Gwen Jorgensen capped the most dominant season in the six-year history of the World Triathlon Series, winning the Grand Final by passing 19 women and erasing a 69-second deficit on the final 10km running portion in Edmonton on Saturday.
She wasn’t satisfied with her overall performance.
“Hopefully I can execute a little better in the upcoming years,” Jorgensen said shortly before popping the cork off a champagne bottle to commemorate her first World Championship. “I know that I have work to do still.”
Jorgensen swam, biked and ran across the Alberta city in 2 hours, 5 seconds, shaking her head after crossing the finish line 16 seconds ahead of New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt.
“I was thinking I made that really difficult for myself,” at the end, Jorgensen said. “In the middle of the race, I thought there was no way I was going to win it.”
Jorgensen did win her fifth straight World Triathlon Series event, a feat never done by a man or woman in the series’ short history. She only needed to end up 16th to clinch the overall World Championship, which accumulates points from results over the course of the season.
She finished the season with the highest point total in World Triathlon Series history with 5,085, becoming the first man or woman to break the 5,000-point barrier. The margin between Jorgensen and second-place Sarah Groff, also American, was 1,098 points.
The previous record margin was 650 points, by Spain’s Javier Gomez in 2010. The margin separating Jorgensen from second place is greater than the margin separating second place from sixth place.
Jorgensen, 28, is also the first U.S. man or woman to win a World Championship since Sheila Taormina in 2004. The best U.S. finish in an Olympic triathlon, since the sport debuted in the program in 2000, is third.
Jorgensen’s path to victory in Edmonton wasn’t out of character. She’s the greatest triathlon runner on the planet and proved it again Saturday. Jorgensen was 15 seconds behind after the 1500m swim and trailed by 69 seconds after the 40km bike.
“I have to go back to the drawing board [in the swim and bike],” Jorgensen said. “I didn’t execute like I do in training.”
But Jorgensen, a former swimmer and track and cross-country runner at Wisconsin, came in averaging running the 10km 67.5 seconds faster than the field in 10km runs this year.
Knowing that, what would she have said if told before the race she needed to pass 19 women and make up 69 seconds on the run?
“Please, I don’t want to do it that way,” said Jorgensen, who took up triathlons four years ago after being recruited away from an accounting job at Ernst & Young by USA Triathlon. “That’s definitely not the way I wanted to win. I got off the bike and started [running], and my legs were heavy. They felt awful. I don’t think they’ve felt that bad all year.”
It must have felt worse, then, for the women she left behind.
“I just tried to stay relaxed,” Jorgensen said. “I knew it was going to be difficult.”
Jorgensen needed about 7.5km to catch and pass the two New Zealand leaders on the run. For the entire 10km, she ran 63 seconds faster than the next fastest woman of the 47 finishers.
Jorgensen credited countrywoman Sarah Haskins. Haskins was essentially a domestique for Jorgensen on the latter stage of the 40km bike ride, setting the pace to keep Jorgensen from losing more time to the lead group of 18 women.
“I couldn’t have done it today without Haskins,” Jorgensen said.
Haskins, who has dealt with injury this season, didn’t finish the race Saturday.
“I owe her a lot,” Jorgensen said.
What’s next for Jorgensen? She’ll go home to Minnesota after training the previous eight months based in Australia and Spain. She’s set to get married Oct. 4, and then set out new goals for 2015.
In 2016, she will no doubt be eyeing Rio de Janeiro after her Olympic debut in London was punctured by a flat tire.
“This year’s [goal] was to do well in the series overall,” Jorgensen said. “Goal accomplished.”