American Olympic hopeful Manny Huerta earned silver at the Pan Am Games triathlon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, over the weekend, marking one of the greatest accomplishments of his career thus far.
The effort was a valiant one, as Huerta only learned of his selection to the Pan Ams team 10 days prior to the event.
Initially, American Hunter Kemper had been slated to go, but he suffered a broken elbow after crashing his bike on Oct. 9 at the 2011 USA Triathlon Elite Race Series Finals in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Despite Huerta’s noble effort, his silver medal was bittersweet—if he had won, under the ITU’s arcane Olympics points system he would have virtually sealed up the USA’s third country spot for its men, thus ensuring that three American men will be selected for the 2012 London Olympics.
Now, it’s up to either Huerta or Kemper to nab that third spot by chasing ITU points around the world.
Huerta recently caught up with Inside Triathlon editor-in-chief Courtney Baird to talk about his silver medal.
Triathlete.com: Can you give us a play by play of how the race went and your feelings are about your silver medal?
Manny Huerta: The race went pretty much how we expected—a small group off the front and all three of us [me, Matt Chrabot and Mark Fretta] in it. Throughout the bike the top countries took control of the race (Canada, Brazil and us) and we pretty much played a chess game and no one got away. Once we got to the run it was up to me to take it from there. We went to Mexico as a team with the purpose of winning, but I came up a bit short. [Due to me replacing Hunter Kemper, who recently broke his elbow] I was informed that I was going to race 10 days prior to the event, so I had no time to really prepare for it like the others. I just kind of recovered from the World Cup that I had just finished [in Huatulco, Mexico] and then I had to get going again. Reinaldo Colucci [the 2011 Pan Ams champion] had been preparing for this race since July and actually even spent six weeks training in Mexico just for this, so if there was someone 100 percent ready, it was him. He raced like the champ he is, and I’m happy to win my first major games medal.
Triathete.com: There were reports that you had to go to the medical tent after the race. What happened?
MH: I went to the medical tent in Huatulco, Mexico [at the Huatulco ITU Triathlon World Cup, where he placed sixth]. I felt fine at the Pan Am Games, as the heat didn’t affect me—just the overall fatigue from the season. I did not feel that explosive anymore.
Triathlete.com: Do you have any tips for age-groupers on how to race in the heat like that?
MH: Hydrating was a key aspect of this race in the days prior to the event, while traveling and during the race. I love the Powerbar perform mix—I use it in all my training sessions and it has the perfect combination [of ingredients]. You should never wait until you start feeling thirsty to start drinking in these types of conditions, because by then it’s already too late.
Triathlete.com: What was going through your mind during the last lap when you and Reinaldo broke away from McMahon?
MH: Well, I picked up the pace a couple of times to see how they would react. Brent [McMahon] drop back a bit but Rei covered every single attack. I knew that it was going to be close, and the Pan Ams are the biggest event after the Olympics for ITU racing, where the best athletes from this region compete in all sports. It is similar to the Commonwealth Games. With about 200 meters to go he went for it, and I could not follow him.
Triathlete.com: The American men are still fighting to get that third country spot. Do you have any plans to help the USA seal up that third spot, as you and Hunter Kemper are the only two who have a realistic shot at accomplishing this?
MH: The plan is to go to the Guatape World Cup [in Colombia] and next year’s Olympic points races prior to the San Diego ITU World Championship Series race [which is the final U.S. Olympic Trials, where the men’s and women’s U.S. Olympic teams will be decided.] We believe that I can get that spot, and I will go for it. I just hope that if it comes down to a discretionary spot for my selection to the Olympics, the high performance team considers me this time around and not like this past Games, where I was left at home and had a last minute call. I was the top American at the first trials event [in London in August], won a medal at Pan Ams, and now I have to go around the world chasing points.