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Published: Saturday, August 4, 2012, 1:37 p.m.

Spirig wins women's triathlon gold in photo finish

LONDON — It was the type of side-by-side finish more often associated with a 100-meter sprint.
This time, it came after a grueling two-hour endurance test of swimming, cycling and running — but showed once again how any Olympic gold medal can be decided by the thinnest of margins.
Not even the clock could tell Nicola Spirig and Lisa Norden apart in the women's triathlon as they lunged forward to break the tape held up over the finish line for almost simultaneously.
In the end, Spirig of Switzerland won the Olympic title in a photo finish after her Swedish rival's desperate late sprint following a lung-bursting, long-distance effort came up millimeters short.
For Norden, it was agonizingly close.
"I'm always a little bit too late, hey?" Norden joked after arriving at the press conference a few minutes after the other two medalists.
In one of the closest triathlon finishes ever, she probably would have won had the finish line just been one meter further away.
"At least I can say I pushed it all the way to the finish line and I'm pretty happy with that," she said, pointing out she wasn't normally very good in sprint finishes. "I hope I made my coach proud today."
Track runners and swimmers are used to missing out by hundredths of a second sometimes — ask Michael Phelps after he was beaten by Chad le Clos by .05 seconds in the 200-meter butterfly.
But that race lasted less than two minutes.
At Hyde Park, the Spirig and Norden were clocked with the same time at the end of a 1,500-meter swim, a 43-kilometer (26.7-mile) bike ride and a 10-kilometer run that went for nearly 120 minutes.
After all that, the two athletes burst through the tape together in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 48 seconds. They then both fell to the ground, exhausted, alongside bronze medalist Erin Densham — who was only two seconds back.
Both athletes celebrated, but only after they'd recovered. Who won? Nobody knew at first.
In the end, the photo showed a desperate Spirig had held off the late charge by a surging Norden. The Swiss thrust out her hips and upper body to win, denying her challenger a come-from-behind victory at the very end.
"Crossing the finish line I had a feeling that I had won but I wasn't sure," Spirig said. "I really needed an official to tell me and it took a few minutes."
After the initial confusion — and minutes of high drama — Spirig was declared the winner, clinching Switzerland's first medal of the London Games.
"We tried to put on a good show for you guys," Norden told reporters. "Nicola is an incredible sprinter, I've never been that close to her. I was surprised to find some energy still in my body and I pushed it all the way. I was close, but not quite, but that's the way it goes sometimes."
Spirig initially pulled away from the other two medalists with around 50 meters to go to the line.
But suddenly Norden — the tall blonde-haired Swede — found an extra bit of fight. Grimacing with the effort, she chased down her opponent over the final few steps.
Spirig also never gave in, finding enough strength to hold on.
In swimming, competitors share a medal if they have the same time. Not in triathlon, where — like track — the photo finish decides the winner and denies the other.
"I think that would have been a great idea," Norden said on being asked if they should have each been given a gold, like swimmers. "No question."
"I think that (the rule) was decided before the race," new Olympic champion Spirig countered, smiling and refusing to share her title.
The drama played out on a course through central London's famed park, where thousands of roaring spectators lined the route to cheer on the athletes. Fans didn't need tickets to attend, and came out in droves.
They were rewarded with a thrilling finish.
Even though reigning world champion and home favorite Helen Jenkins of Britain faded and finished fifth, the spectators cheered loudly out of appreciation for the magnificent battle to the line.
"It needed the mind to be convinced that I can win it, I want to win it and I'm going to be at the finish line first," Spirig said.
She was. Just.
Story tags » Summer Olympics

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