Kevin McDowell Places Sixth, Best Finish By An American Man In Olympic Triathlon History
by Lisa Costantini
Kevin McDowell competes in the men’s individual triathlon at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO — Kevin McDowell has a lot to celebrate today.
Less than a week before he’ll celebrate his 29th birthday, the first-time Olympian gave what was called “the race of his life” in the first triathlon event of the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Ten years after receiving a cancer diagnosis, the 28-year-old from Illinois did what no American man has done in Olympic triathlon history; he crossed the line in sixth place.
Before the hot and humid Monday morning in Tokyo, the best finish by an American man was Hunter Kemper in Beijing in 2008. Ahead of the race, which took place at Tokyo’s Odaiba Marine Park, Kemper, a four-time Olympian took to USA Triathlon’s Facebook page to share his thoughts in a live chat with former USA Triathlon Board of Directors President Barry Siff.
“Never in the past 12 years has the race been this wide open,” Kemper said about his lack of predictions. “Anyone can do it.”
And McDowell did.
Coming off the bike in the lead group, McDowell stayed near the front of the pack throughout the 5km run, even overtaking the leader, Great Britain’s Alex Yee for a couple of paces.
But it was Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt who ran away with the gold. Yee finished in second place with New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde taking the bronze medal.
Before the race, McDowell said he spent time reading letters of support from his family and friends as a way to keep some normalcy. “It’s been a way for me to step away from the focus of the race. Because at the end of the day, these people still see me as Kevin. The result isn’t going to change anything.”
Morgan Pearson (L) cycles during the men’s individual triathlon at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo.
McDowell’s teammate — and fellow first-time Olympian — Morgan Pearson (from Boulder, Colorado) crossed the line in 42nd place after incurring a 15-second infraction in the transition from the swim to the bike when he failed to put all his belongings in the basket.
Pearson was the first man named to the team after he qualified by winning his first career World Triathlon Championship Series medal at the 2021 event in Yokohama, finishing in third.
The 27-year-old credited his older brother, Andrew — who passed away earlier this year — for giving him the boost he needed to make the team.
For Pearson, his goal for the race was not to overthink it and instead “just live in the moment and enjoy the experience.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.
Lisa Costantini is a freelance writer based in Orlando. She has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications, and has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2011.