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Australian triathlete Erin Densham stunned the pundits earlier this year by destroying the fields at the Mooloolaba World Cup in March and at the World Triathlon Series event in Sydney in mid-April—and she put the Australian Olympic selection committee in a bind in the process.
Prior to those two wins, it was widely thought that the selectors would choose reigning Olympic champion Emma Snowsill and rising young star Emma Jackson for the remaining two spots on the team, for which Beijing bronze medalist Emma Moffatt had already been selected.
Indeed, prior to Mooloolaba, few were thinking about Densham, who has struggled since the 2008 Beijing Olympics with injuries, illness and heart surgery.
But Densham’s wins over many of the best triathletes in the world in Mooloolaba and Sydney have shown that, if given the chance, she is capable of winning a medal in London.
Densham caught up with Inside Triathlon editor-in-chief Courtney Baird recently to fill us in on what’s been going on.
Trathlete.com: Congrats on your great wins in Mooloolaba and Sydney. Can you give us an idea of what the last few years have been like for you and what journey you went on to achieve those results?
Erin Densham: The last few years have been a roller coaster ride of glandular fever, SVT (Supra Ventricular Tachycardia) and then a subsequent operation for that in December 2009. Throw into that a hamstring tendinopathy, which had me on limited running, then eventually it got to the point where I had four months off running completely at the end of 2010. Once again it was a slow build into 2011. My opening races weren’t quite the results I was after. But after a while things seemed to be on the right track—until I found out I had a stress reaction on my tibia, which put me out for all the major races at the end of 2011. But that allowed me to race Xterra World Champs, which was an incredibly awesome experience. Plus it also allowed me to start my base work much earlier. So since then it has just been about getting the work done day after day, week after week, which has led me to where I am now.
Triathlete.com: Were you at all surprised by your recent results?
ED: Yes and no. I knew that my training had been going well. But then again the start of the year brings the unknown. You don’t know how all the work you have done fairs to the rest of the world, or where the other girls in the field are at. So at the moment I guess I can take it that things are going well. But I know there is still more there, so that’s an exciting prospect and a great position to be in.
Triathlete.com: I’ve read that you had heart surgery shortly after Beijing. What exactly happened and is everything OK now?
ED: I first felt my racing heart rate when I was 12 years old. I had it looked at, but because it happened so randomly the doctors were never able to catch it and diagnose it properly. So judging by what I told them, they guessed it was SVT, which is basically a racing of the heart rate. I was told by the doctors that if it starts affecting my day-to-day life and livelihood, then I should undergo the operation. So I figured that when I had to get rescued in the swim in one race and taken to hospital in another, I knew it was time to get something done about it. The period before the operation was the hardest physically, mentally and emotionally. But I had incredible support from my partner, who was always there for me and basically got me through this whole thing.
The operation itself was—daunting. I was awake while they inserted catheters through the femoral artery beside my groin—all the way up to my heart. From there, they pumped me with adrenaline to actually set off the tachycardia. They had to actually diagnose it properly because until this point, the doctors were just speculating on my condition. So there I was in the operating room with my heart rate at 270 and the doctor clapping and cheering as now it was finally diagnosed. From there I was put to sleep and they performed the ablation.
It was a long and slow road back—initially to let the wound beside my groin heal. After that, training began slowly—mostly because I had to gain confidence again that my heart was fixed and all was OK. My trust with that grew over time—a long time. But my heart is OK and it has been since the operation. So it’s no longer a concern.
Triathlete.com: You are one of many talented Australian triathletes who are candidates for the 2012 Olympic team. Do you know when you’ll hear whether you’ve made the team?
ED: Not as yet. We were told by the selectors earlier in the year that they wanted to finalize the team after Sydney—only to be told a week later (after the resignation of the head selector and information on where the process was at) that they’re now going to have to wait until the end of May to nominate the team, finalizing at the start of June. So I guess that means we have to keep racing to earn our spot, and that means San Diego and Madrid come into play, which doesn’t affect me at all because I knew the selection agreement states that the team is only finalized at the end of this period. So these races were always in my race schedule.
Triathlete.com: If you do make the Olympic team, what are your goals for the year?
ED: Winning Olympic gold and winning the World Series. Of course, winning Olympic gold would be a bit hard to do if I’m not on the start line.
Triathlete.com: If you don’t make the Olympic team, what are your goals for the year?
ED: Win the World Series. Make some money. Plus I’d love to win Xterra World Champs.
Triathlete.com: You’ve had such stellar early results this season. How will you avoid fading at the end of the season, which can happen at times to athletes?
ED: I had some time off after Sydney, which will give my body a bit of a break that it needs. Also after the last few years I believe I am pretty good at reading my body and how it feels. If something doesn’t feel right, I feel I have the confidence to make a decision and adjust my sessions accordingly, which subsequently should keep injuries at bay and avoid my fading at the end of the season. Plus a smart and realistic competition schedule always helps.
Triathlete.com: What’s on tap for you next? Will you be here in San Diego?
ED: Now that the selection process has been extended, it means that yes, I will be in San Diego and then also Madrid. After that—who knows. Planning is difficult when you are stepping into the unknown. But basically there are two plans: an Olympic plan and a non-Olympic plan. They are fairly similar. Just that one has a race in London—the other one doesn’t.
Triathlete.com: And finally, just because you’re Australian, what are your thoughts on Macca making a comeback to the ITU? Were you at any of the European training camps he attended last year?
ED: I think it’s a win/win situation for Macca. He has a very credible racing reputation and is a great guy also. I wasn’t on any of the European camps that he attended but just going off when we get together at races he is always full of great stories and laughs, which brings a new lease of life into an already uncomfortable and far from ideal Triathlon Australia High Performance environment.
Triathlete.com: Thanks Erin. Congrats again on your recent success.