Rio 2016 Olympic triathlon: a viewer’s guide

A challenging route and some notable absences make the Olympic triathlon an unpredictable event – can Team GB's women match the Brownlee brothers' win this Saturday?

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Britain’s Brownlee brothers stormed to victory in the men’s Olympic triathlon race – now it’s the turn of Team GB’s women. 

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Expect to see a lively battle this Saturday between the favourite, Gwen Jorgenson of the USA, and contenders including GB’s Helen Jenkins, Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig and Sweden’s Lisa Norden.

What time is the Olympic triathlon on TV?

The women’s triathlon race will be held on Saturday 20th August from 3pm on BBC1, the BBC Sport website and the Red Button.

What is the Rio 2016 triathlon course like?

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The event will start with a 1.5km swim off the Copacabana beach, followed by eight laps of a 5km bike circuit and a final 4 laps of a 2.5km beachfront loop.

As with all multi-discipline events, the key to success is leveraging your strengths in your stronger discipline while defending in your weaker events, but unlike the heptathlon or omnium, there’s an added edge to triathlon, as each event flows into the next without a break.

Traditionally gaps between groups of contenders open in the swim and it’s said that triathlons, although not won in the swim, are often lost there. The run is also seen as pivotal, as a good performance there can make up a lot of lost ground.

In Rio, however, there are some unusual complications – the bike route features several tight, technical corners and two significant hills. The added difficulty of the bike course could make it the key to the whole event, as it will now favour competitors who are good across all fields, as opposed to specialists.

Who are the ones to watch?

In the women’s event the swim is seen as crucial. Gwen Jorgenson is the Triathlon World Series champion and is extremely strong in the run. Viewers might be deceived at first: she’s traditionally slow in the transition between bike and run, with a tendency to go gently in the early kilometres, but when she’s ready she can increase the pace very quickly.

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It’s widely believed that her rivals will need around a minute advantage going into the run to stand a chance of holding her off. This might play into the hands of Britain’s two-time World Champion Helen Jenkins, who is good in the water and, along with reigning Olympic champion Nicola Spirig, is among the strongest on the bike. If Jenkins establishes a lead over Jorgensen in the swim, she’ll give everything to maintaining it during the bike leg, but may get caught on the run.

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If the favourites end the swim together, the bike leg could well be a procession before Jorgensen tests them all in the run. Once again, watch for the swimmers to stretch into a long line as the pace increases, before breaking into smaller groups moving at their own sustainable speed.