts was a challenge. 15th in Yokohama was her best top-tier finish since her return, but with Taylor Spivey (4th) and Kirsten Kasper (5th) also performing strongly there, that would have been one of the factors taken into account for the final two discretionary picks.

World Triathlon Cup Miyazaki 2023 Gwen Jorgensen
Photo Credit: World Triathlon

Katie Zaferes (USA): World Champion in 2019, Zaferes was on the other side of the selection process back in 2021, when she got the final discretionary pick for Tokyo. Following the death of her father in April that year, Zaferes rewarded the confidence of the selectors with an individual bronze medal, adding to that with silver as part of that fantastic Team USA Mixed Relay squad.

Zaferes was also on a tight timeline too, returning to competition in April 2023 following the birth of her son, Kimble. That also meant chasing World Triathlon points, with a best WTCS finish of fifth achieved in Montreal last year. There were difficult times too, including a disqualification after crossing the line first at the Vina del Mar World Triathlon Cup, and a heat-induced DNF in Miami. Coming in back-to-back races, that certainly impacted her World Triathlon ranking, and she did not make the start list at WTS Yokohama.

While Zaferes did finish 12th at WTCS Cagliari – ahead of the selected Spivey and Kasper – their efforts in Japan, on what was the primary U.S. selection race for 2024, was likely the clincher.

Katie Zaferes

Vicky Holland (GBR): A three-time Olympian, Vicky Holland took a memorable bronze medal at Rio 2016 in a sprint finish with her great friend, Non Stanford. I spoke to Vicky at length recently, and returning to racing after the birth of her daughter – in such a strong British squad – she knew that reaching a fourth Games would be a tough challenge.

While that door is now closed, Holland has her sights set on the season-ending Championship Finals where – possibly – the sign-off to a brilliant career could happen.

Vicky Holland Rio 2016 Olympic Games finish
Photo Credit: Delly Carr / World Triathlon

Jessica Learmonth (GBR): Another mum returning to racing, the top-tier draft-legal qualification process just came a little to quickly for the Olympic gold medal-winning star from that fantastic Tokyo 2020 Mixed Team Relay. Jess is far from done with triathlon however, returning to racing recently with a strong second place at IRONMAN 70.3 Kraichgau.

One of the best swim-bikers in short-course racing, Learmonth was the ultimate leg one relay athlete, able to break the field apart with her aggressive style of racing. With the Los Angeles 2028 Mixed Team Relay format reverting to female-male-female-male order, don’t be surprised to see her making a push towards that role again, four years from now.

Olympic Games Mixed Relay Triathlon Tokyo 2020
Great Britain claimed Mixed Relay gold at Tokyo 2020.

Nicola Spirig (SUI): The absence of Nicola Spirig from the Paris 2024 start list isn’t ‘news’ of course, given that the Swiss legend retired in 2022! However, in legacy terms it’s still noteworthy.

Having raced in Athens, Beijing, London, Rio and Tokyo – collecting gold and silver medals in the process – it will be the first Olympic Games triathlon without her for 24 YEARS.

In my recent piece, we rated Nicola’s sprint finish with Lisa Norden at London 2012 as the greatest sprint finish in triathlon history.

Nicola Spirig / Lisa Norden London 2012 Olympic Games
The closest of finishes at London 2012

Sophie Coldwell (GBR): The travelling reserve for Tokyo 2020 – a trip that was not an especially positive experience – Sophie has missed out on Paris by the narrowest of margins, with the final spot going to Kate Waugh.

A reflection of the strength in depth of the British women’s team, that makes Sophie the highest-ranked female athlete in the World Triathlon Rankings and Olympic Qualification Rankings not to make the final selection. That will have been the tightest of discretionary decisions – one which was appealed by Coldwell, and the results of that have left her feeling “angry” and “let down by my federation”.

It followed a 2023 season which saw her earn her first WTCS victory, with another WTCS podium (she now has five) in Abu Dhabi. She also finished ahead of Waugh (7th vs. 10th) at the 2024 ‘priority race’, last month in Cagliari.

2023 was also a breakthrough season for Waugh too. The 2022 U23 World Champion headlined with second place at the Pontevedra Championship Finals and seventh at the Paris Olympic Games Test Event, as well as collecting the Super League Championship Series title.

Both athletes have performed through the selection period, beaten each other multiple times – but it’s Coldwell who will have received perhaps the toughest news that the British Triathlon’s Performance Director, Mike Cavendish, will have had to deliver this cycle.

An emotional Sophie Coldwell wins WTCS Yokohama 2023 photo credit: World Triathlon / Tommy Zaferes
[Photo credit: World Triathlon / Tommy Zaferes]

Two other athletes who have been part of the last four Olympic triathlon events who won’t be present this time around, are Barbara Riveros (CHI) and Vendula Frintova (CZE).

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Elite Men

Just as with the Elite Women, the men’s race in Paris will be missing some very familiar names with extensive Olympic medal winning history.

Jonny Brownlee (GBR): “Olympics? Completed it mate!”, was the tongue-in-cheek comment from Jonny Brownlee after adding Mixed Team Relay gold at Tokyo 2020, to Rio 2016 silver and London 2012 bronze in the individual events. After Wednesday’s news, it’s almost certain that the Brownlee brothers era of Olympic Games racing is over.

For the first time since Athens 2004 – 20 years ago – neither Alistair or Jonny will be wearing the Team GB trisuit at an Olympic Games Triathlon. What a legacy.

I’ve been following the Great Britain selection process in-depth over the last couple of months, and after an off-par performance at WTCS Yokohama – and a ‘perfect audition’ from Sam Dickinson in Cagliari – all indications were that, potentially, we could be set up for an unexpected showdown for selection at a Europe Triathlon Cup event in Kielce, Poland.

Sam Dickinson won that one – and with it, perhaps secured the final selection alongside Alex Yee. For Jonny, Paris will be “the unwritten chapter of an incredible book!”

Jonny and Alistair Brownlee Ask AL AI

Vincent Luis (FRA): Like Jonny Brownlee, Vincent Luis was seeking a fourth Olympic Games selection to race on home soil this summer in Paris. World Triathlon Champion in 2019 and 2020, the Mixed Team Relay bronze medal winner from Tokyo has had to battle injury and health issues in recent years.

He’s also seen the progress of his French team-mates, with Leo Bergere (2022) and Dorian Coninx (2023) becoming World Triathlon champions and Pierre Le Corre also performing exceptionally and hitting all of the required targets for automatic selection.

That left the French selectors with a difficult job, and Vincent was the athlete to miss out, a decision which hit him hard. Like the unfortunate Coldwell, Luis finds himself at the highest-ranked male athlete in the World Triathlon and Olympic Qualification ranking tables, not so be selected. A stat neither wanted.

Vincent Luis Olympic Games Triathlon Tokyo 2020
France’s Vincent Luis in action during the men’s Olympic Games triathlon at Tokyo 2020.

Kevin McDowell (USA): Alongside Brownlee and Luis, the other male medal winner from Tokyo 2020 who will be absent in Paris, is Kevin McDowell.

His sixth place in the individual race at Odaiba Marine Park is the best finish from a Team USA male athlete since triathlon first appeared on the Olympic Games schedule in Sydney, 24 years ago. That was overshadowed however by his efforts as part of the silver medal winning Mixed Team Relay squad, where on leg two he was able to hand over just nice seconds down on a flying Jonny Brownlee. And that all came 10 years after his cancer diagnosis for Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Morgan Pearson will have the task of trying to improve on that sixth place in Paris, and he’ll be joined in France this time around by Seth Rider.

Kevin McDowell Tokyo 2020 run
Photo Credit: Tommy Zaferes / World Triathlon

Mario Mola (ESP): One of the most consistent athletes we’ve seen is draft-legal racing, between 2013 and 2019 inclusive, Mario Mola finished on the year end podium in seven consecutive seasons of World Triathlon racing, including a three-peat of World titles in 2016/17/18. Alongside the great Javier Gomez, that kept the World Triathlon title in Spanish hands for six straight seasons between 2013 and 2018.

An incredible runner in his prime, Mola raced in London, Rio and Tokyo. His form in recent years meant that Paris 2024 was never really looking on the cards against a new generation of Spanish talent, but one of the most popular athletes on the circuit will always be missed for the smile and humility he always brought to the race course.

Mario Mola Tokyo 2020 run
Running to 10th place in Tokyo

Jacob Birtwhistle (AUS): The success of Luke Willian when securing the second Australian slot for Paris with his third place in Tokyo, also meant the end of the hopes of a second Olympic Games for Jacob Birtwhistle.

One of the most consistent Aussies for many years, Birtwhistle earned Commonwealth Games medals of each colour, won two WTCS races in 2019 (Leeds and Hamburg), plenty more podium finishes and was bronze medallist in the 2018 World Triathlon Series.

Having already dipped his toe into middle-distance racing with victory last year at IRONMAN 70.3 Tasmania, and still just 29 years of age, he could well be making that format switch a little more permanent going forward.

Jacob Birtwhistle wins World Triathlon Leeds 2019
Photo Credit: Jamos M. Schmidt / World Triathlon

Gustav Iden (NOR): Eighth in Tokyo, fan favourite Iden was hoping to tread the same route as regular training partner, Kristian Blummenfelt, and return to Olympic competition after long-course success.

And what success he had, winning the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona on his debut in 2022, IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship titles in 2019 and 2021, the PTO Canadian Open and much more.

That short-course return was stalled however, by injury and personal tragedy with 2023 being “the worst year of both my career and life in general.” Add to that the rapid progress of Vetle Bergsvik Thorn, who will join Blummenfelt in Paris and, in truth, Paris was off the table for Gustav many months back. Los Angeles 2028?

gustav-iden-kona-2022-run-finish
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for IRONMAN)
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When is the Olympic Games Triathlon?

Paris will host three spectacular Olympic Games triathlon races in an iconic setting.

The Elite men take centre stage first on Tuesday July 30, with the Elite Women up 24 hours later. The Mixed Relay completes proceedings on Monday August 5.

All three races will begin at 0800 local time. That is 0700 UK, 0200 EST and 2300 PST the previous day if you are watching on the West Coast.

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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