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After a frustrating Olympic experience, the American ends her season on a positive note and says Rio de Janeiro in 2016 is the goal.
Going into the Olympics, Gwen Jorgensen was an American favorite to medal in London after placing second at the test event on the same course a year earlier. But after a puncture temporarily forced her to the sidelines, she lost the main bike pack and couldn’t make up the gap on the run. She ultimately finished 38th.
Jorgensen got some redemption at her last big race of the year, the ITU Grand Final in Auckland Oct. 20. Although she left T2 1:15 down from a lead pack of strong contenders (Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz, Sweden’s Lisa Norden), she steadily charged her way into second place with the fastest 10K of the day (34:10).
“There has been a lot of things I wouldn’t have expected this season,” Jorgensen says. “I feel like I actually put it all out there [in Auckland] and gave it everything I had and suffered to the end. When you do that, you can’t not be happy, no matter what the result is.”
With her 2012 season behind her, the 26-year-old will take time to travel (on a “real” vacation), spend the holidays with her family and work on her bike skills in unconventional ways. Since the Games, Jorgensen say she’s being less cautious and more willing to take risks in training. “I did cyclo-cross, I got a mountain bike, I got on a track bike—stuff that before the Olympics that I wouldn’t do,” she says.
She’s also been training with her boyfriend, professional cyclist Patrick Lemieux, whom she met—where else?—on a bike ride. “Pat will make me do things I don’t want to do on the bike, which can sometimes be frustrating, but I know it’s things I need to do to improve,” Jorgensen says. “We were riding the other day in Australia and there was this little dirt path off to the side and Pat’s like, ‘Alright go do that.’ I said, ‘Ah! I’m on my road bike, I thought this was an easy ride! I don’t want to do that!’ Or it’s something that scares me, like taking a corner faster or doing something that I don’t think is possible on my bike. Then I’ll do it and I’ll know I can, and it makes me a better cyclist.”
Jorgensen calls the Olympics a “crazy experience that was awesome to be a part of.” Although she has come to terms with the fact that getting a flat is a part of racing, the buildup and subsequent let down of a disappointing Olympic performance has affected her.
“Everyone who was at the Olympics was putting everything into that one race,” Jorgensen says. “You invest a lot of time and you do a lot of things you would or wouldn’t do if you weren’t going to the Olympics, you have a lot of people supporting you and you’re asking a lot of other people. You’re doing everything you can to be the best on that day. And then that day comes, and whether you had the best result or a result you’re not happy with, I think it’s a lot mentally the next day, the next week. It definitely took some adjusting. Once the Olympics were over, it was like, okay, that thing I’ve been focusing on for a year now is done with—now what?”
Jorgensen’s coach Cindi Bannick has helped turn the former collegiate swim-runner into a world-class athlete in a matter of a couple years. She says she shares a lot of the same emotions about London and is relieved that Jorgensen has a break from the pressure surrounding the Games.
“Yeah you’re bummed and you’re disappointed, but at the same time it’s over and you’re relieved that all the pressure is not on you anymore,” Bannick says. “Whether or not you want the pressure, and as much as you try to disperse it, there’s still external pressure that you can’t fend off. It’s good for her to have the experience and hopefully we’ll be back in 2016 having gone through that already—all the pressure, all the expectations.“
Because Jorgensen’s path was not the same as a lot of her peers—she was picked for the USAT collegiate recruitment program out of the University of Wisconsin—she knows she has a lot to learn before Rio in 2016. “Right now I want to do everything to become the best triathlete I can … I’m still learning things. Like, when’s the best time to come over for a race? I still have a lot of work to do on my swim and my bike and recovering and when to do key workouts. I think there’s still a lot of learning to do, which is exciting.”