Starting out with a background in swimming, Loretta Harrop was introduced to triathlon in December 1994 by her brother Luke, who was a keen triathlete himself. After competing locally, both siblings went to a race in Japan in 1996, where Loretta finished third and Luke fourth. From then on, they decided to turn their attention to triathlon full-time.
Loretta hit the ITU World Cup circuit in 1997 and quickly worked out the strategy she would become known for: swim fast, work with a few select others to bike even faster and then build an unbeatable lead from which she couldn’t be caught. It was that strategy that landed her on her very first ITU World Cup podium, in Sydney in 1997, and then onto many more.
In 1999, Harrop was having a brilliant season and was the heavy pre-race favourite leading into the ITU World Championship race in Montreal. While expectations were playing on her nerves, with the help of her brother, she managed to calm herself down and on race day it all came together as she was never challenged on her way to the title. Harrop led home an incredible Australian 1-2-3-4-5 finish that day, which has never been repeated in ITU World Championship history.
Harrop was then part of triathlon’s Olympic debut in the 2000 Sydney Games, where she finished fifth.
In 2002, the Australian triathlon world was shattered when Luke Harrop died after he was hit by a stolen car while on a training ride in the Gold Coast. Loretta decided that the best way to honour her brother was to continue racing in the sport that they both loved. Just a few weeks after Luke’s death, Harrop won the Australian trials for the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games team.
However, she did not finish the race in Manchester, puncturing a tire early in the bike and pulling out on the run. But she redeemed herself in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. While Austria’s Kate Allen overtook her in the final few hundred metres to win the gold, Harrop had given her all and was happy to claim a major Games medal, which she dedicated to her family.
“That one is for my whole family, my dad, my sister, my brother, my husband, my brother-in-law,” she said. “They’ve all been fantastic and they are my whole world.”
Harrop is now retired from professional competition, but still races the Luke Harrop memorial event each year. She coaches a high school triathlon program and lives in the Gold Coast with her husband Brad, son Hayden and daughter Emmerson.