Imagine conquering a flat tyre to win Olympic silver - and that not being your biggest hurdle, writes Tom Harle.
Enter Mancunian triathlete Georgia Taylor-Brown, who reached the podium ten weeks after being on crutches and six weeks after returning to running.
The 27-year-old’s Olympic dream was in jeopardy after suffering a stress response in her femur in May and had to undergo solo testing to prove she was fit enough to make a Games debut.
Taylor-Brown passed a fitness check a week before flying and got to the Tokyo start line, only for a mechanical failure on the final lap of the 40km bike ride to seemingly scupper her chances of a medal.
But she bridged the gap to bronze in little more than a kilometre and caught USA’s Katie Zaferes with 2.5km to go, winning Team GB’s eighth medal at the Games.
“It’s strange to come to an Olympic Games not having raced since last September,” said Taylor-Brown, who pulled out of June’s World Series race in Leeds with what she claimed at the time was illness.
“I kept it all a bit private, what was going on. My training had gone so well before then, so that was a bit of a shock, but I knew I had all of that work in the bag.
“I wanted to keep it private, you don’t want to show your competitors your weaknesses, so I did just say I was ill.
“I’ve had six weeks of building my running back again. It’s not perfect, it’s not what I wanted or what anyone would want. I got myself into a really good position and I was as fit as I could have been on the start line today.”
Her close friend and Leeds training partner Jess Learmonth led out the swim, steering a group of seven, including Taylor-Brown and 2019 world champion Katie Zaferes, to a lead of more than 30 seconds coming out of transition.
Swimming has not traditionally been Taylor-Brown’s strength - she comes from a cross-country running background and has spoke of fear and anxiety of triathlon’s first leg in the past.
But the injury allowed her to focus on her work in the water with new British Triathlon swim coach Russ Barber playing a key role.
“We were very, very sensible at the start (of recovery) and I completely offloaded, I had two weeks off training,” said Taylor-Brown, whose Tokyo triumph was exploits were broadcast live on Eurosport and Discovery+.
“I worked on my swimming. Our new coach got me in the front pack today. I owe him a lot because that made the race for me. He’s brought my swimming on loads.”
Typhoon Nepartak struck Tokyo in the early hours of the morning and brought heavy rain and high winds, with slippery course conditions wreaking havoc on the 40km bike ride.
Four athletes came off and failed to complete the first 5km lap, with Taylor-Brown working harder than the rest at the front of a circumspect leading group.
It was intact until the penultimate lap when Vittoria Lopes dropped off and then disaster struck for Taylor-Brown late in the last circuit, when a flat back tyre saw her bleed time on the slow, technical turns.
“The puncture wasn’t ideal, I heard it literally blow with 2km to go,” she said.
“My wheel got very bumpy, I was near a wheel station but decided not to stop as it would have taken more time. I managed to get back to the girls on the straight but I lost time on the corners.
“I did panic, I thought ‘brilliant, I’ve lost it in the final few on the bike’ but I just had to try to keep my cool, try to get everything right.”
Taylor-Brown, from a cross-country background with father who was an international over 800m, let rip on the run and soon overtook Learmonth and Germany’s Laura Lindemann.
It took her longer to reel in Zaferes, but she caught her on the blue carpet into the bell lap and a fast 10km run saw her take silver.
Bermuda’s Flora Duffy went clear to win gold by a margin of 1:14.
“I don’t think I had the speed Flora had today,” said Taylor-Brown.
“I planned for hot weather and for a slower race, which favoured me because of the lack of running I’d done recently. I’m more than happy with silver.
“Without the injury I think I could probably have hung in there and maybe given her a bit more of a race, but I think I’ve handled it very well and I’m proud to have got on the start line.”
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