Wildwood Crest native Joe Maloy finished 23rd overall and as the first American in the men's triathlon at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.

Brian Cunniff

Joe Maloy enjoyed the biggest moment of his life Thursday afternoon when he competed in the men’s triathlon at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

But the ever-humble Maloy had a message to pass along to everyone back home when he was reached by phone a few hours after he finished the race.

“The messages I got before the race were touching and motivating, but they were almost overwhelming,” he said. “There were so many messages that I couldn’t keep up with them. People were saying so many great things and so many of them warranted a response and I really should have responded but I couldn’t. I just want to let everyone know I’m sorry but I couldn’t keep up with it. I didn’t respond to a lot of them, so I wanted the way I raced to be my response. I 100 percent felt like the most supported guy out there.”

Maloy enjoyed a great race at the difficult Rio triathlon course, which began and finished on Copacabana Beach. He finished particularly strong by moving from 40th place toward the end of the bike leg to finish in 23rd place out of 55 athletes, thanks to a very strong run. He finished in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 30 seconds.

The Olympic triathlon race included a 1.5-kilomer (0.93 miles) swim, 40-kilometer (25 miles) bike and 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) run.

Maloy’s time was 3:29 behind the winner Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain, who captured gold in 1:45:01. Bronwlee’s brother, Jonathan, earned silver in 1:45:07. Henri Schoeman of South Africa finished third to win the bronze medal in 1:45:43.

A huge crowd was on hand for the race in Rio. Here in Cape May County, and particularly the Wildwoods, scores of people wore Olympic T-shirts with Maloy’s name emblazoned across the front or back on Thursday. Many people turned out at local establishments that advertised viewing parties for Maloy’s race. Crowds at those establishments roared whenever Maloy appeared on the television screen or when his name was mentioned by the commentators.

Despite the grand stage, Maloy said he treated the Olympic triathlon like he does any other race.

“I thought about the same thing I do every time I’m at the starting line, and that’s just to make sure I make it to the first buoy in the swim,” he said with a laugh. “But the bigger the moment, the easier it is to feel overwhelmed. One of the biggest challenges when you get on a stage like that is to fall back on what you’ve prepared and what you’ve trained for.”

Maloy exited the swim in 33rd place. He fell back to 40th during the bike, partly due to a crash that occurred during the seventh of the eight bike laps. He was at the back of a large second pack of athletes during the crash and was forced to come to a stop. He estimated that he lost about 30 seconds.

“I know I had a good run,” Maloy said. “Every race plays out differently. I was in the best shape of my life. The only mistake I made was that I was behind the crash. I should have been more toward the front of that pack. That cost me a shot at running down some of the guys in the first pack. But I was able to run away from everyone that was in my pack.”

Maloy said he had a lot of energy for the run.

“I was really channeling the energy from everywhere,” he said. “I was thinking about the recognition I got back home and I thought about everyone wishing me good luck and I had a lot of support out on the course, too. I used that during the whole run. It really carried me through.”

Maloy was the first of the three Americans to finish. He said he didn’t realize that until he was making the short walk back to his hotel after the race. But that accomplishment was a bit bittersweet, he said.

“I came down here to win the race,” he said bluntly. “But people have always told me to remember the journey because that’s what makes you who you are. The whole race, I just kept going back to wanting to have the best day I could possibly have and if did that I could make myself proud and everyone else who was invested in this with me proud, too.”

There’s no doubt he accomplished that.