Triathlon Preview

In the years since Gwen Jorgensen won Team USA’s first triathlon gold medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, USA Triathlon has experienced success on the international stage leading up to the postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo. The five athletes selected to the team for Tokyo have a combined 32 medals on the World Triathlon Championship Series circuit and 12 in the World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series. 

One member of the U.S. team returns from the Rio team, 2019 world champion and world No. 1 Katie Zaferes. She is joined by Taylor Knibb, Summer Rappaport, Kevin McDowell and Morgan Pearson. Rappaport became the first triathlete to officially earn a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team with a fifth-place finish at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event, held on the Tokyo Olympic race course at Odaiba Marine Park in August 2019. Knibb joined her by winning the Yokohama World Triathlon Championship Series event on May 15, 2021. Pearson’s bronze-medal performance at the same event earned him his spot. McDowell and Zaferes were among a group of athletes eligible for selection based on their world ranking and were chosen by USA Triathlon.

While accomplished as individuals, all five athletes also have some international experience in mixed relay. Appearing on the Olympic program for the first time at the Tokyo Games, the mixed relay event offers the opportunity for triathletes to earn multiple medals at a single Olympic Games. In the mixed relay format, each athlete on a team of four (two men and two women) completes a super-sprint-distance triathlon before tagging off to the next teammate. Top-end speed, technical finesse and laser focus are the key attributes of success in this event. The U.S. is ready to contend for an Olympic medal after claiming the mixed relay world title in 2016, a silver medal at the 2017 world championships and a bronze medal at the championships in 2018. The U.S. mixed relay team also earned a bronze medal at the Tokyo test event in August 2019, and in June ranked fifth in the world in the World Triathlon Mixed Relay rankings.

Updated on June 24, 2021. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

• The U.S. has a difficult task ahead at the Tokyo Games: defending the historic Olympic gold medal earned by Gwen Jorgensen at Olympic Games Rio 2016. But if there’s any team up for the challenge, it’s the U.S. women. Katie Zaferes and Summer Rappaport finished the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series ranked first and fifth respectively, and could be within reach of the podium in Tokyo.

• The mixed relay format has quickly become a fan favorite in the world of triathlon, and for good reason. The fast-paced, spectator-friendly event has led to some of the most exciting finishes in ITU competition, and it will make its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. The U.S. is historically strong in the mixed relay format, earning the 2016 world championship title, 2017 world silver medal and 2018 world bronze medal.

• Along with the mental and emotional toll of a postponed Olympic Games and international racing season, every U.S. elite triathlete was faced with adjusting their training without access to a swimming pool, gym or regular squad when COVID-19 abruptly shut down facilities across the U.S. in the spring of 2020. Each athlete found creative ways to stay fit and connected. Some took part in virtual cycling races on the Zwift platform. Katie Zaferes went live on Instagram each night to host a 10-minute “Planks in Pajamas” workout for her followers from her parents’ home in Hampstead, Maryland. Kevin McDowell and fellow U.S. Olympic hopeful Renée Tomlin joined the Toyota U.S. Paratriathlon Resident Team to participate in a cycling relay across the state of Colorado to fundraise for COVID-19 relief. 


• Taylor Knibb, 23, is the youngest U.S. woman ever to qualify for the Olympic triathlon team. In fact, she’s been the youngest member of the national team ever since making her debut in 2017. A multi-sport athlete at Cornell, Knibb’s win in Yokohama that qualified her for Tokyo was the first World Triathlon Championship Series win of her career.

• Kevin McDowell, 29, is competing in his first Olympic Games but is a Youth Olympian from 2010. McDowell won a bronze medal in mixed relay and a silver medal in individual. Hodgkin’s lymphoma derailed McDowell’s career the next year, but he came back to compete in 2012 and has won seven world cup medals since as well as a silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games.

• Morgan Pearson, 27, put together the best year of his career when it mattered the most, earning his first career World Triathlon Championship Series medal in 2021 that qualified him for the Olympic Games. Morgan went on to win a silver medal in Leeds, England, and became the first U.S. man to win multiple series medals in a single season.

• Summer Rappaport, 30 in Tokyo, became the first athlete to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team when she placed fifth at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event on Aug. 15, 2019. For Rappaport, 2019 was a comeback season, as she returned to the ITU World Triathlon Series podium for the first time since 2016. She earned two silvers and a bronze in WTS races in 2019, finishing the season ranked fifth overall. She had three top-10 finishes in the 2021 world series including a silver medal in Yokohama.

• Katie Zaferes, 32, made her first Olympic team in 2016, placing 18th in the women’s race at the Rio Games. She has steadily climbed in the world rankings from fifth in 2015 to first in 2019 — earning 23 WTS medals in the process. Zaferes was in a bike crash at the Tokyo ITU World Olympic Qualification Event on Aug. 15 — sustaining a broken nose, needing 23 stitches in her mouth and missing the first opportunity to auto-qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team. Just two weeks later, she rebounded to win gold at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland, securing the 2019 world championship title in the process.


• July 26, 2021: Olympic triathlon begins with the men’s individual competition
• July 27, 2021: Women’s individual competition
• July 31, 2021: Mixed relay competition