Katie Zaferes completed one of the most grueling events at the Tokyo Olympics Tuesday, the women’s individual triathlon, in which she swam 1,500 meters, biked 40 kilometers and ran 10 kilometers before reaching the finish line.
With a time of 1:57:03, the 32-year-old claimed the bronze, marking only the third medal ever for the U.S. in the individual triathlon, for a man or woman.
It was a remarkable performance by any measure, but when Zaferes visited TODAY Tuesday, she shared that one of the most remarkable of parts of it occurred mid-race — when she suddenly knew her late father was watching over her.
“Partway through the bike, I was looking over ... and the Rainbow Bridge was there with a big rainbow across the sky,” she recalled. “I saw it, and so I said, ‘Hi, dad!’”
In April of this year, Zaferes' father, Bill Hursey, who introduced her to the sport she loves, died.
Just last month, Zaferes faced her first Father’s Day without him, and as she explained on Instagram, it was a day that held extra meaning for her.
“Father’s Day was the first triathlon I ever did, and it was with him,” she wrote. “At the time, I thought I was doing it for my dad, only to find out many years later it was all a scheme to get me introduced to the sport.”
The scheme paid off in a big way Tuesday.
“I’d mentioned that he was going to be my spectator for this Olympics,” Zaferes told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie and Craig Melvin. “I took (the rainbow) as a sign that he was there. My dad was such a big part of my journey for triathlon and just to see that, it just gave me a little more boost of strength and energy.”
Another important man in her life was there for her on her big day, too. Her husband, fellow triathlete Tommy Zaferes, served as a sports photographer for her race. But he missed the most important shot as crossed the finish line — for one very good reason.
When she spotted him as her race came to an end, she blew him a kiss. “He caught the kiss, but missed the picture,” she noted with a smile.
There’s still one more chance to catch a winning glimpse of Zafares. She’ll be part of the upcoming triathlon mixed team relay, featuring two women and two men on each team, an event making its Olympic debut this weekend.