Tokyo Olympics 2020: New Zealand team finish 12th in triathlon mixed relay

New Zealand’s anticipated challenge in the triathlon mixed relay fizzled like a popped balloon as they fell behind on the first leg and were not seen in anger again until Hayden Wilde finished in 12th place, 3m 12s behind the winners.

It was a chastening experience for the squad of Ainsley Thorpe, Nicole van der Kaay, Tayler Reid and Wilde, the majority of who were picked with this event specifically in mind.

“At the end of the day we did our best out there,” Wilde said, acknowledging the team struggled.

“It was good to see the fight there… we all had a bit of a torrid battle.”

“You can’t have highs without the lows,” Reid said. “We’ll come back hard.”

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As it turned out, it developed into an enthralling three-way battle in an event being held at the Olympics for the first time.

Alex Yee anchored Great Britain to a dominating win, crossing the line before Wilde completed the first of his two laps on the run.

The USA finished second, 14s behind, while the top-ranked France took bronze, a further 9s behind.

The race, four legs of a 300m swim, 6.8km bike and 2km run, was a bit of a trip into the unknown but it quickly developed into a race of the have and have-nots depending on how the team was placed after the bike sector on leg one.

Of the teams that were out of the lead group of four, only France managed to battle themselves back into contention; as making up time and places in cloying conditions and on a tight, technical bike leg was difficult.

Ainsley Thorpe was first away in the swim, a 300m dash across the Odaiba Marine Park, and came out of the water in eighth, 11s down on the leader, Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth.

USA, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany quickly established a lead group on the cycle and it was always going to be tough to make up the ground.

Thorpe handed over to Tayler Reid in 16th, 1m 28s behind the leaders.

Reid was being asked to make up a lot of ground, but we never saw his progress as the cameras focused on the front of the pack.

The bald facts were he handed over to his partner Nicole van der Kaay 2m 01s behind Great Britain, who were staked to a handy lead by a brilliant Jonny Brownlee 2km run, while improving New Zealand’s place from 16th to 14th.

Speaking to the cameras as van der Kaay was on the course, Reid said the heat made it tough to make up ground but he gave it everything and risked blowing it up rather than trying to play safe.

Van der Kaay held her ground and Wilde, already establishing himself as a star of the sport, picked up a couple of places.

It was another strong performance but the truth is that 12th is nowhere near where New Zealand expected to finish.

It has been a curious Olympics for Triathlon NZ. If you’d offered them a medal before the Games they would have bitten your hand off to get it, but they would have expected it to be in this mixed relay.

There has been talk in triathlon circles for some time that they have an extraordinary talent on their hands in Whakatane’s Wilde, 23, but the suggestion was he would be primed for a medal tilt in Paris in 2024.

Instead he was at the forefront of a youth movement that dominated the men’s race as the senior statesmen like Jonny Brownlee and Mario Mola faded from view.

Wilde’s bronze was a desperately needed shot in the arm for a sport that has endured a number of dry campaigns since Bevan Docherty’s bronze in Beijing.

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