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Colorado's Morgan Pearson finishes 42nd in Olympic men's triathlon

Jul 25, 2021
World Triathlon

TOKYO – Early Monday morning in Odaiba Marine Park, horns wailed as boats ushered a portion of the 51-man field back to the start of the men’s triathlon. A rare false start meant a do-over on a morning where the sun was already high at 6:30 a.m., the air temperature was 80 degrees, and the water was an even hotter 84.

Morgan Pearson wasn’t caught up in the infraction or the ensuing hubbub, but it was an inauspicious Olympic start for the COLORADO grad. After the swim, he was 25th out of the water, about 23 seconds behind the leaders. It was a perfect position for the All-America distance runner. But it was a physical swim and, like many of the triathletes, he took a pounding.

“The water was quite dirty,” he said afterwards. “It was hard to see, so you’d run into lots of people. I got beat up in the start, but I thought I moved up okay.”

Tokyo 2020 had been monitoring the water in Odaiba Bay for more than two years. At the August 2019 test event, it installed a single-layer screen to prevent contaminated water from entering the venue. It was agreed that a triple-layer screen would be added for the Games, and it had been operating in the Bay for the past month, according to an official statement by Tokyo 2020 and World Triathlon. Daily testing in four locations indicated that the screen was effective.

It was better, perhaps, but like many elements at the world’s largest sporting event – not perfect.

The news didn’t improve. During the first lap of the 40km bike portion, a World Triathlon official reported that Pearson would be subject to a 15-second penalty for not placing his swim cap properly in his box in the transition area. A similar housekeeping infraction plagued his fourth pro race, back in 2018, in Yokohama, Japan.

He wouldn’t learn of the penalty until the start of the run, but by then all chance of a medal was shot.  His 23-second gap behind the leaders after the swim grew to 34 seconds on the bike, extended to 43, then 58 after the fifth lap, and 1:46 with one loop to go.

“On the bike I had nothing,” he admitted.  “I don’t know why. I just felt not good. I was trying to be positive. I thought maybe I’d come around. But it wasn’t until the last lap that I started to feel like myself on the bike.”

Entering the 10km run, he still had to serve his 15-second penalty (which required him to stand still in the transition area).

By then, he said, “I didn’t run hard. I was taking the run really easy. It’s obviously the Olympics. I wanted to finish. So I just used it as my easy run, and I got in 10k” en route to a 42nd place finish, 7 minutes, 1 second behind the winner, Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway.

Pearson still has a chance to earn a medal on Saturday, July 31, in the new mixed (co-ed) relay where each member of the four-person team completes shortened versions of all three events.

Asked whether Monday’s race at least set him up decently for that, Pearson’s blue eyes softened. “It doesn’t give me confidence, to be honest. I’m a little bit embarrassed …but it’s been a tough year.”

He didn’t have to explain. On March 1, his oldest brother, Andrew, died peacefully in his sleep, and never got to see Morgan qualify for Tokyo and fulfill his Olympic dream.

On Monday, Pearson completed his goal but his dream felt profoundly unfinished.