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Tokyo Olympics: Hampstead native Katie Zaferes wins second medal, taking silver with U.S. mixed triathlon team

Another event, another medal for triathlete Katie Zaferes at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Hampstead native and North Carroll High graduate helped the United States claim silver in the inaugural mixed triathlon Saturday at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Bay.

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Like the men’s and women’s individual triathlon events, it was an early morning start to take into account high temperatures and oppressive humidity in Tokyo. Two women and two men compete in the mixed event and alternate during the race. Each swims 300 meters, cycles for eight kilometers and runs for two kilometers before tapping the hand of their teammate to extend the relay.

Great Britain claimed gold with a time of 1 hour, 23 minutes and 41 seconds. The U.S. team of Zaferes, Kevin McDowell, Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson finished in 1:23:55. France claimed bronze in 1:24:04. The silver is the fourth medal in U.S. triathlon’s history at the Olympics, and the first for U.S. men. Zaferes won the bronze in the women’s individual race on Tuesday, while Gwen Jorgensen won gold at the Rio 2016 Games and Susan Williams earned bronze at the Athens 2004 Games.

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“Being able to share this with the world is really awesome. We love this event, we know how exciting it is. We know how much it takes to have four athletes show up at the same time, on the same day and be ready to go, especially after all of us racing our own individual races. I’m getting chills just talking about it,” Zaferes said. “Having the camaraderie and racing as a team just gives you so much energy and it makes it even more significant. You’re literally putting everything out there. When you race for yourself it’s one thing, but when other people are relying on you it’s a whole other feeling. It brings a pressure, but when you nail it, it’s absolutely incredible.”

Joanna Brown of Canada, left greets Katie Zaferes of the United States before the start of the mixed relay triathlon at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.
Joanna Brown of Canada, left greets Katie Zaferes of the United States before the start of the mixed relay triathlon at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (Francisco Seco/AP)

Zaferes, 32, finished her section of the course at Odaiba Marine Park — the site of where she suffered a serious injury from a horrific accident in 2019 — in 21:14. Zaferes crashed, broke her nose, and needed more than 20 stitches in her mouth in an Olympic Qualifying Event on Aug. 14, 2019.

On Tuesday, Zaferes’ bid to add a gold medal in the triathlon to the world championship she captured in 2019 fell short, but she earned the bronze. The Syracuse graduate became third American woman to ever medal in the triathlon.

“It’s amazing,” Zaferes said Tuesday in a postrace interview with NBC. “I felt confident that given some more time, I’d be ready come today, and it feels so good to execute that and be me again.”

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The U.S. team raced near the front throughout the relay Saturday, with Pearson 21 seconds behind Great Britain’s Alex Yee — the silver medalist in the men’s triathlon event — when he started the final leg after being tagged by Knibb.

France’s Vincent Luis nearly caught Pearson in the swim, and eventually passed Pearson — and Yee — midway through the bike race. Luis and Yee came into transition with a 5-second lead on Pearson, setting up an all-out-sprint to the finish on the final run.

Yee quickly took a commanding lead, while Pearson — a former All-American runner at Colorado — passed Luis halfway through the run to get the U.S. to silver.

Zaferes gave the U.S. a narrow lead over Britain’s Jessica Learmonth on the first leg. Zaferes tagged McDowell, who raced against Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee, the two-time Olympic medalist.

McDowell completed his leg 9 seconds behind Brownlee, who tagged Georgia Taylor-Brown, the silver medalist in the women’s triathlon, who then extended Britain’s lead. McDowell tagged Knibb, the 23-year-old, who used her strong bike skills to pull away from France’s Cassandre Beaugrand and give Pearson a shot at chasing Britain.

“We knew what we needed to do. We didn’t have to do anything fancy, anything special. We just had to go and race ourselves,” McDowell said. “We had really good camaraderie coming in here and we’ve all been healthy and fit and we knew we had done everything to prepare and execute.”

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