When Gwen Jorgensen‘s run was over, her run was over.
Jorgensen’s record winning streak of 13 top-level international triathlons was snapped emphatically in Gold Coast, Australia, on Saturday.
The favorite in Rio to become the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion lost for the first time since April 26, 2014.
Jorgensen finished second in her first World Series race since Sept. 18, a distant 41 seconds behind Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins after nearly two hours of racing Down Under.
“Helen was really strong today,” Jorgensen said in exhaustion shortly afterward. “She was the better athlete.”
Jorgensen had always been the better athlete — far and away, in some cases — for nearly the last two years.
But on Saturday, she found herself in unfamiliar territory after the 1500m swim and 40km bike going into the final 10km run.
Jorgensen was 1 minute, 32 seconds behind a leading group of Jenkins, New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy.
During her streak, Jorgensen had been known to erase deficits of one minute, or slightly more, on the run, her strongest of the three triathlon disciplines. But never had she faced a gap that wide.
It was too much.
“I missed that [breakaway bike] pack,” Jorgensen said. “I wasn’t up far enough, made a mistake and wasn’t strong enough, and that was the race.”
Jenkins broke free from the three-woman lead group almost immediately on the run and gave up just five seconds to Jorgensen in the first 5km.
Jorgensen caught Duffy and Hewitt on the last of four 2.5km laps, outsprinting Hewitt to the finish line by two seconds. She made up 46 seconds on Jenkins on the final 5km but was never within striking distance of the Brit.
“I can’t quite believe it,” Jenkins said. “But the whole time I’m waiting for Gwen. You can never underestimate how quick Gwen’s running.”
Jenkins, the 2011 World champion, won her first World Series race since May 11, 2012.
She went nearly 18 months between races after a disappointing fifth-place finish at the London Olympics. Jenkins, 32, contemplated retirement while sidelined by injury. She’s been hampered by back, ankle, knee and foot problems the last four years.
Jenkins’ victory could prove vital for her Rio Olympic team hopes.
Two of Great Britain’s three Olympic team members had already been named — Non Stanford and Vicky Holland — and another Brit, Jodie Stimpson, had won the season-opening race in Abu Dhabi on March 5 (which Jorgensen skipped).
As for Jorgensen, shedding the winning streak before the Olympics may actually be a positive. It’s a traditional debate in sports whether that kind of streak, and the pressure that rides with it, can be a burden going into a championship.
“She doesn’t need to prove herself now,” 2008 Olympic champion Emma Frodeno said on the Gold Coast broadcast. “She’s still thinking about August. … This could be the best thing that could happen to her, unfortunately for the other athletes.”
Jorgensen’s streak of 13 straight top-level triathlons, and 12 straight in World Series competition, ends as the longest in history.
Pre-World Series, Australian Emma Carney and Portugal’s Vanessa Fernandes were unbeaten across 12 straight International Triathlon Union World Cup races, but they lost separate World Championships races during those streaks.
The World Series continues in two weeks in Cape Town, South Africa.
MORE: Jorgensen: I debated quitting triathlon in 2014