(Reuters) - Norway's Kristian Blummenfelt won gold at the opening race of the 2021 World Triathlon Championship series in Yokohama on Saturday after American Taylor Knibb crossed the line first in the women's race to secure her place at the Olympic Games.
A strong performance in the 10 kilometre run phase of the three-discipline event saw Blummenfelt open up a decisive gap over Belgium's Jelle Geens while Morgan Pearson of the United States finished third.
The race was the first to be held in the World Triathlon Championship series this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Vincent Luis led the athletes out of the 1.5 kilometre swim leg and onto the cycling phase of the race, with the Frenchman joined by a large pack of riders during the 40 kilometres on the bicycle.
Jonas Schomburg, Geens, Blummenfelt and Alex Yee opened up a gap in the early kilometres of the run leg before Blummenfelt pulled clear in the final lap to finish 10 seconds clear of Geens in a time of 1 hour 42 minutes 55 seconds.
In the women's race, Knibb cruised to victory, finishing a minute-and-a-half ahead of Summer Rappaport in a time of 1 hour 54 minutes 27 seconds to join her compatriot in booking her berth on the U.S. team at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The American was among the first athletes out of the water at the end of the swim alongside Rappaport, who had secured her spot at the Games back in August 2019, and Maya Kingma.
Kingma and Knibb pulled more than two minutes clear of the rest of the field on the bike leg, but the Dutch athlete suffered for her punishing pace.
That allowed Knibb to open a commanding gap on the run while a hard-charging Rappaport took second as Kingma crossed in third.
"I wasn't really thinking about Tokyo," said Knibb. "I just wanted to get to that finish line."
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by XXXX)