03/16/2013 08:24 EDT | Updated 05/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Findlay wins gold at Pan American Cup; first Olympic-distance race since London

SARASOTA, Fla. - Edmonton's Paula Findlay took a small, yet significant, step forward Saturday in her rebuild to elite form by winning the Pan American Cup triathlon.

Competing in her first Olympic distance race since a disappointing last-place finish at the 2012 London Games, Findlay clocked a winning time of one hour 57 minutes 50.9 seconds.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself. It was a not a huge race in the big picture, but it feels so good to win again," said Findlay. "I've been dreaming of winning again, and being the one to raise the finish banner. I was at such an ultra-low that I honestly didn't know if it would ever happen again.

"Ultimately I want to win much bigger races, but this is another small stepping stone in my long rebuild."

Coming out of the 1.5-kilometre swim in sixth spot, Findlay made her way into second out of transition two heading into the 10-kilometre run — a position that propelled her to a record five World Triathlon Series victories, earning her the title of the No. 1 ranked women's triathlete in the world.

"It was a funny race because I had a pretty good swim, and then made a break away on the bike with Alicia (Kaye) who is such a strong cyclist," said Findlay. "That is the hardest I have ever worked on the bike. I've never done that before so I wasn't sure how hard I should go on the run, but I felt good and it worked out."

Spain's Carolina Routier finished second at 1:58:12.3, while Vendula Frintova, of the Czech Republic, captured the bronze medal with a time of 1:48:43.8.

Joanna Brown of Carp, Ont., made a charge for the podium on the run, but came up just short finishing fourth. The 20-year-old, who won the bronze medal in the Under-23 race at the World Championships last fall, finished at 1:58:49.5. Amelie Kretz, of Blainville, Que., placed fifth with a time of 1:59:24.4. A rookie to senior racing, Kretz won the silver medal in her first Olympic distance race last weekend at the Pan American Cup in Mazatlan.

Earlier in the day, Andrew Yorke, nearly grabbed a spot on the men's podium. The Caledon, Ont., native ran to a fourth-place finish with a time of 1:45:18.3. He was also sixth in a Pan American Cup sprint race last weekend.

"I'm feeling really good with these early season results because I'm way ahead of where I've been in year's past at this point," said Yorke. "The pieces are coming together ... I'm steadily improving and feel like I'm at a tipping point where I can really make some big jumps in the next six-to-eight months."

Portugal's Joao Pereira won the men's race with a time of 1:44:33.0. Tommy Zaferes, of the United States, was second at 1:44:34.6, while Portugal's Miguel Arraiolos snagged the bronze medal after stopping the clock at 1:45:08.4.

Two other Canadian men finished in the top 15. Ottawa's Matt Vierula was 11th at 1:47:12.1, while Victoria's Andrew McCartney, placed 15th (1:48:36.2).