LONDON -- The clock couldn't separate Nicola Spirig and Lisa Norden after two hours of lung-bursting effort in the women's triathlon at the Olympics on Saturday.
At the end of a gruelling race through Hyde Park -- a 1,500-metre swim, a 43-kilometre bike ride and a 10-kilometre run -- Switzerland's Spirig won gold in a photo finish.
Incredibly, both athletes recorded the same time: one hour 59 minutes 48 seconds.
In the end, Spirig held off a late charge by a surging Norden through the final few metres in one of the best triathlon finishes ever. The Swiss just thrust out her hips and upper body to win as the pair broke the tape together.
"Crossing the finish line I had a feeling that I had won but I wasn't sure," Spirig said. "I needed an official to tell me and it took a few minutes."
Both athletes celebrated. But only after they'd fallen to the ground, totally exhausted, alongside bronze medal winner Erin Densham of Australia following the sprint to the line.
After the initial uncertainty -- and a few minutes of high drama -- Spirig was declared the winner by the tiniest of margins on the photo finish. It was Switzerland's first medal at the London Games.
"We tried to put on a good show for you guys," Sweden's Norden said to reporters. "Nicola is an incredible sprinter, I've never been that close to her. I was surprised to find some energy still in my body and I pushed it all the way. I was close, but not quite."
Spirig initially pulled away from the other two with around 50 metres to go to the line.
But suddenly Norden -- the tall blonde-haired Swede -- found an extra bit of fight. Grimacing with the effort, she chased down her opponent over the final few steps of a near 55-kilometre battle and only just missed stealing the Olympic title.
In swimming, competitors share a medal if they have the same time. Not in triathlon, where -- like track -- the photo finish decides the winner.
"I think that would have been a great idea," silver medallist Norden said on being asked if they should have shared gold.
"I think that (the rule) was decided before the race," new Olympic champion Spirig said, smiling.
It was a tough day for Canada.
Paula Findlay of Edmonton finished last in 52nd, more than 12 minutes behind Spirig. While she has struggled with hip injury over the last year, Findlay said it was "100 per cent" Saturday
Findlay, who said her legs just weren't working, apologized as she choked back tears at the finish line.
"I feel terrible," she said after the race. "I'm really sorry to everybody to Canada."
-- The Associated Press