It was predicted the Olympic triathlon would come down to a 10km running drag race and so it proved. It also proved Kiwi hope Andrea Hewitt's undoing.
The ultra-consistent New Zealander failed to match the pure runners in the field, getting dropped by the leaders with 5kms to go. Switzerland's Nicola Spirig finished first in a photo with Lisa Norden of Sweden. Australia's Erin Densham was third in the race around London's Hyde Park.
While putting on a brave face, Hewitt was clearly distraught at coming up short in the race she wanted most: "It was the perfect scenario going into the run," Hewitt said. "I started just hanging on the back of the front run group. I had energy on the first two laps but lost it on the third when Erin Densham pushed on the downhill. I just didn't have the energy to go with the group, ran behind and got sixth."
Hewitt came into this race well rested and in perfect shape. At the back of everybody's mind, however, was that this tame course was set up with one thing in mind: a foot race. That being the case, Hewitt's strength was less of an advantage than her main rivals' speed.
She did not have a great swim but was in the front chase bunch on the bike, which took just two laps to catch the fastest swimmers.
From there on in to the end of the 43km course, the bike leg was close to irrelevant, barring one brutally slippery left-hander near Wellington Arch that sent several lesser riders careening across the asphalt.
Brazil's Pamella Oliveira, in particular, was wearing some impressive battle scars by the time she dismounted.
What the course lacked was a hill of any nature to give strength athletes an opportunity to test the lactic capabilities of the runners. It was hard not to feel some nostalgia for the way the sport used to be, a genuine test of swim-bike-run. When Great Britain picked a team with the sole purpose of putting Helen Jenkins - who finished fifth after getting dropped with a little more than 1km to go - into position for the run, you could take it a step further and say it is not even a genuine individual sport any more.
All of which is cold comfort today to Hewitt.
"I finished sixth here last year [at the world series test event] so that's my position on a flat run course," she lamented. "The way the girls were running, that's my place today."
Hewitt's time of 2h 00m 36s was 48s behind Spirig, who just held off Norden's lunge to the tape.
Kate McIllroy finished 10th, 1m 40s behind and a tearful Nicky Samuels, who had a poor swim and missed the lead bunch on the bike, struggled home in 35th, five minutes behind.
"I probably had the best run that I could today and I'm happy with it," McIlroy said. "It's not a medal but 10th is okay. You go to the Olympics, you want to get a medal and if you don't get one you're sort of in no-man's land it seems, but 10th is a good result."
McIlroy had some time to commiserate with Hewitt: "She's the most consistent athlete in the world and that's why she's No 1. She just didn't have the legs today and that happens.
"Unfortunately it's the day she didn't want it to happen."
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Quicker runs on flatter courses, a growth in professional participation numbers since the sport's Sydney Olympic debut and the success of younger athletes means it is becoming tougher to excel. However, with Hewitt's success over the last few years and Triathlon New Zealand's receipt of almost $7 million of Government high performance funding this Olympic cycle, there is an expectation of medals - pressure the men will now feel this week.
The failure of any New Zealand male to qualify for an Olympic spot under the "top eight criteria at targeted events" until April placed that side of the sport further under the microscope. TriNZ chief executive Craig Waugh says the sport's progress has diluted some of their advances.
"For instance, our guys are as fast as they've ever been on the run but you need to be able to run 10km in less than 30 minutes these days on most courses."
Waugh cites the case of Beijing Olympic gold medallist Jan Frodeno. His time in 2008 would have earned him 11th place in the Beijing world championship grand final last year.
"There's also a cast of thousands flooding into the professional ranks from countries like Russia," Waugh says. "Athletic freaks like Britain's Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, have also taken up the standard. This is triathlon's fourth Olympics, so it's one of the youngest sports.
"Bevan medalled last time aged 31 and, for men in their 30s, it was once no surprise [Hamish Carter was 33 when he won in Athens and Canadian Simon Whitfield 33 when he took silver at Beijing]. It would be a surprise now but you could never write off the chances of Bevan or Kris [Gemmell, 35] on age."
Waugh says Ryan Sissons (24) is TNZ's big hope for Rio de Janeiro, along with up-and-comers such as Tony Dodds, Tom Davison and the winner of the 2010 youth Olympics in Singapore, Aaron Barclay.
Despite a 15 per cent increase in 2012 prize money, paydays are not huge for the average professional athlete. Someone averaging 20th place in each of the eight world championships series events and ranked 20th for the season would earn about $14,000 a year.
Added to that would be possible performance enhancement grants from High Performance Sport New Zealand and endorsement earnings. At the extreme end of the scale, Hewitt could earn in excess of $200,000 on current form, plus endorsements.
- Additional reporting by Andrew AldersonBy Dylan Cleaver Email Dylan