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The triathlon may only have been an Olympic event since Sydney 2000 but it cemented its position as one of the most memorable events of Athens 2004 with a grandstand finale to the women's race on Wednesday.

For Australian-born Austrian Kate Allen this was a fairy tale race as she came from nowhere to pass the long-time leader, former compatriot Loretta Harrop, in the final straight to claim the most unlikely of Olympic golds.

Given Australia's love of the outdoor life, the triathlon could have been made for its athletes, and it was the feature event of the opening day of Sydney 2000.

That was partly because Harrop was favourite, but also because the event presented Sydney in all its glory with the harbour bay, bridge and opera house as an enchanting backdrop.

Wednesday's race was no less spectacular. It started in Vouliagmeni, an exclusive coastal resort perched on rocky outcrops swooping down to the Aegean, 20 kilometres away from the urban nightmare that is Athens. The 1.5km swim was held in the bay, while the 40km cycle ride and 10km run took place on a road that affords magnificent views over the sea. Not that the triathletes had time to enjoy that.

After finishing fifth in Sydney, Harrop was eager to make amends here. She was first out of the water alongside co-favourite Sheila Taormina of the US, and the pair quickly extended their lead over their pursuers on the switchback cycle ride.

Allen, meanwhile, was in 44th place after the swim, two minutes behind Haarop. She lost another 48 seconds to the leaders on the second stage as Taormina dropped away. But then came a remarkable comeback. Allen, a former schoolgirl runner from Geelong, stormed through from 28th at the start of the run, to overhaul Harrop in the last 100m. Her time was 2hr 4min 43sec.

Allen's background is as unlikely as her finish. Backpacking in Europe nine years ago, she met 18-year-old triathlete Marcel Diechter when she went to a local pool in Kitzbühl, Austria for a recreational swim.

After travelling back and forth to Australia over the next two years, the two married and settled in Austria, and Allen became a national two years ago.

She trains for three months in Australia every European winter, but does not compete. She had never met Harrop before, but neither will forget their first encounter 100m from the finish on Wednesday.

Michelle Dillon, another former Aussie was the best placed Briton, finishing sixth in 2.06.00.

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