13 Questions With Gwen Jorgensen on Her Return to Tri: “I’m Motivated by Big Challenges”
Gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen has unfinished business in triathlon: racing the Olympics in the Mixed Relay event. Learn what she dreaded about the sport when she left five years ago, why the "soft announcement," and her relationship with coach Jamie Turner.
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The tri world is buzzing with the big, surprising news dropped by Gwen Jorgensen today: Five years after stepping away from the sport to pursue a career in professional running, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in triathlon will return to multisport. Her goal? Making the U.S. team for the 2024 Olympics in the mixed relay event (which will also require making the individual team). We sat down with the legend to discuss how she made the decision to return to triathlon, how moms like Nicola Spirig and Chelsea Sodaro inspired her comeback, and why the uphill battle to a spot on the Paris 2024 team excites her most of all.
Triathlete: What was the catalyst for you to return to triathlon? And why announce today?
Gwen Jorgensen: This all started when I was pregnant, and Pat [Lemieux, husband] brought it up, because he knew that I felt like I missed out by not being on the relay [in the Olympics]. I’d always told them, I would come back if I could just do the relay, and so he kind of knew that. I think he had really good timing. He knows me very well, better than anyone else, and I trust him. So he brought it up when I was pregnant, and for me, I was like “Let’s try in the pool, let’s see if I can improve.”
I was pregnant, but I was improving in my swim. And so I was like, Well, this is promising. But more importantly, I was having fun. I wasn’t dreading it, which was a big reason I left triathlon.
I was pretty sure I wanted to come back to triathlon, but as I don’t know how much you know about pregnancy and hormones, but everything’s crazy And your brain as a female literally changes. So I wanted to see, did I still have these thoughts after having [son] George, after pregnancy?
I actually didn’t want a big media hoopla about it. I didn’t want to announce anything, but a lot of people in the triathlon world already knew because I had applied for my elite license, and I had done some stuff that there was a panel of people that needed to know. They told some people, so people kind of knew, at least in the, elite triathlon world. I didn’t want to make a big media stunt out of it or anything like that. I really kind of wanted to wait and just let my performances speak for themselves, I guess. But I knew that any start list I got on, people would know a month before and then there’d be a media thing then. So I decided.
USA Triathlon was actually the one that really encouraged me to announce today they pick the date. And yeah, I’m just like, sure, whatever. Well, I mean, it’s not the worst date. Maybe we should have done [December 23] so I wouldn’t get as much media attention.
Triathlete: Why were you dreading tri at the end of your multisport career?
Jorgensen: I wouldn’t say I was dreading triathlon, but I was dreading getting in the water. I grew up a swimmer, and I just was like, Oh, the last thing I want to do is dive in the water. It just wasn’t enjoyable for me.
Triathlete: So on the flip side of that, what do you miss the most about the sport?
Jorgensen: That’s a great question. What do I miss most about the sport? That’s hard, because a lot of what I miss about it, I got from running—which is the friendships and the people I met and the people I trained with. It’s going to look completely different this time, I’m not going to be in a squad. I’m going to have my own people here in Boulder that I train with. So, yeah, it’ll be completely different. But that’s probably the part I missed the most, is just the people within the sport.
Triathlete: How has racing changed since you left?
Jorgensen: I don’t watch the races. But Patrick does, he’s really into triathlon. So he always has the races on, and I never really watched them, but I kind of like hear what’s going on. He talks to me about it.
I think World Triathlon is ever-changing, From before I entered the sport back in 2010, it was a certain type of dynamic. And then in 2012, it was different, 2016 it was different, 2020 it was different. I think that’s kind of the the fun part. In World Triathlon, the tactics are constantly changing, and the type of race and how the race plays out is consistently different. I think that provides the challenge. I’m someone who’s always motivated by big challenges, things that are nearly impossible, it seems.
Obviously, Flora [Duffy] has been dominating. She exits first out of the water and has the strongest bike, and oftentimes the strongest run. It’s fun to see that, because I also raced against her in the past. So it’s cool that there’s still people in the sport who are also the same age as me, which is nice. It’s nice to see some elders.
Triathlete: How will you have to adapt to racing in 2023?
Jorgensen: We don’t think about that too much. As a racer, I just have to focus on myself, focus on getting my best ability and the swim, bike, and run—that you have to be a world-class swimmer, world-class biker and world-class runner. So for us, it’s just getting me in the best shape I can get in without hopefully getting injured. So it’s hard. When you come back postpartum, you have to take it super slow, you have a lot of relaxin [hormone] in your body if you’re breastfeeding, which I am. So there’s a certain things that we have to alter in our training in order to just accommodate that.
RELATED: Guidelines for Returning to Triathlon Training Post-Pregnancy
Triathlete: Is there anything you’ll do differently this time around?
Jorgensen: Just having two kids, you can’t really be operating at a 10 out of 10. We know that, [son] Stanley could get sick or George is not a consistent sleeper. We’re still waking up multiple times a night. So it’s just being cautious of those things. I know that my body is stressed, and stress all accumulates. It doesn’t matter if it’s coming from lack of sleep, or if it’s coming from my son being sick, or if it’s coming from training. And so it’s just balancing that stress and making sure it doesn’t become too much. So the training is going to be completely different.
Jamie [Turner] is going to be coaching me, but he’s coaching me from abroad, it’s going to be virtual. So we have people here, like Pat. I’ve already been like, “You have to ride with me.” He’s kind of my riding buddy, which hopefully, it’ll get us some quality time, which is rare when you have kids. So that’s one thing I’m really looking forward to. And then I have a great group of people I know here that I’ve run with when I was professionally running. And we’re still kind of figuring out who else I can train with. I have a pool close to my house. And so just with timing, I want to go to that pool because I don’t I’m not really flooded with time right now.
Triathlete: What do you think you’ll miss most about that about being a pure runner?
Jorgensen: I just love the running discipline the best, and it’s what I enjoy most. In triathlon I even enjoyed running more, because I was forced to not do it as much. In running, if you don’t perform, it’s all on you. And in triathlon, there are things that are outside of your control that can happen on race day, whether it’s a flat tire or whatever. You can do things to mitigate these things, but you can get the mechanical and it can be completely not your fault. That’s what I probably miss the most about running is just knowing on race day, it’s just you, and if you mess up, it’s on you. Not on anyone else.
Triathlete: Why is the mixed relay been kind of your touchstone, as opposed to individual racing?
Jorgensen: Well, I’m gonna have to do the individual in order to the relay. We probably have three [U.S.] women who can be medal contenders, at least top 10, as individuals. So that’s something that I’ll have to have to do in order to do the relay.
But the reason the relay is exciting for me, I think a lot of times we get more out of ourselves when we are on a relay. I did a couple of relays when I was doing triathlon. I just had so much fun doing them. They’re short, they’re fast, they’re quick, you’ve got other people you’re relying on. I always felt like I was performing above where I would in the individual, and I think that’s because I knew I had other people on that team. I knew I was going to show up. That’s how I was as a kid too. As a swimmer, in relays would always get my PRs. It’s fun. It’s exciting. You have the whole team cheering for you.
Triathlete: Are there any “mom performances” you saw recently that really fired you up?
Jorgensen: I would say Nicola Spirig, honestly, was the biggest one in my career. Just seeing her get silver after having a child, and then having two more children and coming back to Tokyo. I was like, Wow, that’s super inspiring. There’s so many moms now. Most recently in triathlon, Chelsea [Sodaro] winning Ironman, all these people are showing that you can do it. Back in 2011, I never thought it was possible.
I want to do my best in order to hopefully inspire somebody else, because I know that I was ready to totally quit sport, and never do it again. I thought you become a mom, and you can’t get fit again. So it’s inspiring to see all the moms. You have Serena Williams, who came back after having a child, you have all these big names that have done it now. Hopefully it shows moms everywhere that their career is not over after having a child, and you don’t have to choose one over the other.
Triathlete: What races do you have on your radar en route to the Paris test event?
Jorgensen: That’s a good question. I just I actually messaged Jamie about it this morning. I’ll definitely start with a continental cup. So there’s a few early season World Cups. You know, there’s Sarasota [America’s Continental Cup] as well, I might also start with that Zwift race. That’s Super League in Montreal, which would be kind of nice—just having three different races.
In my first race, I’m going to race before I’m ready. These races are in February, March, and I’m not even going to do a continuous 20-minute run until mid-January. So like, a month later, a race is ridiculous. But it is what it is. I’m so behind everyone that has their complete season of points, and I don’t have any points. But that’s okay, because it just it is what it is. And I can’t do anything about it, right? You just control the controllables.
Triathlete: Is there a World Cup or a World Tri event that you have your eyes on?
Jorgensen: In order to get into WTS, I have to do a World Cup before that. So I will likely do that. The schedule isn’t finalized for World Triathlon yet, so I’m hoping there’s some more that come out on the calendar. Early season right now, there’s one in New Zealand and Australia, but that’s really far to travel, especially when you have a family. I think there’s another one maybe in South Korea – I don’t really focus on these things. That’s a trip, too. There’s nothing in the U.S. I wish there was a World Cup in the U.S. or you know, even Mexico or South America or Canada to make it easy to travel. But it is what it is. I’m just going to have to start racing and dive in.
Triathlete: You mentioned you’ll be with Jamie Turner again.
Jorgensen: Yep. And I’m sure you’ve heard, like the controversy about him. [ED NOTE – Turner was abruptly fired from his position at Triathlon Australia back in 2019.] We had some long conversations with Jamie, about that. And he’s done a lot of personal development, personal growth. I’ll let him go into the specifics. But we’ve talked a lot about how I can help him and keep him accountable and how he can then help me on the flip side. I’ve been really proud of the way he’s taken his personal growth and how he is as a person right now.
Triathlete: What else do you want people to know about this comeback?
Jorgensen: it’s just it’s going to be what it is. I’m hoping to see the rest of the race calendar and make decisions then.
The big thing for this is that it’s going to be really hard. I don’t know why I’m so motivated by super-challenging things, but I am. Team USA is super strong. Their top five women are just incredible. It’s gonna be an uphill battle, but I’m excited.