Amber Schlebusch staged an exceptional comeback and won the first gold medal for Team South Africa in the women’s triathlon at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires on Sunday.
After a poor start, Schlebusch struggled at the back of the field in the first two segments but moved up through the pack, overtaking race leaders Sif Bendix Madsen from Denmark and Switzerland’s Anja Weber to win the title.
The 17-year-old from Durban began the race with a weak swimming opening leg, leaving the water in seventh position and 27 seconds behind the leaders.
‘I was a swimmer before triathlon and it’s funny the swim now is my worst segment,’ Schlebusch said. ‘Not just today – swimming is usually my worst. I definitely need to pick it up.’
Schlebusch then struggled to catch the leaders, and was stuck in eighth place during the bike section.
‘I knew that my weakest part was the swim,’ she said. ‘And during the bike section I was in the pack at the back but nobody was really working so it was quite hard to close into the first two.’
She ended the cycling leg of the competition in eighth, and almost a minute behind Madsen, who led going into the run.
‘I hadn’t ever seen these athletes before,’ Schlebusch said. ‘So I didn’t really know how they could do the run. I could see them in front, even if they were quite far ahead.
‘On the run, that is where I put most of my confidence, and I just decided to catch them one by one. Take each one as it comes. I tried to close them down and it managed to work,’ Schlebusch added.
Schlebusch trailed in third after the first of two laps of the final segment but ran each circuit 30 seconds faster than her Danish rival and almost 60 seconds faster than the Swiss.
‘It was a bad swim but then I caught up on the run,’ she said. ‘I’m really, really happy to end up feeling really strong.’
Schlebusch eventually caught Weber and then Madsen and was near tears as she crossed the finish line 11 seconds ahead of the latter.
Now I can say I’m a Youth Olympic champion. It’s a pretty good title to have so I’m really stoked,’ she said. ‘I’m in disbelief right now.’
Riana Robertson, the Team SA triathlon coach, couldn’t hide her joy following Schlebusch’s win.
‘I think we are all ecstatic, it was emotional when Amber was catching the race leaders,’ she said. ‘I think anyone who was with me saw the joy that we all had while chanting for her.
‘We had planned for a top three and Amber surprised us by putting her head down racing and getting that gold medal,’ Robertson said.
Christiaan Stroebel is set to compete in the men’s triathlon action event on Monday.