Behind Gwen Jorgensen’s Four-Year Journey To Gold
Husband Patrick Lemieux gives a rare glimpse into the champion’s private life.
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Husband Patrick Lemieux gives a rare glimpse into the champion’s private life
As she crossed the finish line of the women’s Olympic triathlon on Saturday, winner Gwen Jorgensen had one mission: to find her husband, Patrick Lemieux, and her coach, Jamie Turner. Jorgensen is vocal about the amount of support the two give her, and in post-race interviews, she repeatedly explained that the medal was “just as much theirs as it is mine.”
Lemieux is a former pro cyclist who realized that supporting his best-in-the-world spouse was a smart career move for the both of them, and the past four years of sacrifices proved that was the right decision.
Triathlete talked to Lemieux following race day, which proved to be an epic endurance event of its own. After all the Olympic, media and sponsor obligations, Lemieux says, “Guess what time Gwen finally got to shower last night? 1:00 a.m.” Below he tells us a little more of what went into making Gwen the first American gold medalist in triathlon.
Triathlete: Where do you put yourselves on the introvert-extrovert scale?
Lemieux: Gwen is definitely an introvert. I’m not, but I don’t think either of us thrive in the spotlight. Smaller settings are what we prefer. If you’ve seen the last few years, we kind of go about our business in a pretty low-key way. Her results shine the brightest, but after that there’s quite a bit of mystery—what do Gwen’s days look like? What does she like to do? I think there’s still quite a bit of mystery there.
What is one thing you think sets her apart from other athletes?
We’ve said quite a few times and her training partners say the same: Gwen doesn’t show up every day and produce excellence, she just shows up every single day with a focus. She goes about her business, does the task at hand, and doesn’t worry about hitting the best this and best that, and getting on with it. For her, it’s been excellence in consistency has been her biggest strength. She’s had very few injuries, so she’s had time to log miles in swimming, biking, running.
Coming into the Olympics or any race, she knows that she doesn’t have to be excellent. People think, “Oh it’s the Olympics, I need to be a shining star and do everything perfect.” She’s backed herself in consistency and knows “if I just do what I’m supposed to do, that will be enough.” That’s been her focus the last four years—where average could get the job done.
What do you think makes her gold-medal level great?
For Gwen, we talk about being average every day and that adding up over time is a huge part of it. Another huge part is, in this last four years, she would not compromise anything that would take away from August 20. That date was marked, and everything she did, she thought, “Is that going to help me win on August 20?” If the answer is yes, I’ll do it, if the answer is no, I don’t have time for it. For me, she could set aside every single distraction.
What have been some of the most difficult emotional moments in her career so far?
[World Triathlon Series] London 2013 when she crashed and she could’ve been world champ, and she went from first to fourth. I think that was a big blow. London in 2012 after the Olympics was really, really hard for her. There was even the period where she crashed in Auckland and where she had a bad race in Cape Town. She said, “I just don’t know if I’m cut out for this.”
Then there was a huge amount of stress leading into the Rio 2015 test event, where she needed to make the team and the standard. What if she’s sick or breaks a collarbone, so there was a huge amount of anxiety. Getting ready for the test event in 2015 was a stressful time.
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How do you go about building pre-race confidence?
Even before the race, there was no inspirational speech. I didn’t think Jamie would give an inspirational speech, and he didn’t. There’s nothing he ever says that is groundbreaking or earth shattering, he just shows up and says, “Go do what you have to do.”
If you looked at her journal, it’s a lot of self-talk, like what I’m going to say to get through key, critical moments in the race. Like in the swim, “high elbows” or in the run, “relax my shoulders,” and she repeats that in her head. Her goals are never, “I’m going to win this race”—she finds a little mantra or something as simple as: “I’m going to dominate” or “just dominate.”
Do you think she understands the amount of people crying at their televisions while watching her?
No, I don’t think so. I do a little bit, and I have really high hopes for it. I think she’s really passionate about her scholarship and the impact she can have on those kids, and I hope that [Saturday] was a broader range of that. The race being live on NBC, I have to believe it will. [Launched in 2014, the Gwen Jorgensen Scholarship helps junior draft-legal triathletes and paratriathletes achieve their best in the sport. This year, $25,000 and mentoring services with Jorgensen will be awarded to one or multiple applicants.]
What are you most looking forward to post-Rio?
Just that we can do anything. I don’t know what she’ll decide on the rest of the series—that will take a bit to figure out. And just spending some time at home. It will be a little bit of a zoo at home—Minnesota is proud to claim Gwen right now, and there are two states fighting over her for sure. [Jorgensen was born in and attended college in Wisconsin.]