By Mark Etheridge
Triathletes Mari Rabie and Gill Sanders both bounced back from heartache and heartbreak respectively to do South Africa proud on the penultimate day of the Olympics here on Saturday with an 11th and 23rd place.
Rabi returned to the Olympics after an eight-year absence, during which she recovered from a life-threatening heart condition just two years ago. Meanwhile, Sanders was competing with a heavy heart after losing her mother-in-law to a heart attack just days before this event.
Rabie was at the forefront of the action for both the swim and run legs (1500 metres and 40 kilometres) before predictably being outgunned on the 10km run leg by the more swift-footed athletes.
Sanders missed the break on the swim leg and played catch-up from then but dug deep in more ways than one as she made up seven places on the run.
Rabie clocked 1hr 59min 13sec and Sanders 2:01:29.
Up front and shaking off the memories of a frustrating last Olympics where she punctured in the bike leg in London it was American Gwen Jorgensen who powered away from defending champion Nicole Spirig of Switzerland in the last two kilometres to win in 1:56:16. Evidence of just how much power is the fact that she opened up a 40sec cushion in that period.
Afterward Rabie revelled in her race day: ‘My aim was top 10 so I can’t be unhappy with 11th… the race played out a bit differently to what we’d thought. I wanted a smaller pack but I caught a wave in to transition one which no-one else did.
‘Then I ran out of the bike first so I could put on my shoes and wait at the start of the hill. All the main players were in pack so there was no point in doing any work so I made sure I just ate and drank on the run.
‘To be honest I knew I was never going to run with Gwen or Vicky [Holland] so just built my run because it was hot. After the first lap I was about 15th then gradually caught up. If I think about it if it was one more lap I may have caught up a bit more.
‘As for conditions I would have preferred more wind, rougher sea and hotter conditions but I’m not complaining. It was a perfect day, a clean race, in terms of no crashes or technicalities so I think 2008 was redeemed.’
Let’s remember that in her last Olympics back in 2008 she had a technical issue on the bike leg and could only manage 43rd.
Now it might seem that she’s done with the Olympics. ‘Well I must now finish the WTS series in Edmonton, Cozumel and Ecuador and then I start my first real job in October at Remgro Limited [an investment firm].
‘I might, might consider the next Commonwealth Games. Maybe if there’s a team event I’d just do that. But I have honestly had the greatest year ever so it might just be be a good place to stop… lets’ see!’
As for Sanders it was a seriously sore experience for her in the last few days. ‘It’s been a really tough week. My mom in law had a heart attack on Friday and sadly she passed away on Monday. So very rough. My husband Mark got here on Thursday… and it’s just been tough.
‘What’s next from here, I’m not sure but I’m not ready to retire. I may not make another Olympics but I’d like to carry on to Commonwealth. I also do love racing in Japan so well maybe, maybe 2020.’
As for her race and she was playing catch-up after the swim. ‘I always knew today would be a matter of getting out in the front pack. That’s just so important as we saw with Henri [Schoeman, SA’s bronze medallist on Thursday].
‘I didn’t make front pack but still swam as hard as I could have, not much I could do but I left it all out there. So yes, 19th at the London Olympics, and I really wanted at least a top 10 today but got 23rd and laid myself on the line all the way…
‘This course is very hard to make up time so once the girls were gone it was difficult to make gaps. On the run I felt good, the first two laps were comfortable, although my legs came back to bite last two but in my group I was third or fourth fastest on run.
‘When it comes to an Olympics you have to give everything and I know I couldn’t have given more.’
An interesting aside is that SA’s fourth placed finisher, Richard Murray watched his Dutch girlfriend Rachel Klamer race to 10th. ‘That must surely make up the best triathlon couple in the world,’ he joked.
Picture of Rabie courtesy of Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA