Paula Findlay tried to smile as tears streamed down her face.
“So?,” she said struggling to hold her emotions.
She’d come into the Olympic triathlon event considered one of the favorites, albeit a long shot given that she had spent most of the year battling a hip injury. Nonetheless she arrived in London ready, convinced her injury had healed and that her training in recent months had gone well.
The race in Hyde Park Saturday morning couldn’t have gone worse. Findlay finished dead last in 52nd spot, 12 minutes and 21 seconds behind the gold medalist, Nicola Spirig of Switzerland.
Findlay fell behind right from the start, finishing the 1,500-metre swimming leg nearly two minutes behind the leaders. Even then she felt she still had a chance. “I didn’t lose hope,” she said. “I knew that I wasn’t out of the game at that point.”
But when she headed out for the 43-kilometre cycling portion, her legs just wouldn’t work. “I got on my bike and had no energy in my legs,” she said. “I was so tempted to pull out on the bike [ride]. I had nothing in my legs. I don’t know why.”
By the time she began the 10 kilometre run she felt dizzy and couldn’t keep focus.
“I stopped after the first lap of the run and talked to my team doctor and said I can’t finish this. I was wobbling all over the course. He said you’ll be more satisfied if you finish.”
She kept going and crossed the finish line distraught, trying to acknowledge family and friends in the stands. “Obviously finishing 13 minutes behind is not what I wanted,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before but I suppose that I am a little more satisfied that I finished than if I would have pulled out.”
Her hip felt fine, she added, further compounding the questions about just what happened. Earlier this week she talked about the jitters, nervousness and stress she felt in London, her first Olympics. But on Saturday she made no excuses.
“I just want to apologize,” she said. “I feel terrible. I’m really sorry to everybody, to Canada. I had big hopes for myself.”
Canada’s other entry in the race, Kathy Tremblay, didn’t do any better. She had trouble with her bike and crashed on the first lap. Several other riders, including pre-race favourite Emma Moffat of Australia, wiped out as well after the course became slick due to early morning showers. Tremblay tried to press on, but she was lapped by the others and had to drop out under triathlon rules.
“I just wanted to get back on my bike,” she said. “It’s not me who quit the race. I just had to [under the rules].”
The race in front of the Canadians lived up to billing as one of the most competitive triathlons ever, with a number of world champions in the field.
While Britain’s Lucy Hall beat everyone out of the lake in the swimming portion, she faded on the cycling course and the race became a showdown among a group that included heavy favorite Helen Jenkins of Britain.
The group dwindled to five by the 10 kilometre run and then came down to a sprint to finish between Spirig and Lisa Norden of Sweden. Erin Densham of Australia came third just two seconds back while Jenkins finished fifth behind Sarah Groff of the United States.
Spirig and Norden hit the tape together, so closely that officials gave them the same finishing time of 1 hour 59 minutes and 48 seconds. Officials then had to figure out who actually won which took several minutes.
“Crossing the finish line I had a feeling that I won but I wasn’t sure,” said Spirig who was competing in her third Olympics. “It took a few minutes and the [wait was] really hard.”
Norden also thought she had won and raised her arms in the air.
“I hoped maybe I just got my chest out there,” she said. “Guess I need bigger boobs for next year.”