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Hampstead native and triathlete Katie Zaferes grateful to leave Tokyo Olympics with two medals: ‘We did this together’

The tagline for Katie Zaferes’ email account reads “Olympian and World Champion.”

The Hampstead native and North Carroll graduate can revise that to “Two-time Olympic medalist” after she left the Summer Olympics in Tokyo with a silver medal in the mixed triathlon and a bronze in the women’s triathlon. That realization continues to tickle the 32-year-old Zaferes.

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“When I was younger, I was just so in the moment and never even considered that going to the Olympics would be a possibility for me,” she wrote via email from her home in Cary, North Carolina, after returning from Tokyo. “However, by just focusing on each moment and phase of life, I worked my way up to this point. I think back thinking how so many critical moments culminated into this achievement. All the work, personal development, particular decisions, a bit of luck, and a whole lot of support from amazing people accumulated allowing me to be ready for Tokyo no matter what the situation.”

Just four days after completing a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run on July 27 to earn the bronze medal in the women’s triathlon, Zaferes contributed to the United States capturing the silver in the mixed triathlon Saturday morning at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Bay. The mixed triathlon — which requires a team of two women and two men to each swim 300 meters, bicycle 8 kilometers and run 2 kilometers before tagging a teammate — made its Olympic debut last weekend.

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The Americans finished the relay in 1 hour, 24 minutes and 4 seconds, trailing Great Britain’s gold medal-winning time of 1:23:41.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Zaferes wrote of competing with Kevin McDowell, Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson. “Racing as a team is a really special experience, especially considering it was the first time in history that the mixed relay was included in the Olympics. We knew we were capable of medaling, but to be able to execute on that capability is much more challenging.

“All four of us had such strong races, and [to] be able to do that all on the same day is fantastic. I loved the lead up into race day with my teammates and we all really believed in one another.”

Although the mixed triathlon’s appearance at the Olympics was its inaugural showing, Zaferes has participated in the event at the ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships and returned home with silver medals in 2017 and 2020 and a bronze in 2018. Zaferes called the mixed triathlon “one of my favorite formats.”

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Hampstead native Katie Zaferes celebrates after finishing the women's triathlon in third place on July 27 in Tokyo. Zaferes left the Olympics with two medals — a silver and a bronze.
Hampstead native Katie Zaferes celebrates after finishing the women's triathlon in third place on July 27 in Tokyo. Zaferes left the Olympics with two medals — a silver and a bronze. (Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)

“The biggest adjustment is racing for your team rather than just yourself,” she said. “It adds a bit of extra pressure because other people are relying on your performance and you don’t want to let them down. It also has a different significance because it’s so special racing for your country as a team.”

Zaferes’ performance belied a heavy heart after her father Bill Hursey died unexpectedly in April at the age of 60. But his memory inspired her.

“Dad just would have been so proud, and he would have told me that,” she wrote. “He told me that all the time. When people say, ‘Your dad would be so proud,’ that’s always my first thought, ‘I already know.’ He would always verbalize his feelings, and I’m so thankful [for] that. He would have a twinkle in his eyes from his happiness. I can envision it clearly, and while it makes me so sad that I can’t experience it with him in person, I have no doubt what his reaction would be.”

Zaferes, then Hursey, was a six-time Carroll County Times Performer of the Year in cross country and track and field and The Baltimore Sun’s 2005 All-Metro Runner of the Year in cross country. She attended Syracuse from 2007 to 2012, where she competed in both cross country and track and placed 18th in 2:00:55 at the women’s triathlon at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Zaferes’ stay at home will be brief as she is scheduled leave Sunday for the remainder of the international triathlon schedule, and she said she hopes to visit Hampstead sometime in the fall. As long as the triathlon season is, she said she has been encouraged by her husband Tommy, her mother Mary Lynn Hursey, and others.

“Everybody is just so excited and proud of not just me but of our whole team,” she wrote. “They know all the pieces of this journey and have felt for me during the best times and the worst times. So I feel like they actually feel pretty similar to me in leaving Tokyo with two medals because we did this together.”

(From L to R) Katie Zaferes, Kevin McDowell, Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson of the United States celebrate their silver medal in the mixed relay triathlon July 31, 2021 at Odaiba Marine Park during the Tokyo Olympics.
(From L to R) Katie Zaferes, Kevin McDowell, Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson of the United States celebrate their silver medal in the mixed relay triathlon July 31, 2021 at Odaiba Marine Park during the Tokyo Olympics. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)
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