Ever since I was a little kid - 8 years old to be exact - I’ve wanted to be an Olympian. Growing up, I loved watching athletes from the USA compete against the best in the world on the biggest stage in the world. I had a hat that read ‘Goin For Gold’ which I wore everywhere. The Olympic flame, the American anthem, the Opening Ceremonies, the medals, the pageantry, the country flags, the world records - I LOVED IT ALL!
I was 24 years old when I competed in my first Olympic Games. It was in the 2000 Sydney Games where the sport of triathlon made it’s debut. I went on to compete in the next three Summer Games in Athens, Beijing, and London. My most recent goal was to make history by being the only triathlete in the world to compete in 5 Olympic Games. I wanted to represent Team USA one last time this Summer at the 2016 RIO Olympics.
Our qualification process for RIO began last August at the test event in Brazil. The final qualification event is this weekend in Yokohama, Japan. Currently, none of the U.S. men have automatically qualified for Rio based on the criteria, so the selection will most likely be determined by an accumulation of points in your best 2 out of the 5 qualification events. The process is very confusing even to myself, so I won’t go on to explain all the details.
Last fall I raced in RIO, Stockholm, and Chicago, which were all part of the qualification process. I struggled with some nagging injuries for most of last season, but what hurt me the most was my poor swims. Throughout my career, I have consistently been a front pack swimmer; that was until I broke my elbow in 2011. The swim is such a crucial part in ITU draft legal racing. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get myself back to where I need to be - in the front pack. My poor swims hurt me tremendously in all three qualification races last fall.
After three poor results, I took a short off season. I began training again with my eyes focused on the final test event in Japan. I made some exciting changes as I started working with a new strength coach and improved my power and speed while incorporating plyometrics. I was happy with how training was progressing until a nagging big toe injury from last year continued to worsen. After a lot of contemplation, I decided to have surgery in late January with the hopes that I would be 100% by May. During surgery, the doctor found more cartilage damage than initially anticipated so the recovery kept me from competing in early season races. Because I wasn’t able to race, I unfortunately fell from the 5th ranked American down to the 7th. As a country, we could only get 6 athletes on the start line in Japan. I petitioned for one of the ITU’s five wild card slots but was denied a start by the ITU. My goals began slipping out of my hands and I just had to wait.
Three weeks ago I was told that it was close to impossible that I would get a start in Japan. I’ve been in the sport long enough to know that things change, and I wasn’t ready to hear no, so I continued to train. Last Friday things remained very dismal as I was still going to have to wait for over 30 athletes on the waitlist to drop out. However, on Monday evening things changed very quickly. Athletes started withdrawing, and my name quickly moved up the wait list. Needless to say, the past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride for me emotionally and this week felt like an out of control cork screw. Still not on the start list, I made the difficult decision on Wednesday afternoon not to travel to Japan even though I had moved into the first position on the wait list. My prayer has been that this journey would be very clear. The answers I was receiving the past few weeks seemed to be clear as doors were beginning to close, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. Suddenly things this week became very blurry as the potential to get in started to increase. Finally after much soul searching, I’ve realized that I need to find peace in knowing that my goal to make it to five Olympic Games is no longer possible.
In a little more than 12 hours from now, 6 American men will have the opportunity to race. Three of those men are going to make their Olympic dreams come true and I am excited for them. It is an amazing honor to represent the United States of America and I hope that our men and women will embrace the Olympic experience as they focus their eyes on RIO.
So what now? Even though my Olympic journey has come to an end, I look forward to what is in store for my future in triathlon. Right now, I’m going to take the next couple weeks to take a deep breath, enjoy my family, and start planning for the rest of my racing season. More to come - stay tuned!