LONDON - In a sprint to the finish, Nicola Spirig of Switzerland edged Lisa Norden of Sweden by a shoe length to win the gold medal Saturday in the women's Olympic triathlon. Both were timed in 1:59.48.
The cheers of the home fans who lined the entire course weren't enough for British favorite Helen Jenkins. The 2011 world champ finished fifth, 31 seconds behind. She dropped off on the final lap of the run.
"Crossing the finish line, I had a feeling that I had won, but I wasn't sure," Spirig said. "I needed an official to tell me, and it took a few minutes."
Spirig claimed Switzerland's first medal at the London Games.
"We tried to put on a good show for you guys," Norden said to news reporters. "Nicola is an incredible sprinter; I've never been that close to her. I was surprised to find some energy still in my body, and I pushed it all the way. I was close, but not quite."
Erin Densham of Austria finished third for the bronze, two seconds behind.
The USA's Sarah Groff was fourth, 12 seconds off the pace.
Groff earned every bit of her fourth place. She swam, biked and ran. In the cycling, she rode over a Polish competitor who had taken a spill.
"She literally crashed right in front of me," Groff said of 31st-place finisher Maria Czesnik.
"I rode over her torso. It was the most insane thing that's ever happened to me, so YouTube, put it up, please. I'm really sorry she crashed, of course, but it was epic. Maybe I'm a much better bike handler than I realized."
They all battled in an event that began and ended in central London's Hyde Park, grounds where King Henry XVIII once hunted wild boar and deer. They swam 0.93 miles on an elongated lake called The Serpentine. They biked (25 miles) and ran (6.2 miles) during laps on a course that rolled by Buckingham Palace and the Diana Memorial Fountain.
"The crowd has been amazing, absolutely amazing," said Jenkins, the 2011 world champion. "I think if they weren't there, I would have been a little bit further back. ... Here today the crowd really pushed me on. I have never heard noise like it. We were getting cheers even when we were warming up."
Jessica Harrison of France, who finished ninth, echoed that: "The spectators were great today, cheering everyone on. They must be disappointed Helen didn't get a medal, but they didn't show it on the course. In some places, you could sense the spectators were 10-20 deep."
Groff, 30, from Hanover, N.H., was 11th when she got out of her full-body swim suit. She was seventh after the cycling. She was fifth with a lap to go in the running. And she was emotional at the finish.
"There were tears over there, but I am psyched to be at the Olympics right now," said Groff, third at the 2011 world championships.
"My goal was to be there with 1,000 meters to go, and I was. I have to be proud of that. Fourth is the worst position, but I get to showcase this sport to millions of people. It would have been nice to get a medal."