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Friday, September 15
McMahon edges favorite Jones in close finish

SYDNEY, Australia -- Dominic McMahon woke up from his nap just in time to see Mom win a shiny new toy -- a gold medal in the inaugural Olympic triathlon.

Brigitte McMahon, Michellie Jones
Michellie Jones collapses after losing to Brigitte McMahon by two seconds for the women's triathlon gold medal.

Switzerland's Brigitte McMahon outswam the sharks, bicycled with the pack and then sprinted away from the field to win the women's triathlon Saturday (Friday night ET), pulling away from Australia's Michellie Jones in the final 100 meters.

Dominic, 3, was napping in front of the Sydney Opera House until the race's final moments. After Mom won, he celebrated by playing with her medal and then frolicking in his "Triathlon Team McMahon" T-shirt at a news conference.

McMahon, 33, who took up triathlon after she failed to make the Olympics as a swimmer, kicked past Jones as the two raced down Macquarie Street and onto the plaza in front of the opera house.

"In my mind, in all my hard workouts, I actually pictured those last kilometers toward the opera house," she said. "I wasn't picturing myself in the lead, but I pictured myself being happy."

McMahon won in 2 hours, 40 seconds. Jones took silver, two seconds behind McMahon, and Switzerland's Magali Messmer was third. Joanna Zeiger, a doctoral student in genetic epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, was fourth.

"It was a totally awesome experience. I don't feel a tiny bit frustrated (by just missing a medal)," said Zeiger, who finished 45 seconds behind McMahon. "I'm so excited and psyched. It was a great day -- I couldn't be happier."

Sheila Taormina, a former waitress from Livonia, Mich., and a 1996 Olympic gold medalist in swimming, placed sixth. Jennifer Gutierrez, a gym teacher from Denver whose father played baseball in the Cincinnati Reds' organization, was 13th.

The triathlon started in the shimmering water of Sydney Harbor -- crowded with everything from sailboats to ocean liners, but apparently no sharks -- and ended on the plaza in front of the city's landmark opera house.

The running portion of the event turned into a duel down the stretch between McMahon and Jones, who grew up in the Sydney suburbs. They broke away from a five-woman pack early on the last lap, then ran together until McMahon's closing sprint.

"She was just was too strong," Jones said. "I surged with about 200 meters to go and she surged and I tried to surge again and my legs just went, `No.'

"Yes, it's going to give me nightmares," Jones added, "but at least I got a silver medal."

McMahon and Jones moved quickly away from the pack.

"The front-runners made a break up one of the hills and I really couldn't respond," Zieger said.

Mike McMahon, a former triathlete and tennis instructor from North Sutton, N.H., who has been coaching his wife for the past two years, said he sought a little help from nature before the race.

"I went around the `Wishing Tree' in the park three times forward and three times backward," he explained.

Taormina, an MBA who worked as a Waffle House waitress to support her athletic career after attending college at Georgia, finished the swim in 18 minutes, 39 seconds -- giving her a lead of 35 seconds over a pack of four competitors.

Taormina, who helped set an Olympic record as part of the winning 800-meter freestyle relay at the 1996 Games, is in just her second year as a pro triathlete and missed much of her first season in 1999 with a muscle disorder.

She led for the first lap of the bike race through Sydney's business district, but was caught on the second lap by Germany's Joelle Franzmann -- who led a pack of 15 athletes through the rest of the ride.

A five-woman pack broke away from the field on the first of the two running laps through the Royal Botanic Gardens, where thousands of fruit bats hang from the trees. McMahon and Jones made their move on the second lap.

"I saw it was just Michellie behind me. I said to myself, `First or second, this is as good as it can be,"' McMahon said. "I pushed as hard as I could, and it was enough. It's the most fantastic thing possible."

Though most of the competitors discounted the chances of a shark attack, six divers equipped with shark-repelling devices escorted the triathletes in the 1,500-meter swim through the brisk 61-degree water of Sydney Harbor.

The opera house, one of the world's architectural wonders and Sydney's most recognizable icon, was relegated to the role of backdrop during the triathlon, which began under a bright sun and ended in cool, breezy, overcast conditions.

The race marked the Olympic debut of triathlon, which still has provisional status as an Olympic event. Triathlon officials hope the enthusiasm generated by fans who lined the waterfront and the race route will help promote their sport.

The men contest their triathlon Sunday (Saturday night ET) on the same course.


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