LONDON (Reuters) - Sarah Groff, the girl from Cooperstown, went for the home run but ended up striking out in her bid for a triathlon medal at the London Olympics on Saturday.
Groff, who grew in the shadow of one of America’s greatest sporting shrines the Baseball Hall of Fame, looked ready to bring more attention to Cooperstown by making it the home of an Olympic champion when she launched a bold attack late in the 10km run to join the leading pack in a fight for the medals.
It was a go for broke mighty swing for the fences that would have made Babe Ruth and the other baseball greats enshrined in Hall proud, but it fell just short as Groff ran out of steam within sight of the finish and Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig edged Sweden’s Lisa Norden in a photo finish for the gold and silver.
Australian Erin Densham grabbed the bronze with an exhausted Groff coming home 10 seconds behind.
”I come from a town of 2,000 people where you are not suppose to go to the Olympics and contend for a medal,“ Groff told reporters. ”I was hoping I could find that something special.
”Sometimes in an Olympics you find that something but it wasn’t there.
“It was a little heartbreaking but I‘m really proud. So close.”
As a playful young girl Groff, who lived a block from the Hall of Fame, loved giving wrong directions to the thousands of tourists who make pilgrimages to the quaint upper New York state village every year to pay homage to the great American pastime.
But Groff was all business on Saturday as the grueling three-discipline event began under gloomy skies with a 1.5km swim.
It was Groff’s U.S. team mate, 37-year-old Laura Bennett who was the oldest woman in the competition, emerging from The Serpentine’s dark waters among the leading pack as the field headed out on 43km bike race around Hyde Park.
Bennett was still among the small leading group as they headed out on the run when Groff began to come forward.
As Bennett faded, Groff pounced to join the chase for the medals.
”I know I don’t have that high end finish yet and that’s something I have to work on,“ said Groff. ”I knew my race was to be calm and collected and get back up there.
“There were four of us left, then there were three and unfortunately I wasn’t in the three.”
It marked the second consecutive Olympics American women were left frustrated, Bennett finishing runner-up in Beijing four years ago and her husband Greg Bennett taking fourth at the 2004 Athens Games.
While the United States is given credit by the International Triathlon Union (ITU) for inventing the modern version of the sport it remains an event they have enjoyed surprising little success in on the Olympic stage.
In the sport’s brief time on the Olympic program, Americans have only a single bronze medal from Susan Williams in 2004 to show for their efforts at three previous Games.
No American man has yet reach the Olympic podium, the six gold medals awarded won by six different countries.
”It’s not the Olympics, it’s the American culture,“ said Bennett, who finished well back in 17th. ”In Australia, you can become a professional triathlete at 16 and it is acceptable to not go to university and focus on racing and make a profession of it.
“I think that is why the Australians have dominated. I think that is one of hiccups in the U.S., we are not getting the athletes until they are out of college.”
Editing by Ed Osmond