America’s two best triathletes, Sarah True and Gwen Jorgensen, both fought tears following the 2012 Olympic triathlon.
True was fourth, falling out of the medals in the final kilometer of the 10km run, after nearly two hours of racing, at cloudy Hyde Park. Jorgensen was 38th, her hopes punctured earlier by a flat tire during the 40km bike leg.
The two first-time Olympians shared a London-area suite for at least two nights following the competition.
“We were both pretty busy, just didn’t know each other very well at that point,” True said in a phone interview last week. “I think you have empathy for the other person. Some things are better left unsaid. You know how the other person’s feeling. I knew she was upset, and she knew that I was upset, but you just kind of get on with your other obligations.”
They moved on.
True met up with her boyfriend, and they headed west to Bath and to decompress in a castle.
True and Jorgensen both found new coaches for the 2013 season.
True, who grew up in Cooperstown, N.Y., playing pranks on out-of-towners seeking directions, had been the best U.S. triathlete in the 2011 and 2012 seasons (accumulating results from the World Triathlon Series, a spring and summer calendar of competitions across the globe).
But it was Jorgensen, a former Ernst & Young accountant who took up triathlon in 2010, who shot to stardom beginning in 2013. She broke through with her first World Series victory, then won twice more to overtake True as America’s best.
“I think Sarah pushes me to be better,” Jorgensen said last week. “Maybe I push Sarah to be better as well.”
Since 2014, Jorgensen has won 13 straight top-level triathlons, captured back-to-back World titles and is now an overwhelming favorite to become the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion next year. The sport debuted at the Olympics in 2000.
“It’s probably fair to say she has competitively intimidated people,” True said of Jorgensen, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Jorgensen, who at 29 is nearly five years younger than True, credits her improvement to her new coach, Jamie Turner, and spending almost all of her training time in Australia and Spain.
“Gwen was definitely one of the up-and-coming superstars [in 2012, and earlier],” True said last week, one day before Jorgensen prevailed in the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Chicago (and True finished seventh, but third overall in the season standings). “It’s just a question at what time she’d get her swim and bike up to par. It’s obviously happened.”
Which leaves True in an interesting position heading into the offseason and then the Olympic year.
She is the only woman other than Jorgensen to win World Triathlon Series (WTS) races in both 2014 and 2015. She is arguably the Olympic silver medal favorite. Both True and Jorgensen are already qualified for the Rio Olympics.
But to earn gold, she must find a way to solve her seemingly unflappable Olympic teammate.
In all seven of her WTS races this season, Jorgensen was the fastest woman out of fields of 50 or more in the run leg, and usually by more than 30 seconds. If she finishes the bike in the lead group, or near it, which she’s been doing at an increasing rate the last two years, her peers pretty much concede.
True says she’s been part of “conversations going on behind the scenes” about strategies to win against Jorgensen, with whom she could march into the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5.
“I think a few of us realize there’s potential to shake up the race,” said True, who is a top challenger along with Great Britain’s Non Stanford and Vicky Holland, New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt and American Katie Zaferes. “Obviously we don’t want to go into T2 [the transition from bike to run, the final leg] with Gwen because she’s that good of a runner, but we still have the swim and bike ahead of us.”
On Saturday, the day after the season finale in Chicago, True said she would no longer be working with her coach of nearly three years, Joel Filliol.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do next,” she said, adding that she will probably focus most on improving her bike in the offseason.
Even if True doesn’t become the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion, she can still be a part of history in Rio de Janeiro.
She is married to distance runner Ben True, who finished sixth in the 5000m at the World Track and Field Championships in Beijing on Aug. 29.
If he can make the U.S. Olympic track and field team at the trials in Eugene, Ore., in July, the Trues would become what is believed to be the first husband and wife to compete for the U.S. in different sports at the same Summer Olympics.
Other U.S. Olympians in different sports married after their Olympic careers ended.
Though Sarah was “a blubbering mess” after finishing fourth in 2012, it was then-boyfriend Ben who perhaps endured more being in London. He failed to make that U.S. Olympic track and field team, saying he felt like he raced “in a fog” at trials due to Lyme disease.
“I was kind of bummed out that I wasn’t in London for myself, that I was in there only for Sarah,” Ben said this spring. “I did watch the [London Olympic track and field] races on TV, but even that was kind of hard, just wishing it. I felt like I deserved, or I could have been on the starting line.”
Ben did watch the Olympic women’s triathlon in Hyde Park, or at least the video board from the stands near the finish line, “curled up in a little ball freaking out” with his sweatshirt hoodie cinched up as Sarah fought for, and eventually fell short of a medal.
Ben was contrastingly calm before the race and with Sarah, whom he described as “a nervous wreck” leading into London.
“He was an absolute rock,” said Sarah, who met Ben, a former Dartmouth skier, the day he broke a toe in running training in New Hampshire in 2010. The two biked together, slowly one thing led to another and they wed last October.
In 2016, the Olympic women’s triathlon will go off on the final full day of competition on Aug. 20 at 10 a.m. ET. It will take about two hours. Later that night, the men’s 5000m final is scheduled on the track.
If Sarah can win a medal of any color in Rio, especially if she wins gold, she will face hours of media and commitments, making it tougher to see Ben before the 5000m final, if he’s able to make the Olympic team and advance through qualifying.
“I’ll be able to watch him,” Sarah said. “Theoretically.”
She’s won two career World Triathlon Series races, in Stockholm in 2014 and 2015, events that Jorgensen skipped. In 2014, Ben watched in person as Sarah won her first WTS race. He was in the Swedish capital for a track meet that same week.
“The day where I win a race and every single person is there,” Sarah said, speaking about Jorgensen, “that would be great.”
NBC Olympics researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report from Chicago.
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