Gwen Jorgensen, an overwhelming Olympic gold-medal favorite who hasn’t lost a top-level international triathlon since April 2014, felt like an underdog at a special November competition.
At the Island House Invitational in the Bahamas, Jorgensen faced a unique field including Olympic-distance rivals like London silver medalist Lisa Norden as well as Ironman champions Leanda Cave and Mirinda Carfrae.
The new event was foreign to Jorgensen, a three-day stage race a month and a half after the conclusion of her grueling and undefeated international season.
“I didn’t think I was going to win,” she said.
Husbands and wives of the men’s and women’s competitors made predictions as well. Even Jorgensen’s husband, Patrick Lemieux, didn’t pick her.
Yet Jorgensen prevailed by 34 seconds over Norden after nearly 3 hours, 30 minutes of combined racing over three days.
The format ended up favoring the Olympic-distance triathletes over the Ironman field, understandable given the Island House event was less than a month removed from the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
The full Ironman takes the top women about nine hours to complete. Jorgensen’s usual races last one hour (sprint distance) or two hours (Olympic distance).
The event provided an opportunity for Jorgensen, arguably en route to becoming the greatest female Olympic-level triathlete of all time, to face the Australian Carfrae, the Ironman Kona course-record holder and one of four women to own at least three Kona titles.
Jorgensen has not expressed interest in moving up to Ironman, like so many Olympians have done. Most notable is Jan Frodeno, who last year became the first person to couple Olympic and Ironman Kona triathlon titles.
But she wanted to speak with Carfrae.
“I know everything about [Ironman triathletes],” Jorgensen said. “I feel like I’m stalker-ish almost. … When you’re in the triathlon world, you hear about them all. So it was nice to actually meet them.
“I talked a lot about what happens in Kona. I said, ‘Are you doing interviews the day before a race? How do you handle that the morning of a race?’ [Carfrae’s] like, ‘Well, the morning of the race, Gwen, we start early in the morning.’ Just something that I don’t even think of. My races don’t start until 4 [p.m.], or [11 a.m.]. So I’m thinking you have all morning, but they obviously don’t. I definitely picked her brain.”