Two British triathletes have been disqualified after crossing the line while holding hands at a Tokyo 2020 Olympic test event.

Jess Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown completed the course together as they claimed the first and second places, but were disqualified under rules designed to prevent “contrived” finishes.

Fellow Briton Vicky Holland, who originally came fifth, then took bronze in the event, which saw five British athletes originally finish in the top 11 before the controversial decision.

National performance director Mike Cavendish told British Triathlon’s official website: “It’s obviously disappointing to have Jess and Georgia disqualified, but it’s a testament to the depth of our female squad that we still have another athlete on the podium.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - JUNE 09:  First placed Georgia Taylor-Brown (C) of Great Britain, second placed Katie Zaferes (L) of the United States and third placed Jessica Learmonth (R) of Great Britain celebrate on the podium after the AJ Bell World Triathlon - Leeds on June 09, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
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First-placed Georgia Taylor-Brown, and third-placed Jessica Learmonth at a Leeds event in June, with Katie Zaferes (L) of the US

“What the athletes delivered today has told us a lot ahead of next year, and to have five athletes in the top 11 is great.”

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The disqualifications were made under the International Triathlon Union’s rule 2.11.f, which states “athletes who finish in a contrived tie situation, where no effort to separate their finish times has been made, will be disqualified”.

The ruling meant third place Flora Duffy, from Bermuda, strode to the top of the leaderboard, while Italy’s Alice Betto took second place instead of fourth.

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It differs to the Brownlee brothers’ famous finish in 2016, when Alistair pushed Jonny over the finish line, at the triathlon world series in Mexico, because of the effort to separate the times.

However the move was banned afterwards, with the rules now stating: “An athlete cannot physically assist the forward progress of another athlete on any part of the course. This will result in both athletes being disqualified.”

COZUMEL, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 18: Alistar Brownlee of Great Britain helps his brother Jonathan Brownlee (c) of Great Britain to cross the finished line as Jonathan collapsed of dehydration 200 meters before the finish line during the Men Elite ITU World Championship race at the Fonatur Triathlon Park on September 18, 2016 in Cozumel, Mexico. The medal ceremony was cancelled due to the critical condition of Jonathan Brownlee. The ITU Grand Final World Championship ends tonight. (Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)
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Alistar Brownlee helps his brother Jonathan Brownlee over the line in 2016

The disqualifications will leave British Triathlon selectors stumped over whether to include Holland in their Tokyo team.

The selection policy states any athlete who won bronze at the Rio Games three years ago would then meet the criteria if they finish on the podium in the test event.

The disqualification of Learmonth and Taylor-Brown that gave Holland the bronze means she now fits that criteria.

But it does include a caveat which states: “The automatic nominations will not apply if, in the opinion of the panel, the results of (the race) are/is significantly impacted by: i. a large-scale racing incident (such as a crash); OR ii. environmental conditions/exceptional circumstances which result in substantial alteration to the race format.”

Holland, 33, told BBC Sport: “I really feel for Jess and Georgia because they raced exceptionally well today and I feel like they absolutely smashed it and deserved the first and second finish.

“I don’t know how British Triathlon will choose things now. I wouldn’t want to be a selector.”

A visitor experiences a large-scale misting tower dispensing ultra-fine mist during a proving test of heat countermeasures for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the venue of FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, also acting as a test event for the games, in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2019.     REUTERS/Issei Kato
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Officials are testing ways to help visitors cope with heat, including an ultra fine mist

As well as the disqualifications, the distance of the run at the test event in Tokyo had to be halved from 10km to 5km because of the extreme heat.

Duffy said: “The whole point of coming here was to check out the venue, check out the course and see the conditions.

“I love racing in hot and humid weather and that felt pretty good today.”

At least 57 people across Japan in soaring temperatures since late July, highlighting a possible health threat to athletes and fans.

Several athletes were treated for heatstroke at another test event in Tokyo, the world rowing junior championships.

The selection panel for Team GB will meet on 14 October.