Katie Zaferes’ bid to add a gold medal in the triathlon to the world championship she captured in 2019 fell short, but the Hampstead native and North Carroll High graduate earned the bronze in Tokyo Tuesday morning.
Zaferes, 32, finished the course at Odaiba Marine Park — the site of where she suffered a serious injury from a horrific accident in 2019 — in 1 hour, 57 minutes, 3 seconds. Gold medalist Flora Duffy of Bermuda posted a winning time of 1:55:36, which was 40 seconds faster than 2016 gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen of the United States’ time of 1:56:16. Georgia Taylor-Brown of Great Britain took home the silver in 1:56:50.
“It’s amazing,” Zaferes said 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.”
A persistent rain fell during the swimming and biking portions of the race in Tokyo, forcing competitors to slow their bikes to avoid wipeouts on the water-slicked road.
After swimming two laps that totaled 1,500 meters, Zaferes was third, trailing leader Jessica Learmonth of Great Britain and Vittoria Lopes of Brazil. During eight laps of biking that measured a total of 40 kilometers, Zaferes stayed in the lead group, alternating from leading the pack to slipping to sixth.
Zaferes surged to the lead in the final lap and made the transition to the run portion of the event in 1:22:36, pacing ahead of Laura Lindemann of Germany and Duffy. But in the first lap, Duffy, 33, passed Zaferes for a lead she never relinquished en route to completing the four-lap, 10-kilometer portion.
Despite being overtaken by Taylor-Brown in the final lap, Zaferes appeared in a celebratory mood after her finish on the same course where she crashed, broke her nose, and needed more than 20 stitches in her mouth in an Olympic Qualifying Event on Aug. 14, 2019.
“I just telling myself to keep focusing on the moment and really just stay where I was,” said Zaferes, who went on to win the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland on Aug. 31, 2019. “I’ve gotten ahead of myself before and lost focus. So I just kept telling myself, ‘Flora, Flora, Flora,’ and then, ‘Georgia, Georgia, Georgia.’ I was really trying to stay engaged. It feels long, the run. So just keeping the focus was critical.”
Zaferes’ journey included a personal tragedy. Her father Bill died unexpectedly in April. But she pointed out the emergence of a rainbow during the race.
“He’s so proud,” she said. “I saw the rainbow before we started or maybe it was sometime on the bike. I gave a little, ‘Hi, Dad!’ and I just felt like that was him. So I definitely felt him, and I feel like he would just be so happy.”
Zaferes, then Katie Hursey, was a six-time Carroll County Times Athlete of the Year in cross country and track and field and The Baltimore Sun 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. She placed 18th in the 2016 Rio Olympics in 2:00:55 in the triathlon.