Minutes after finishing ninth in the Pan Am Games triathlon Paula Findlay wiped her runny nose as she calmly answered questions in the interview zone just beyond the finish line.
Just to her left Canadian teammate Ellen Pennock talked enthusiastically about her better-than-expected sixth place finish. As they both spoke cheers erupted from the stands behind them, as a crew of Chilean fans saluted race winner Barbara Riveros as she walked by.
But for Canadian observers the focus was Findlay, who conceded afterward she had entered Saturday with flu symptoms and a nagging knee injury. She might be the most accomplished of Canada’s competitors, but said ninth place was better than expected even if it was worse than she’d hoped.
“It’s really disappointing. I came here to win. I’m not afraid to say that,” Findlay said. “I’ve just been managing all week . . . not really sure I’d be able to get to the start line.”
All three Canadians remained within the lead group of racers near the end of the 40-kilometre bicycle section of the race, but just before the transition to the 10-kilometre run Riveros and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy edged ahead of the pack.
Riveros, who won silver at the 2011 Pan Am Games, entered the race as the field’s strongest runner and extended her lead with each lap of the 2.5-kilometre lakefront loop. She set a fast pace early, covering the first five kilometres in 16 minutes, 50 seconds, and finished the race in one hour, 57 minutes and 18 seconds.
Mexico’s Paula Diaz finish second and Flora Duffy of Bermuda claimed bronze.
Riveros’ win earned Chile’s first-ever Pan Am games gold medal.
“It’s important for the country and for my people for me to give them this joy,” Riveros said. “I never relaxed on the course. I kept going until the last metre.”
Findlay and Pennock embarked on the run together, but where Findlay faded Pennock finished strong.
“It’s been a long journey to come back into form,” said Pennock, who broke her collarbone in a bicycle crash at last July’s Commonwealth Games. “That was probably my best race so far this year … Just having the home support I was actually smiling around some of the corners.”
For Findlay, Saturday marked her highest-profile competition since the 2012 Summer Olympics, where she entered the race favoured to win a medal before labouring to a last-place finish.
While many framed her Pan Am race as a chance at redemption for the loss in London, Findlay says didn’t need to be redeemed here. Nor did she view her performance here against the backdrop of the 2012 Olympics.
Instead, she said, the Pan Ams represented another step in the long process of preparing for the Olympic Games in Rio next summer. She didn’t plan to race with a wonky knee and stuffy nose, but she didn’t want to complain about circumstances either.
“Everyone was injured at some point (over the last three years). I’ve been really healthy for the last year and a half,” she said. “That’s absolutely not the reason for my result today. . . It’s all about the process. Every athlete deals with it. I’m not the only one.”
A few hundred metres west Canada’s third competitor, Joanna Brown, walked toward a staging area with a group of friends and family. Fans nearby cheered her for her 13th place finish.
As Riveros and her retinue ambled east for the medal ceremony someone from Brown’s group called out to her.
“Way to go, Barb!”
Riveros waved back and the quick exchange neatly summarized the race.
The Canadians earned respect because they worked hard and competed. Riveros earned respect because she won and made history.