British triathletes finish together
Jae C. Hong / AP

Double disqualification caps bizarre Tokyo triathlon

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Talk about costly celebrations.

British triathletes Jess Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown had clinched a 1-2 finish Thursday morning in Tokyo in a test event preceding next year’s Olympics that, for some athletes, doubled as an Olympic qualification race. Overjoyed, they clasped hands and crossed the finish line together.

By the letter of the law, they can’t do that. Specifically, International Triathlon Union competition rule 2.11.f, which concludes with the fateful phrase, “athletes who finish in a contrived tie situation, where no effort to separate their finish times has been made will be DSQ.”

“DSQ,” of course, stands for “disqualified,” and the British triathletes did indeed lose their places.

The finish could have lent itself to all sorts of conspiracy theories under different circumstances. With Learmonth and Taylor-Brown disqualified, teammate Vicky Holland moved up from fifth to third. Under British Triathlon’s selection criteria, a medalist in Thursday’s race would automatically qualify for the 2020 Olympics if that athlete had also finished on the podium in a race earlier this year in Yokohama or the 2016 Olympics. The USA’s Katie Zaferes, Summer Rappaport and Taylor Spivey swept the Yokohama race without linking hands, but Holland took bronze in 2016, making her the only British athlete eligible to qualify directly for the 2020 Games on Thursday.

However, British Triathlon ruled before the race that it would not count for Olympic qualification because organizers shortened the running phase from 10 kilometers to 5km because of excessive heat. Organizers almost had to cut the swimming phase in half to 750 meters because the water temperature was 30.3 degrees Celsius (86.5 Fahrenheit), barely under the ITU’s limit of 30.9 (87.6) degrees.

British Triathlon’s selection document reads: “The above automatic nominations will not apply if, in the opinion of the Panel, the results of either race (and in the case of returning Rio medallists, the Test Event only) are/is significantly impacted by: i. a large-scale racing incident (such as a crash); OR ii. environmental conditions/exceptional circumstances which result in substantial alteration to the race format.”

The “Test Event” in question is Thursday’s race in Tokyo, and it also had a crash that took out Zaferes, the top-ranked triathlete in the world who was very much in contention until the accident. The crash may not have been deemed sufficient for British Triathlon to disregard the results, but the “substantial alteration” was.

So in the end, the chain of events didn’t affect qualification for the British team, though the unfortunate 1-2 finishers missed out on prize money. Taylor-Brown was gracious about the incident on Twitter, saying, “we promise not to do that again.” Many British triathlon fans on Twitter were less polite.

Nor did the reshuffling affect the U.S. qualification — Rappaport crossed the finish line seventh and was bumped up to fifth. Under USA Triathlon criteria, if no U.S. athlete is on the podium, the highest-placed finisher in the top eight will qualify, so Rappaport qualified with or without the disqualification, and Spivey’s bump from 10th to eighth was irrelevant.

READ: Rappaport qualifies for 2020 Olympics

Both British Triathlon and USA Triathlon will have selection dilemmas in the future. The British team will be selected entirely by the federation’s discretion out of a stacked roster in which four women are in the top seven of the ITU’s Olympic qualification rankings: Taylor-Brown third, Holland fourth, Learmonth fifth and Non Stanford seventh.

The other three in the top seven are American: Zaferes first, Spivey second and Rappaport sixth. One more U.S. triathlete can claim an automatic qualifying spot by finishing on the podium in another race next spring in Yokohama.

The USA, like Britain, is virtually assured of earning three spots in the 2020 Olympics.

When all the decisions were finalized, the winner was Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, who was competing in her first race after missing a year with a foot injury.

Learmonth finished the swim phase in first, with Zaferes and Rappaport in pursuit. The bike phase settled into a lead pack of roughly 10 riders until Zaferes collided with teammate Kirsten Kasper. Kasper was able to resume the race and rejoined a chase pack, but Zaferes withdrew. The lead group was eventually whittled to six, including Spivey, Duffy, Italy’s Alice Betto, Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes and the British duo that would later cross the finish line together.

Duffy and Betto crossed the finish line behind the disqualified duo to claim first and second, while Holland made up a gap of nearly two minutes to pass Lopes and Spivey. Rappaport rode in the same chase pack as Holland and passed Spivey as well.

Olympic berths are also on the line Friday morning in Tokyo (Thursday evening in the USA) in the men’s race.

Heat isn’t unusual for Tokyo in the summer. Takeo Hirata, a professor of sports sciences working with the 2020 Olympic organizers, recently shared some heat-mitigating ideas in The Japan Times, including specially coated road surfaces.

Triathlete collapses in heat
Mexico’s Cecilia Perez collapses after competing in a women’s triathlon test event in Tokyo. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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