A dramatic end to the World Triathlon’s World Cup race at Vina del Mar in Chile saw Gwen Jorgensen run down the field to earn her fourth gold of the season, as compatriot Gina Sereno was awarded silver and Vicky Holland (GBR) ends the season with World Cup bronze.
Vina del Mar was the last stop of the World Triathlon Cup circuit for 2023 – a Sprint distance race that was a final opportunity for athletes to chase the last Olympic qualification points of the 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.
“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.”2023 World Triathlon Cup Gold Medalist, USA’s Gwen Jorgensen
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 kilometre 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 organised 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 kilometre, and then Gaultier and Zimovjanova at the end of the first lap.
Drama Lies Ahead
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 realised 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 kilometre 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 four protests were taken to the Competition Jury.
“I was concentrated on the course and took what for me at that moment was the logical path. There were no officials directing us and I did not realise that we were slightly off the course. We passed through the finish gantry in all the laps of the bike and ride and that is what I naturally did on the run,” said Zaferes.
“It is unfortunate and of course unintentional, but as the rules state you need to follow the prescribed course, and I didn’t do that. I am really proud of my performance today, though. I executed the race exactly as I had planned and am trying to focus on that,” she said.
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 in seventh.
“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,” said Jorgensen after the medal ceremonies.
“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.
For the American, Vina del Mar is her fourth World Cup victory this season, in which 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 penalised 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 Mooloolaba 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, said Holland.
“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.
World Triathlon Leading Elite Women Results at the World Cup race in Vina del Mar, in Chile, on Sunday 12 November, 2023
1. Gwen Jorgensen (USA) 00:57:28
2. Gina Sereno (USA) 00:58:00
3. Vicky Holland (GBR) 00:58:10
4. Angelica Prestia (ITA) 00:58:25
5. Djenyfer Arnold (BRA) 00:58:34
Photo Caption: A dramatic end to the World Triathlon’s World Cup 2023 season’s final race saw the USA’s Gwen Jorgensen earned her fourth gold of the season, as compatriot Gina Sereno was awarded silver and Vicky Holland (GBR) ends the season with bronze at Vina del Mar, Chile, on Sunday, 12 November, 2023. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: After an incorrect, the first two athletes to cross the finish, Katie Zaferes (USA) and Teresa Zimovjanova (CZE) were disqualified, while Jorgensen’s surge to the finish line saw her reel in five places to take the race’s title rights. Photo: Supplied