Sarah True’s quests for history in Rio against rival teammate, with potential teammate husband

Sarah True
AP
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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.

MORE TRIATHLON: Gwen Jorgensen’s bike helmet includes Paul Bunyan, Bucky Badger

Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
Ironman
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona men’s pro race, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Both entered Kailua-Kona, where the races were now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men. Chelsea Sodaro won the women’s race, ending a 20-year American victory drought.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

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