NEW PLYMOUTH, NZL—Canada’s Joanna Brown had the first champagne shower of her career on the World Cup podium after winning the silver medal on Sunday in New Plymouth, New Zealand.
The 24 year old Brown battled through light rain, cool conditions and one of the deepest World Cup fields there will be all season to cross the finish line in second with a time of 59 minutes 29 seconds.
“This isn’t rain (on my face), it’s tears. I’m so happy about the podium,” said Brown, of Carp, Ont. “It was a mixed bag of emotions when I crossed the finish line, but I’m so happy. It feels so great to be racing at this level, and there are so many people to thank for being here.”
Brown came out of the cold 750-metre beach start swim in the calm waters 15 seconds off the lead, and worked hard, pushing the pace on the tricky bike conditions to close the gap on the lead pack – setting herself up for a run at the podium.
“I knew there were some strong cyclists in the lead so I really pushed the first lap of the bike and took the corners and technical sections as quickly as I could in the rain,” added Brown. “The roads were definitely slippery out there and it was actually quite challenging on the bike as the rain didn’t stop for us. I was able to latch onto the lead (before the end of the first lap) and then rolled to the front of the group for the rest of the race.”
A beast on the bike, the long-legged Brown was originally scouted for her running strengths that propelled her to bronze medals at both the Junior and Under-23 World Championships early in her career. Now back in elite form, Brown bolted out of second transition Sunday onto the five-kilometre run.
“I just settled in behind the leaders out of T2. A few of my training partners were in that group (of eight) so I took some cues from them and tried to read the group on the first lap of the run,” said Brown.
The group broke down to just six athletes after the first two laps, leaving many of the world’s best going head-to-head in a game of run tactics for the bell lap.
“As soon as we hit the last lap Katie Zafares surged, and we kept trading leads. Jono (my coach) kept telling me to make my move at the right time, so I watched everyone carefully as we went up the last hill and around the corner. The sprint on the way home I kicked, but it didn’t work out.”
When the dust finally settled, Zafares topped the Canuck at the finish line, winning the event for the second time with a time of 59:28. Zafares also won the prestigious New Plymouth World Cup race in 2014, and became the fourth consecutive woman from the United States to stand on top of the podium in New Zealand.
Belgium’s Claire Michel, who was hunting down the gold all day, could not match Brown’s stride down the stretch, and was forced to settle for the bronze medal with a time of 59:30.
It was an emotional victory for Brown, a top prospect for Triathlon Canada since 2010 when she won the bronze at the Junior World Championships, but her development was derailed with nearly three years of injuries. Things became so low she even contemplated retirement after representing Canada at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. But thanks to enormous support from family, friends and her coach at the time – Craig Taylor – Brown soldiered on.
A shift to a new training group in 2017, led by Jono Hall and Triathlon Canada’s National Performance Centre based out of Victoria, Brown is now back on track.
“I definitely contemplated moving on, but my support team helped to build me up, give me courage and pushed me to believe in myself. I wouldn’t have had this performance without them,” said Brown, who first broke through this year by winning the CAMTRI Sprint Triathlon three weeks ago in Sarasota, Florida.
“It’s always good to know that you can win or be in the running for a medal. I had the ability to feel like I belonged in the strong field today because of that result (in Sarasota).
“It’s just been a number of years of slowly building back up and trying to be consistent. I was really fortunate to be based in Arizona with Jono Hall for a lot of the winter, and a really amazing group of athletes that have kept me motivated and excited about training. I’m going to just keep building over the next three years. I want to be a part of the Canadian Team headed to Tokyo.”
Meanwhile, in the men’s race it was Xavier Grenier-Talavera as the lone Canuck to finish in the top-15. The 21 year old, of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., clocked-in at 55:41 for 14th place.
Michael Lori, of Tecumseh, Ont., finished 28th with a time of 58:23, while Victoria’s Mathew Sharpe did not finish.
Richard Murray won his third consecutive World Cup race in New Plymouth. The South African won the gold by six seconds with a time of 54:37. Matthew Mcelroy, of the United States, finished in second place at 54:43. New Zealand’s Ryan Sissons warmed up the hometown crowd who lined the racecourse in the heavy rain with a bronze medal finish. The Kiwi punched the clock at 54:46 to secure third place.