Fourth-place triathlon finisher Sarah Groff of the U.S., center, congratulates… (Barbara Walton / EPA )
LONDON — — Ten seconds. That's all that separated Sarah Groff from an Olympic medal Saturday.
After four years of planning, thousands of hours of training and nearly 34 miles of racing in the Games' most demanding event, the triathlon, Groff could see the finish line — and a medal — just 400 yards away. But she couldn't get there fast enough, finishing fourth in a mad dash to the end that required a photo to separate winner Nicola Spirig of Switzerland fromSweden'sLisa Norden. Both were timed in 1 hour 59 minutes 48 seconds.
Australia'sErin Densham was third, two seconds back — but 10 seconds, less time than it takes most people to brush their teeth, in front of Groff.
"If you don't have a kick, you don't have a kick," Groff said, her eyes watering. "I didn't have it. There's nothing I could do at that point."
That Groff was that close, though, is a testament to her grit and determination. She came out of the opening 1.5-kilometer swim among the leaders and improved her position slightly in the 43.9-kilometer bike ride despite running over Poland's Maria Czesnik, who took a spill right in front of Groff.
"I had nowhere to go. Either I crash or I ride over the girl lying in the middle of the road," she said. "It was unbelievable."
Groff had different problems in the closing leg, a 10-kilometer run, where she had trouble staying with the front pack. Running most of the way by herself, Groff appeared to be broken several times — only to charge back and rejoin the leaders at the start of the route's fourth and final 11/2 -mile lap.
At the end, however, she came up one charge short.
"I looked. And it wasn't there," Groff, a 30-year-old from Cooperstown, N.Y., said of her search for a finishing burst. "My goal going into this race was to be there with 1,000 meters [left]. I was. I've got to be proud of that."
Gwen Jorgensen, 26, an All-American distance runner at the University of Wisconsin, had her medal hopes dashed by a flat tire during the bike race, though she did run the 10K in a blistering 34:44, the 10th-best time for that segment, to finish 38th. That's the opposite of what happened to Laura Bennett of Boulder, Colo. The oldest competitor in the race at 37, she was among the leaders after the first two stages before fading badly in the run to finish 17th.
Four years ago in Beijing, Bennett finished fourth. That allowed her to sympathize with Groff on Saturday.
"I feel for her. A crappy place to finish, for sure," she said.
"Fourth is the worst position to be in," agreed Groff, who ran the 10K in 33:52. "But at the of the day I'm an Olympian. Obviously, I came here to try to get a medal. And I didn't.
"But only three people get a medal. I'm going to have to wait another four years."