London 2012 Olympics: Spirig just pips Norden to gold in an incredible photo finish

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Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig won the closest Olympic women’s triathlon in history yesterday, pipping Sweden’s Lisa Norden for gold after a dramatic photo finish.

Spirig and Norden were neck-and-neck as they hit the finishing tape in 1hr 59min 48sec after a desperate sprint to the line following a gruelling 1.5km swim, 43km bike ride and 10km run around the picturesque Hyde Park course.

Australia’s Erin Densham, just two-hundredths of a second behind, took bronze. British favourite Helen Jenkins dropped off the pace in the final lap and finished fifth, with America’s Sarah Groff fourth. Olympic triathlons have previously been decided by tiny margins, but none quite matches Spirig and Norden’s despairing lunge as they collapsed over the line.

“Crossing the finish line, I had a feeling that I won, but I wasn’t really sure so I really needed an official to tell me and it took a few minutes,” said Spirig, a the three-time European champion.

She added: “As an athlete, this is the highest I can reach – Olympic gold medal is just the dream of almost every athlete. It’s just amazing and it still hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m a bit speechless.”

In cool, damp conditions, the plans of Great Britain looked to be working to perfection as Lucy Hall, picked for her strong swimming, took the lead by the first turn on Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake.

Cheered by big lakeside crowds and a packed grandstand, Hall was first on to the bikes on 18 minutes, followed by Denmark’s Line Jensen, Japan’s Mariko Adachi and Pamela Oliveira of Brazil.

But Oliveira wiped out on a slippery left-hander near Buckingham Palace – and the same corner soon claimed half-a-dozen other riders, including Australia’s Emma Moffatt who was forced to retire.

Hall rode at or near the front of a 20-strong lead group during the 43km bike race, forcing the pace to tire other competitors and set up Jenkins for the 10km run, which is her strong suit.

But Spirig, Densham, New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt, and Australian Emma Jackson remained in close attendance as they completed seven laps of a challenging course set around one of London’s most 
historic parks.

German racer Anja Dittmer was first through the transition in 1hr 26.06sec began, but it was Jenkins, Spirig and Densham who led a ten-woman lead group as the four-lap, 10km road race began.

Jackson dropped off the pace as the leaders were cut to five and then four, with Densham, Spirig, Norden and Jenkins breaking away around the 3km mark, and they remained bunched into the final, 2.5km lap.

And Jenkins was the next to falter as Densham forced the pace, and the increasingly tense race built to a sprint finish.

In the home straight, Spirig inched ahead, but Norden came back and the exhausted pair were all but inseparable at the line.

“We tried to put on a good show for you guys,” laughed Norden afterwards.

“Nicola is an incredible sprinter and I’ve never been so close to her. I was just surprised to find so much energy.”