BEIJING - For someone who had spent a shade over two hours battling a gruelling Olympic triathlon course, the heat of a searing Beijing day and 54 other top class athletes, New Zealander Andrea Hewitt looked remarkably fresh.
Just minutes after finishing an outstanding day's work to take eighth place, Hewitt was bubbling with enthusiasm over her 2hr 00min 45sec effort.
She was well over two minutes behind winner Emma Snowsill (Australia), who poured on a brutal pace to cover the final 10km run in a stunning 33:17 on the way to her 1:58.27 win. She was over a minute ahead of Portugal's Vanessa Fernandes in 1:59.34, while third place went to another Australian, Emma Moffat in 1:59.55.
New Zealand managed two top 10 finishes, with Debbie Tanner fighting hard for 10th place in 2:01.06. Teammate Sam Warriner never really recovered after she was tripped in the transition between the 40km cycle and the 10km run, going down heavily and cutting her foot. She still soldiered on to finish in 16th place, distraught at the bad luck which had ruined her race.
Hewitt, bronze medallist from the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, said she tried as long as possible to hang on to Snowsill after a 20-plus group came into the second transition with seven seconds.
"It was really tough, especially the run. I decided to go out hard and just tried to hang on as long as I could, then hang on to someone who was my own pace," she said afterwards.
"The race was four laps, and I was just counting down the k's to the end. That last one kilometre, I think I felt like I had asthma, even though I don't.
"To be the first New Zealander is just awesome."
Not too far behind her was Tanner who had targeted a top five finish, but said that considering the extreme conditions, and the punishing pace in the final run, she was satisfied with 10th.
"The girls put everything out right from start coming off the bike - they put their feet down and they really attacked it right from the start. It took me a while to get into my pace.
"Unfortunately it was a bit too long but I found my legs in the end."
The 1.5km swim which began the triathlon, through the murky waters of the Ming Tombs Reservoir, provided very few suprises - as the saying, you can't win a triathlon on a swim, but you can lose it.
The three New Zealanders came out of the water within four seconds of each other, Hewitt leading the way in 19 minutes 54 seconds in 10th place, with Tanner and Warriner 17th and 19th respectively.
American Laura Bennett was first out of the water, with gold medal favourite Fernandes, Snowsill and Mofatt among a 20-strong group mere seconds behind.
The New Zealand trio maintained contact through transition, and hit the bike leg in the midst of a leading group which still contained all the main contenders.
The cycle turned into something of a cat-and-mouse game, with someone always ready to cover any of a series of mini-breaks, and a real reluctance to put too much effort into a bike leg in such brutal conditions.
Moffatt and Hewitt led the group into transition, again with a group of nine or 10 within a couple of seconds of each other. Snowsill was fifth, Fernandes sixth while Tanner was slightly off the pace in 16th with Warriner just behind until she went down.
"I'm pretty disappointed, I had a great swim and felt all right on the bike. But then I got tripped in transition and I think I cut my foot," an upset Warriner said afterwards.
"No excuses though, I just didn't perform on the day and I'm very disappointed."