Tokyo Olympics Day 4: Triathlon medal at the end of the rainbow

Good omen helps catapult Cary resident Katie Zaferes to bronze; NC State athletes bring home two medals during a busy day in Tokyo

Cary resident Katie Zaferes transitions in the rain from the bike to the running leg of the women's individual triathlon at the 2020 Summer Olympics (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Just after getting on her bicycle to start the middle leg of the women’s triathlon Tuesday, Katie Zaferes saw a sign that convinced her it was going to be a good day.

A rainbow.

It reminded the Cary resident of her father, Bill, who died just three months ago as she was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, and helped propel her to an emotional bronze medal performance.

“I saw the rainbow sometime on the bike and I just gave a little, ‘Hi dad,'” Zaferes said of her father, whose influence helped her become a triathlete, during a postrace interview on NBC. “I just felt like that was him. I definitely feel like he’d just be so happy.”

Zaferes got off to a strong start as part of a breakaway of seven athletes on the 1,500-meter swim leg of the grueling event.

She stayed with the front pack throughout the 4o-kilometer bike course through streets made slippery by a torrential rain that caused a 15-minute delay to the start of the event before following eventual gold medal winner Flora Duffy of Bermuda shortly after the start of the 10-kilometer run.

Zaferes was eventually caught by silver medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown, but with more than a minute lead on the rest of the field, she was able to hold on for the bronze — triumphantly raising her arms as she crossed the finish line and congratulated by Duffy.

“I just kept telling myself to focus on the moment and really just stay where I was,” she said. “I’d gotten ahead of myself before and lost focus, so I just kept telling myself ‘Flora, Flora, Flora’; ‘Georgia, Georgia Georgia’ and stayed engaged. It feels long, the run, so keeping the focus was critical.”

Durham resident Summer Rappaport was also one of the seven competitors in the swim breakaway, but she lost contact with the lead group on the bike and finished 14th. Anabel Knoll, a Queens University student competing for Germany, also competed the race, finishing 31st.

Medal count

________________________________Gold    Silver    Bronze    Total

USA                                                 9            8            8             25

China                                              9            5             7             21

Japan                                            10            3             5             18

ROC                                                7            7             4              18

Great Britan                                  4            5             4             13

Carolina Connections

Two days after just missing out on the podium in his individual event, NC State graduate Lucas Kozeniesky won his first Olympic medal by teaming with Mary Carolynn Tucker to earn silver in the 10-meter air rifle mixed team competition.

Silver medalists Mary Carolynn Tucker, left, and Lucas Kozeniesky, of the United States, celebrate after the mixed team 10-meter air rifle at the Asaka Shooting Range in the 2020 Summer Olympics (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kozeniesky and Tucker got off to a slow start, placing just seventh after the first round of shooting. But they found their range during the second stage of qualifying by scoring 417.5 points to edge Korea out for a spot in the gold medal match.

They then battled the Chinese team of Qian Yang and Haoran Yang in the final before falling just short of gold in a closely contested match that came down the final shot.

Appearing later in the day on NBC’s “Today,” Kozeniesky said he was surprised at how heavy the medal was when it was first placed around his neck.

“Physically, this thing is a good chunk of metal,” he said. “The other one is like, thud, five years of work … done.”

It was a busy day for current and former Wolfpack athletes in Tokyo.

In addition to Kozeniesky, softball player Tatyana Forbes played for Mexico in its 3-2 loss to Canada in the bronze medal game. She made three putouts in right field after entering the game in the fourth inning as a pinch runner.

NCAA champion swimmer Sophie Hansson, meanwhile, placed sixth in the 100-meter breaststroke final while swimming for Sweden.

Evy Leibfarth of the Bryson City competes in the Women’s K1 heats of the Canoe Slalom at the 2020 Summer Olympics (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Among other athletes with state ties at the Olympics, Bryson City teenager Aby Leibfarth placed 12th in the semifinals of the women’s kayak slalom competition. Her time of 112.73 left her just over a second away from qualifying for the 10-boat medal round.

Leibfarth still has one more event remaining. She’ll row in the women’s canoe slalom starting on Wednesday.

On the basketball court, Duke coach Kara Lawson’s 3×3 women’s team suffered its first loss of the tournament, dropping a 20-18 decision to Japan. Allisha Gray, who played the first two seasons of her college career at UNC before transferring to South Carolina, had five baskets for the Americans.

Despite the loss, the U.S. finished pool play with a 6-1 record and will advance to a quarterfinal matchup Wednesday morning against France.

Duke graduate Oderah Chidom scored seven points and added four rebounds in 17 minutes of court time for Nigeria in its women’s basketball loss to the U.S.

Finally, while mountain bike gold medal winner Jolanda Neff of Switzerland isn’t from North Carolina, she does have a connection to the state. In December 2019, she was seriously injured in a career-threatening crash while riding in the Pisgah National Forest.

Team USA Highlights

The big news of the day came in women’s gymnastics, where American star Simone Biles dropped out of the team competition, citing her mental health. Even without its top performer, the U.S. team of Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum still managed to win the silver medal. Russia placed first, ending a streak of three straight Olympic gold medals for the U.S.

One day after beating Japan 1-0 in the final game of pool play, the softball team also had to settle for silver after the host nation turned the tables on it to win 2-0 in the gold medal game.

The women’s soccer team had yet another goal disallowed by an offside call, the fifth time it’s happened in three Olympic games, and had to settle for a scoreless draw against Australia that was still good enough to qualify it for the quarterfinals.

Seventeen-year-old Lydia Jacoby won gold in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke, knocking off teammate and defending Olympic champion Lilly King. Jacoby was the first swimmer from Alaska to ever make the U.S. Olympic swimming team. King won the bronze medal.

American Carissa Moore won gold in women’s surfing, beating Bianca Buitendag of South Africa in the final match of the first-ever Olympic competition in the sport.

Jessica Parratto and Delaney Schnell earned silver in 10-meter synchronized diving in just their second competition as a pair.