Morgan Pearson

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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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