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ATHENS 2004

Allen Surges Late for Gold

The Austrian by way of Australia goes from 10th to first in final leg to win women's triathlon. Williams of U.S. is third.

August 26, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

VOULIAGMENI, Greece — An athlete raised on a farm in Geelong, Australia, won the Olympic women's triathlon at this suburban seaside resort Wednesday in fairly spectacular fashion, overtaking the leader with about 150 meters remaining.

But instead of Advance Australia Fair, the Austrian national anthem played when Kate Allen received her gold medal.

It was no organizational mix-up. Allen has lived in Austria with her husband for almost a decade, but she still sounds as Australian as Ian Thorpe or Lleyton Hewitt.

It was an emotionally complex day for the top competitors. The woman stalling in the stretch run and passed decisively by Allen happened to be an Australian, Loretta Harrop. Allen, who was 44th after the opening 1.5-kilometer swim, won by 6.72 seconds, finishing in 2 hours 4 minutes 43.45 seconds.

An American took third, but it wasn't one of the favorites, Sheila Taormina or Barb Lindquist, but 35-year-old Susan Williams.

"I am thrilled," Williams said. "It's a dream come true for me. I was a dark horse to even make the team for the Americans. And I knew it was a good course for me."

Williams survived a crash into a soft barrier after the opening climb in the cycling leg, with minimal damage, and won the first medal for the U.S. in the triathlon event, which is still in its Olympic infancy.

"At least if I crashed I'd have an excuse why my run was so bad," said Taormina, who competed in what she called her final race.

Williams was able to share the bronze with her family, including her daughter Sydney, who was named after the site of the 2000 Games because Susan missed those Olympics because of pregnancy. Sydney was in her mother's arms afterward, wearing the traditional wreath of the Athens Games and looking closely at the bronze medal.

"I'd like to say she's my gold medal from that race," Williams said of her daughter. "She was here cheering me on with my husband, Tim. She's 3 1/2 , and I'm not sure how much she'll remember."

It was a race to savor on many fronts. There was Allen, who was such a longshot, she told her parents not to bother coming to Greece, using her running speed to move from 10th to first in the final leg, the 10-kilometer road race. She had the fastest split, making up almost a three-minute deficit.

Then there was Harrop, who was running in memory of her late brother, Luke, who was killed by a driver when he was training for a triathlon. His name is tattooed on her ankle. But Harrop worried about her father, and how he took her last-second collapse.

"I just spoke to my dad and my sister," Harrop said. "My dad's fine, which is good because I was a bit worried. I was actually thinking down the finish line, 'Oh my God, he's going to be having a heart attack at home.' "

And then there was the charismatic Taormina. The former Olympic swimmer, a relay medalist in 1996, went through mental anguish because of a stalker, who was finally imprisoned in 2003. She told the Orlando Sentinel that she suffered from nightmares, saying when he was sentenced: "It was like an emotional purge." Though Taormina doesn't talk often about it, she became emotional when asked about her longtime coach Lew Kidder. She took a long breath.

"If you look back to the stalking situation, and the other problems I've had with wanting to quit and being tough, he's not just been a coach, he's been a best friend," she said. "I wish I could have got a medal for him."

Harrop and Taormina led the way after the swimming leg, both finishing in 18:37. But Taormina started getting hit with a series of cramps in the bicycle portion, and faded badly. She placed 23rd.

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