American Men Reflect On The Olympic Triathlon

Hunter Kemper and Manny Huerta look back on the 2012 London Olympics.

Photo: Paul Phillips

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Americans Hunter Kemper and Manny Huerta qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in thrilling fashion at May’s ITU World Triathlon Series race in San Diego, but both were disappointed with their Olympic performances in London. We caught up with both athletes to get their reactions the day after the race.

Hunter Kemper How do you feel about your race? (Kemper finished 14th)

Kemper: I mean there’s some disappointment there in not having the best day on the running leg. It’s difficult, hard to put in to words why that was the case because I was fit and in good form and felt I should have been better, but the sport was so fast, the race was so fast. I was in the right position. I did everything right leading up to the run, had a poor transition leading to T2, never got my legs under me running and struggled most of the 10K. It was tough. I’m proud I was here and at my fourth Olympics but, bittersweet mixed emotions. I wasn’t able to show my full form. I don’t know, honestly in my heart, honestly [my best race] wouldn’t have been good enough. I’m not running fast enough for the Brownlees or Javier Gomez. You’ve got to either change with it or move along. I was trying to change with it but I guess wasn’t changing fast enough You mentioned after the race that you may be moving on after these Games, do you still feel that way after a day of reflection?

Kemper: I talked about closing this chapter, I meant focusing on the non-draft racing. Doing Chicago, L.A., Dallas, Life Time Fitness races. Focusing on Hy-Vee, saying, ‘This is my race, I’m going to key this race.’ Doing the non-drafting Olympic races. That’s where you’ll see me. Won’t see me in Ironman, maybe a couple 70.3s, but I wont’ be serious in that. I love to compete and race, and for me that means the non-drafting races. I’ll still do some ITU and keep involved, but it won’t be [my primary focus.] What has it been like to compete in all four Olympic triathlons?

Kemper: It has been amazing. Sydney was so amazing because it’s the very first one. What a backdrop. Sydney and London have a lot of unique characteristics as far as the city feel, the downtime environment, Buckingham Palace, the [Sydney] Opera House, the crazy amount of spectators, both of those were such component, had similar feels and excitement to them. Athens had that challenge of a course with that uniqueness, the cycling was a huge part of it. We’ve gone away from that to city environment, so it’s harder to get that aspect, but the athletes make it hard. The sport itself has just gotten so much faster. The athletes themselves, I hope people have an appreciation for how fast that was, how intense for the entire 1:45. You’re on the edge the whole time, you’re always on the edge, the competition level is so deep too, so many guys could wins. The French guys, the Russian.

PHOTOS: Hunter Kemper’s Orbea Orca

Manny Huerta What are your thoughts looking back at the race?

Huerta: It was the toughest race in my career. I woke up that night before the race and I was very excited, very happy that I was feeling good and ready to race. I had some dinner that night that I had some food allergies, and I believe I ate something that got me very sick.

In the middle of the night I woke up wanting to throw up and my stomach just felt very bad. My girlfriend woke up and asked me what was going on. I told her I think I ate something that has some of my food allergies. I couldn’t get back to sleep until a couple of hours later. By the time I woke up, I didn’t feel like eating any breakfast. It was a matter of knowing I needed something to get me through the race. In the past I had a little bit of the allergy and had been able to deal with it in a workout, but by the time I got to the race I was actually feeling worse. My stomach was cramping and I kept telling myself, ‘I’ll be alright.’ I started the race and I had no power, from the minute I dove in I knew that my mentality went from trying to be competitive to just hanging on. I had literally the worst swim of my entire life. On the bike I couldn’t even pull through, I was just hanging on to those guys’ wheels and I kept throwing up on the bike. I threw up my breakfast, I threw up dinner, any time I drank a little I would throw it up all over again. My bike is disgusting. I felt like dropping out the whole time. I knew I was having a horrible time, but the crowd, there were so many people out there, I had my family, my friends and so many people around the world, so there was no way I could just drop out. This was a very special race for me and I didn’t want to have a DNF next to my name at the Olympic Games for the rest of my life, so I just kept going. To be honest, if it would have been any other race, I would have dropped out after the swim.

I’m looking back to everything I did and all the way until that night. I had dinner and the damage was done. It came up in the night. Something I ate got me very sick, there was nothing I could have taken [the morning of the race] to make me better in such a short notice. After the race, I felt so horrible. I knew I was running very slowly but I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t go any faster. I know I’m so much faster than that because I’ve done it in the past. It was such a bad feeling. People were so excited here for me and I was having a little nightmare. That was the longest 10K of my life.

Today I feel like my stomach, like I did 200 crunches. I’m so sore in my whole stomach area and my voice, my throat hurts, it’s burning. After that I was taken to the medical tent because I kept throwing up. By then it was just acid from my stomach. They gave me some medicine, the medical staff, but I threw that up again so they decided to put it on the IV, because that was the only way that my body wouldn’t just send it out. I got a couple of IVs. I was in there for a couple hours. They were going to take me into the local hospital, but after a while of laying down, I was doing better so I went back to the room to see my girlfriend for the first time. She knew seeing me so far back that something was wrong, so I’m so disappointed and I feel like I let so many people down that were cheering for me and they wanted me to do a better job.

I know that realistically my chances for a medal were very little. You saw yesterday, the Brownlees running almost 29 flat, and that’s something I’ve never done in my life, but I came here with the idea of being competitive. I wanted to hurt myself the best I ever hurt myself, I wanted to be very sore today, and to know that I ran the best I could, but my body didn’t let me to do that. As an athlete, I’m very competitive. I really wanted this, my coach and I and USAT did everything we could to get me to where I was and to get me ready for this race. To be ready to have my career-best performance, and this was something that was out of [my] hands. I wasn’t expecting to get sick all of a sudden four hours before the race. Even when I was getting sick I stayed positive, telling myself that it was just my stomach and I could deal with it. I didn’t want to have to much drama going in, but I dove in and I had nothing. Same thing on the bike, some of the guys came up to me and asked me, ‘Were you here for Sunday’s group ride,’ and if they only knew how I was feeling I don’t think they would have spoken to me. And I’m very, very sorry if I let people down, but I couldn’t do anything better. If I could take the race back, if I could do it all over again I would because this is what I like to do, what I love to do. But you only get one chance and that’s it, you have to make the best of it on that moment. Now that it’s my first Olympic Games and I get to appreciate even more what an Olympic medal is, what it takes because I realize how hard it is to get here, how hard it is to work towards getting a medal. I realize even more how everything has to click the perfect way for you to succeed and get that medal at this type of races. ‘ What did you eat the night before the race?

Huerta: I had dinner at the hotel (Hilton London Paddington Hotel), that’s where I had been having dinner. No one else got sick, so I don’t think it was a food poison thing. In the past I had some allergy problems. I can’t eat almonds, red beans, I can’t eat broccoli or coconut and some of the other vegetables and that’s why I always try and keep it consistent. I eat the same breakfast everyday. I always have three pieces of toast with some jam and some peanut putter or cream cheese and two cups of coffee. I tried to eat it before the race and my body didn’t even want to. One of the salads that I ate was an olive salad that had cheese and had some peppers with something else, I can’t really remember. When I looked it up, I didn’t see anything that was a red flag so I went ahead and I ate it and felt fine and I had some potatoes and some bread, so I kept it as close to what I’m used to eating every day. It just happened there was something in that salad that was very bad for me. I had some chicken and that salad with peppers and cheese and olives and something else I don’t remember. I think it was the peppers or something. Will you continue to pursue Olympic-style racing?

Huerta: Yeah, there is business undone here. I didn’t want my story to finish on that. I didn’t want to come here on a field trip, I wanted to do the best I could and in the back of my mind want to stay around in the sport. I’m 28 so I think I have another shot at this and I also want to do some U.S. races, so I don’t know. Right now my head is just in so many things, and I just want to get out there and hurt myself training again.

RELATED: Training Day With Manny Huerta

PHOTOS: 2012 London Olympics – Men’s Race

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