Tokyo Test Event: Learmonth, Taylor-Brown take one-two… and then get disqualified

Jessica Learmonth / Georgia Taylor-Brown / Tokyo 2019 ITU World Triathlon Olympic Qualification Event

And the winner is… Flora Duffy. We think…

Hand-in-hand finish for the Leeds-based Brits proves costly in Tokyo

Well that was quite a finish, in more ways than one. Is it all over? I’m not 100% sure, but at around 2:30 a.m. UK-time when I press publish on this article, this is the situation at the time.

Who would have predicted that ITU Competition rule 2.11 f.) would prove to be central to the results of the Elite Women’s race at Thursday’s ITU World Triathlon Olympic Qualification Event?

After a fine race at Odaiba Marin Park, Great Britain’s duo of Jessica Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown ran clear of twice World Champion Flora Duffy (BER) on her return to top level racing on the shortened (more on that below) 5km run. Having been part of a breakaway group which was eventually just six athletes, they proved to be the strongest runners from that group and were in no danger from the chase pack who at T2 were not far short of two minutes behind. As it turned out, the only danger was themselves.

As they hit the blue carpet and with the finish line ahead, the expected sprint for the win never happened, and the pair crossed the line together, hand-in-hand and more than content with their day. Learmonth was (initially) given the verdict from the photo finish, as acknowledged by the (since deleted…) tweet from TriathlonLIVE:

Jessica Learmonth / Georgia Taylor-Brown / Tokyo 2019 ITU World Triathlon Olympic Qualification Event

And that, is where the problems started – and it’s all because of this rule, specifically the “finish in a contrived tie situation” line.

ITU Rules extract

Tokyo Test Event / Jessica Learmonth / Georgia Taylor-Brown / Tokyo 2019 ITU World Triathlon Olympic Qualification Event

This rule is not new – as far back as London 2012 I remember public discussions about warnings given to the Brownlee brothers that, should the situation present itself, they should not attempt to cross the line together in Hyde Park or they would risk disqualification. I’m not aware that the rule has ever been applied at a top tier level of racing, until today.

Let’s rewind, before the race even started…

The first big story of the race arrived two hours before race start, with news that the ‘Heat Stress Indicator’ – as measured by Wet Bulb Globe Temperatures (WBGT) was at a level which lead officials to cut the scheduled run from 10km to 5km. This was the full announcement:

Regarding the air temperatures and the Heat Stress Indicator (WBGT):
At 7.30 am, when competition starts, it will be high-risk conditions (29)
At 9am, before the start of the run segment, the Heat Stress Indicator moves to Very High Risk level (31) and by the end of the run segment we will be on Extreme Level (32).
As such, it was decided to shorten the run distance to 5km, according to ITU rules.

There was full consensus on all parties for the decision of the ITU Medical Delegate and ITU Technical Delegates to shorten the run distance to 5km, considering the athletes’ health.

Let’s get to the race itself….

In her normal style, Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth went ‘full gas’ in the swim, and today the entire field were struggling to stay with her. A two-lap course, from a British perspective, Georgia Taylor-Brown was just seven seconds back on her fellow Leeds Triathlon Centre athlete after 750m, with Vicky Holland and Non Stanford 16 seconds in arrears. Surprisingly perhaps, given her usual swim speed, Sophie Coldwell was already 27 seconds down.

Learmonth continued with her pace on the second lap of the swim and was a full 10 seconds clear of Summer Rappaport (USA) at the swim exit. Katie Zaferes (USA), Georgia Taylor-Brown and Flora Duffy (BER) were all the close order, while the remaining Brits were Vicky Holland (15th, +32 seconds), Non Stanford (21st, +38 seconds) and Sophie Coldwell +48 seconds down on the pace-setting Learmonth.

Jess had swum brilliantly… but was it too good? In an ideal world, past history has shown that a small breakaway with the likes of Zaferes and Duffy has proven successful, but starting the bike she was now isolated, but she simply put her head down and kept up the effort. With the returning Flora Duffy leading the efforts of a chase group of around 11, she wouldn’t be on her own for long, and with two of the eight bike laps complete, the gap was just three seconds.

Big news on lap three saw a crash impact none other than WTS Rankings leader Katie Zaferes and her USA team mate, Kirsten Kasper, Zaferes out of the race shortly after – and hopefully not injured, with the Grand Final and surely a World Championship title to collect in a few weeks time.

Combined with an additional two athletes falling off the pace set by Flora Duffy (Summer Rappaport / Simone Ackermann), the leading group was now down to eight athletes – Duffy, Taylor-Brown, Learmonth, Lopes (BRA), Kingma (NED), Spivey (USA), Jackson (AUS) and Betto (ITA). The chase group, containing Holland, Stanford and Coldwell, was one minute down at the midpoint of the ride.

The pace continued at the front with Maya Kingma and Emma Jackson the next to be despatched, the leading group reduced to six, while also extending their lead over the chasers. With just a 5km run today, were the podium contenders already decided? Those six athletes reach T2 1:47 clear of the chasers – no chance of medals.

Meanwhile, at the front of the race six soon became three, with the British duo of Taylor-Brown and Learmonth escaping with Flora Duffy. A kilometre later, Duffy was being distanced and a British one-two in Tokyo was looking a realistic prospect.

The winner in Leeds, Taylor-Brown has the more distinguished running pedigree and was surely the favourite and was looking in control at the front. Side-by-side with 2.5km remaining, Duffy was eight seconds back with just one lap of the reduced 5km run course to complete.

The Brits looked in control, ensured they took on plenty of fluids and as they approached the blue carpet were still locked together. Who would take the sprint… well, there would be no sprint, as the training partners entered the finishing straight side-by-side and then crossed the line together. The photo-finish gave the official victory to Learmonth, both given the same time.

“I’ve never been as prepared for a race in my life as this.” said Jessica Learmonth after the race.

“I had a really good swim, I committed from the start and on the bike we were dropping people. On the run we knew we were going to get first and second, so we didn’t need to do anything silly. We are team mates, room mates and so to finish together was fantastic” said Georgia.

While an appeal was in place at the time of writing (before I, belatedly, go to bed…), the published results appear to confirm the DQ outlined above. That could potentially change, with the podium presentations for the race delayed until after the men’s race on Friday.

Lots of potential implications (above and beyond the loss of not insignificant prize money), given that several nations, including Great Britain, were using the event as part of Olympic selection. Moving everybody ‘up’ two positions by DQ’s to the British duo, could have a dramatic impact on athletes from other nations. We’ll see how that all plays out in due course.

Tokyo 2019 ITU World Triathlon Olympic Qualification Event – Thursday 15th August 2019
1.5km / 40km / 5km – ELITE WOMEN

1st – Flora Duffy (BER) 1:40:19
2nd – Alice Betto (ITA) +0:35
3rd – Vicky Holland (GBR) +0:52
4th – Vittoria Lopes (BRA) +1:02
5th – Summer Rappaport (USA) +1:06
6th – Laura Lindemann (GER) +1:08
7th – Non Stanford (GBR) +1:13
8th – Taylor Spivey (USA) +1:19
9th – Sophie Coldwell (GBR) +1:40
10th – Annamaria Mazzetti (ITA) +1:45

Jessica Learmonth (GBR) 1:40:08 – DISQUALIFIED
Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR) (GBR) 1:40:08 – DISQUALIFIED

12 responses to “Tokyo Test Event: Learmonth, Taylor-Brown take one-two… and then get disqualified

  1. Absolutely ridiculous. I have been in the sport since 1984 and have a long record of event finishes inc Aus Ironman 1989/varios world champs /Age group for GB Did the first ever World champs in Perth 1985 before the ITU was formed. This decision on these two lasses is terrible indictment on OUR sport. At 76 i am still active and contributing to the sport and feel very personally let down by silly rules and regulations dreamed up by folk who have never been at the ‘sharp end’ or perhaps ‘fleetingly’ DISGUSTED!!!

  2. Ridiculous! Lets hope BTF use their discretion wisely in their selection process & pick these 2 amazing athletes who deserve to represent Team GB next year.

    1. Agree wholeheartedly with both the above. Ridiculous disqualification and I hope the BTF makes a sensible decision next year.

  3. Ridiculous decision but surely will have no effect on the Olympic choices, The selectors would be mad to not pick Georgia and Jess for Tokyo. Well done.

  4. Ridiculous decision if it stands. I remember a little while ago a dead heat in a championship. Sportingly it would be good to see Duffy take her well earned 3rd place and all the others accordingly. As for the course, lacks character, far too narrow for the size of the men’s race, too many unsafe bollards and traffic furniture. Been in triathlon since 1986 and disgusted that it has come to this and sanitized courses.

  5. The race was shortened as it could.be a health hazard if they had raced it out the health of these two girls could seriously been at risk they were clearly the best on the day.. It was OK for the organisers to change the rules on health reasons but they didn’t care about the implications it would have had on the health of these girls if they had raced it out..

  6. This is a heartbreaking decision for two women who have worked so hard and progressed in this sport.
    I have great admiration for their achievements and hope to see them both at the Olympics.
    I have followed World Triathlon for many years and find this disqualification the most disappointing of all.

  7. Not ridiculous at all, the ITU technical officials did exactly what they are there to do and applied the competition rules. As John says we have been here before. Whether or not you agree with the rule ( and that is a different discussion), this rule didn’t find its way into competition rules by accident, it was an explicit decision to stop this situation happening.
    It is disappointing for Jess and Georgia after exceptional performances and If nothing Esme I hope it is a timely reminder to every athlete to make sure they know the rules.

    Situations like this put selectors in an impossible position; select based on the result and everyone thinks it’s ridiculous, take a common sense and pragmatic approach and risk athlete appeals for not applying the policy.

    1. Heather W. is absolutely right. The athletes and team officials have the responsibility to know the rules. It was an obvious transgression – no other interpretation would have been possible in this case. The rule also has a purpose: to maintain the integrity of competition through to the end of what is, in the end, an individual event. The contrast to the men’s race held a day later – in which three athletes gave absolutely everything they had until they crossed the line mere seconds apart – could not have been more stark. That is what true sport is all about.

      Those whose immediate reaction was to cry injustice could perhaps take a step back and reconsider – ideally not through the lens of partisanship. The ITU gets some things badly wrong, but this was not one of them.

  8. I hope this is successfully appealed. Regardless of individual opinions about the rule, the rule itself should not result in a dq. The initial result confirmed Jess as the winner by photo finish. If there was a winner there was clearly not a tie and if there was no tie then there could be no contrived tie. Pedantic ? Possibly but if you’re going to apply a rule to the letter then I don’t think you can be selective about which parts of the rule you use.

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