5 Pre-Chicago Questions With Joe Maloy

The U.S. Olympic hopeful talks about setting the right goals, being emo and his worst race travel experience.

The U.S. Olympic hopeful talks about setting the right goals, being emo and his worst race travel experience.

South Jersey native Joe Maloy is on the shortlist of American men who are in contention to make it on the U.S. Olympic team for Rio 2016. At today’s ITU Grand Final in Chicago, one automatic spot is on the line for an American man if he can make it into the top 8—otherwise, the team will be decided starting at a TBD race in 2016.

The Poway, Calif.-based Maloy has high hopes for an excellent race in Chicago and a solid next year that, if all goes as he wants it, could lead to his first Olympic Games. We caught up with Maloy ahead of his Grand Final race in Chicago. How do you set your goals for a race like Chicago?

Maloy: Anytime you set goals, it’s good to have a big goal, like “I want to finish in the top 8.” I think that’s every American guy here. There’s one spot available to punch your ticket to Rio, so I think every guy has that in the back of his mind. But anytime you’re managing a big goal, you can’t look at that goal because it’ll remind you that you’re not there.

The way I manage it that works for me is to forget about it. Accept that it’s there, but think about the small steps along the way. Like today. Today I had a nice easy run with some pickups, and so I focus on my nice easy run with some pick-ups. On race day, I’ll focus on controlling my nutrition, having a good swim, then I’ll focus on having a fast swim out of the water… and if you take it step by step, that’s kind of the key to doing anything. You have to be present, be in the moment, and that takes a lot of the distractions and the pressure away. You were the second-highest American male at the Rio test event (behind Greg Billington) and you’re in contention to be on the team. Let’s talk about pressure. Do you feel there’s some on you?

Maloy: I think there’s always pressure on you—managing expectations and the selection process has a lot of external things that I don’t have control over. As you improve, and as you move up in the rankings and the races are for more, so to speak, I think there are more external factors, but managing the pressure just comes down to remembering what you can control. The more distractions there are, the harder it is to realize that. It’s just tuning out the distractions so I can focus on what I do—swim, bike and run—and then it stays pretty simple. You’ve traveled a lot for ITU races (Auckland, Cape Town, Yokohama, Stockholm, Edmonton, to name a few just in 2015). What’s your worst travel experience so far?

Maloy: My worst travel story was from two years ago, traveling to the Tongyeong World Cup. It was my first time to South Korea and I was traveling alone. I was scheduled to get in on Monday. The flight was a piece of cake across the Pacific, and I had a shuttle transfer to some small fishing town. But then the taxi driver says, “Hey, I hope you’re ready for the typhoon.” I said “What??” The next two days, I was barricaded in the hotel. No one else was there because my flight got in early, so I was there by myself trying to figure out just how to live.

On my first ride out of the hotel I must have put something together wrong—I’m not the best bike mechanic—and I snapped the derailleur hanger off. At the time I never traveled with an extra derailleur hanger, and no mechanics around had the part, so I had to scramble to borrow a bike from a local bike shop, and they had to ship it from Seoul, which was four hours away, because no one had my size.

So I did a ride the day before the race on the loaner bike, and I realized in South Korea they have the brakes are switched. I figured, “ah, I’ll just try not to brake.” So I did the race. And I crashed the bike. But I got up and I still finished fifth, which was my best world cup finish to date.

In a way, all the craziness took the expectations off and all I had to do was do what I love, and so I just looked at the situation and it made me laugh—it reminded me that at the end of the day, it’s just a race. Now I always travel with a spare derailleur hangar. What does coach Paulo Sousa harp on you about most?

Maloy: Where do I start? [Laughs.] He says I need to be more “tranquilo.” He knows I have a tendency to get worked up and let my emotions get the best of me. I’m an emotional guy. I like to do everything with a lot of energy and a lot of passion and, as they say—the fire that burns the straw purifies the gold, so it’s a double-edged sword. The biggest thing he’s worked on with me over the past couple years is to acknowledge my emotions but not let them control me. I think that’s been something that’s helped me in triathlon and everyday life. So being an emotional athlete, how do you take disappointments?

Maloy: The stock answer is to say it doesn’t affect you. Everyone says you have to be cold blooded and move on to the next one. But it’s hard to do that. I’d be lying if I said, “yeah it doesn’t affect me.” I just had a terrible race in Edmonton. I was 48th. And there are tons of excuses to have if I wanted to and ways I could rationalize that performance, but I put a lot of myself into everything I do and it’s still hard to take.

The best way to deal with it is to get right back into what you do and understand what it is that makes you you. I think it’s important to have a sense of yourself and not attach yourself to your results or whatever people say about you. For me that means the next day I got back to San Diego I went for a nice bike ride and went for a nice run. And kind of got in touch with what makes me me, and what makes me tick. I think when you have that, you have a bigger sense of purpose than just what a result says about you. At the end of the day, the result doesn’t define me, and you realize the difference between what’s inside and what comes from outside that you don’t have control over.

RELATED: Will We See Any U.S. Olympic Qualifiers In Chicago?