GOLD COAST, Australia — Canada’s first medal of the Commonwealth Games came the hard way.
Joanna Brown, who almost didn’t make the race after fracturing her left shoulder in a bike crash March 2 in the opening race of the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi, ran down one rival after another in the race’s final stage to claim bronze in the women’s triathlon.
Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, the two-time world champion and current world No. 1, won the first gold of the games in a time of 56 minutes 50 seconds, under sunny skies and a temperature of 27 Celsius at Southport Broadwater Parklands.
No. 7 Jessica Learmonth of England took the silver, 43 seconds behind, with Brown another five seconds in arrears. Brown edged England’s Vicky Holland by four seconds for third.
“There are no words to describe this feeling right now,” Brown said after the race. “It has been the most chaotic month, with fracturing my shoulder in Abu Dhabi in March, but I have had the most incredible team of doctors and physiotherapists and coaches who have helped me a lot.”
It was a gutsy performance from the 24-year-old from Carp, Ont., whose first-pain free swim following the crash came just days before Thursday’s race.
Learmonth had a razor-thin lead over Duffy after the swim and bike portions. The two traded the lead several times during the bike ride but the Bermudian pulled away on the run.
Brown was 11th after the swim and 10th after the bike ride, picking off one rival after another during the run, eventually winning the duel with Holland for third.
“I was kind of in the middle of the pack during the swim and then coming onto the bike I was a bit nervous having fallen off and fractured my shoulder less than a month ago so I just chilled on there,” Brown said. “I haven’t done much road training so that also made me nervous. I have been doing a lot of running training so I knew that was going to be my strongest leg so I just ramped it up there.
“I really wanted it, so I’m super-happy with the result.”
Said Holland: “I lost my legs at the end of the run. Joanna deserved the bronze. She ran really smart to finish it off, and deserved all the credit for winning the bronze.”
Dominika Jamnicky of Guelph, Ont., was 14th and 18-year-old Desirae Ridenour of Cowichan. B.C., was 17th.
The Gold Coast event took place on a sprint course for the first time at the games. The course featured a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike ride and a five-kilometre run.
The Olympic event features a 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike ride and 10-kilometre run.
The men’s triathlon was slated for later Thursday. The mixed team relay and para-triathlon go Saturday.
Brown, who has put her commerce degree at the University of Guelph on hold while she follows her triathlon dream, is currently ranked ninth in the ITU world rankings.
Brown had a career year in 2017 when she finished on the podium at three World Cup events, was fourth twice on the World Triathlon Series and placed fifth at the world championships in Rotterdam.
But she also had a run of bad luck.
Brown came into last year’s test event on the Gold Coast in fine form, only to be struck down by food poisoning the week before. In December, she broke her wrist in a freak accident in the gym.
Then came Abu Dhabi.
Canada had won three previous triathlon medals at the Commonwealth Games. Simon Whitfield and Carol Montgomery both earned gold in 2002 in Manchester, England, while Kirsten Sweetland claimed silver in 2014 in Glasgow.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press