Kirsten Kasper

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Summer Rappaport clinches Olympic triathlon berth in tumultuous qualifier

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Former Villanova swimmer and runner Summer Rappaport earned a spot in the 2020 Olympic triathlon in a qualifying race Thursday morning in Tokyo (Wednesday night in the U.S.) that was beset by unusual circumstances.

The race had a shorter distance due to heat, a crash that took out top-ranked Katie Zaferes of the United States, and a disqualification of the top two finishers because they crossed the finish line together.

Rappaport, who won a World Cup race in June and finished second to Zaferes in a World Triathlon Series race in May in Yokohama, Japan, crossed the finish line seventh to earn the spot on offer for the highest-placed U.S. competitor in the top eight. If the disqualifications of British triathletes Jessica Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown are upheld, Rappaport will move up to fifth.

Because no American finished on the podium, which would have opened the possibility of having two automatic qualifiers from Thursday’s race, another spot will be available in another qualifying race in May in Yokohama. Should the U.S. have three athletes in the top 30 of the Olympic rankings, a virtual certainty, the third pick will be discretionary.

Bermuda’s Flora Duffy will be the race winner if the disqualifications stand.

Rappaport and Zaferes finished the swim phase among the leaders and remained in the top three early in the bike phase.

But Rappaport wound up in the chase pack at the end of the bike phase, nearly two minutes behind a pack of  leaders that included American Taylor Spivey. Joining Rappaport in the chase pack were Taylor Knibb and Kirsten Kasper, who was also involved in the crash that ended Zaferes’ race.

Rappaport rallied in the running phase with the second-best time (16:36) of any competitor in the race.

Athletes ran 5 kilometers instead of 10km because of excessive heat that has afflicted Japan for weeks and contributed to the deaths of scores of residents, including an Olympic construction worker.

The heat also affected a test of the Olympic open-water course on Sunday, where swimmers reported excessive heat and some concerns that efforts to clean the water were not sufficient. The water temperature at 5 a.m. was 29.9 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), just shy of FINA’s limit of 31 degrees (88 degrees). Concern over heat in the long distance swimming events ramped up after the death of U.S. swimmer Fran Crippen in 2010.

Triathlon’s organizing body, the ITU, has a slightly slower temperature limit of 30.9 degrees. The temperature at the race start Thursday morning was 30.3 degrees.

The men’s race takes place Friday morning in Tokyo (Thursday night in the U.S.).

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Triathletes chase direct Olympic qualification berths in Tokyo test event

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Top-ranked Katie Zaferes and other U.S. triathletes can clinch berths in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on Thursday morning local time (6:30 p.m. Wednesday Eastern Time).

Zaferes, who won four of the first five World Series races this year and placed second in the other, is part of a strong U.S. team that includes two two-time podium finishers this season in Taylor Spivey and Summer Rappaport, along with Under-23 world champion Taylor Knibb and 2016 mixed relay world champion Kirsten Kasper.

Zaferes, Rappaport and Spivey swept the medals in earlier this year in Yokohama, Japan.

Unless the U.S. takes a dramatic tumble in the world country rankings, U.S. athletes can clinch up to two spots in the Tokyo race. The scenarios are:

  • Two or more U.S. athletes on podium: Top two qualify
  • One athlete on podium, at least one more in top eight: Medalist and next-highest finisher qualify
  • No athlete on podium, at least one in top eight: Highest finisher qualifies (only one spot)

The men’s race follows Friday morning Tokyo time (Thursday evening in the U.S.). U.S. men aren’t rated as highly as the women — Eli Hemming leads the way with the 21st seed after picking up his first World Cup win last month. Other U.S. competitors have had occasional successes — Matt McElroy became the first U.S. man to medal in a World Triathlon Series event since 2009 with his silver medal in June, Tony Smoragiewicz won his first World Cup medal in February, Kevin McDowell has five World Cup medals, and former University of Colorado runner Morgan Pearson took a World Cup silver in June after just three years in the sport.

Paratriathletes will compete the next day to gain points toward qualification, but they cannot qualify directly for the 2020 Paralympics.

The final day features the mixed relay, a new Olympic event in which two men and two women each swim 300 meters, bike 7.4 kilometers and run 2 kilometers, considerably shorter than the individual races’ distances of 1.5 kilometers, 40 kilometers and 10 kilometers.

Mixed relays will be especially important because the top seven countries in the ITU Olympic ranking will automatically qualify two athletes per gender, which may be crucial for the U.S. men. The U.S. currently ranks third.

The next opportunity for individuals to qualify directly for the 2020 Games will be next year in Yokohama.

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