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Espn’s Bonnie D. Ford chats with American Olympian Sarah Groff about the months following her fourth-place finish in London.
The months since the London Olympics have been an endurance event in and of themselves for triathlete Sarah Groff, the 2011 world championships series bronze medalist who just missed placing in the top three at the Summer Games.
She struggled for equilibrium after finishing an achingly close fourth and decided to make some changes for this season, and beyond, to try to put herself in podium contention for Rio 2016. Groff, a 31-year-old native of Cooperstown, N.Y. and graduate of Middlebury (Vt.) College, is currently training with an international group under the aegis of Canadian coach Joel Filliol.
She opened 2013 by entering a race she had always yearned to do — the punishing Escape From Alcatraz triathlon, rescheduled this year from June back to March to accommodate the upcoming America’s Cup sailing competition. Fighting through a self-inflicted head injury and the aftereffects of food poisoning, Groff was overtaken by eventual winner Heather Jackson in the late going and finished second.
Groff is based outside Hanover, N.H., with her boyfriend, distance runner Ben True, but spoke to ESPN.com by telephone this week from Clermont, Fla., where she is getting in some warm-weather training. These are excerpts from that conversation:
Question from Bonnie D. Ford: How did you go about processing that fourth-place finish at the Olympics and structuring the rest of your season?
Answer from Groff: What I didn’t expect — other athletes always talk about how amazing the experience of going to the Olympics is, the whole village experience and the cool swag and meeting all the other athletes, but they don’t really warn you about what happens after the Games. There’s this tremendous buildup where for years we’re focused on one thing, and then I finished fourth, which adds a whole other level to it. It’s probably pretty common; I got pretty severely depressed for a while. I went through the motions, did a couple more races. I would say I’m just starting to gain momentum back. But, for whatever reason, athletes just don’t talk about it.
I did [turn to] a fellow triathlete, Greg Bennett, who was on the Australian Olympic team in 2004, and his wife Laura was on the U.S. team in 2008, and they both finished fourth. So if anybody’s going to know what it’s like after that, it’s going to be them. Greg told me pretty much right after the race, “Listen, Sarah, even now to this day, I’ll be lying in bed, replaying the race, thinking about what I could have done differently.”
He’s absolutely right. It’s going to stay with me for a while. It’s both the best achievement of my life and also one of those moments where you can’t help but wonder what could have been if you’d approached things differently, and I think it has the potential to make me a better athlete. There’s so much that can go wrong at the Games, and I’ve just been trying to turn it around and think about everything I did right to finish fourth, because obviously it’s a great result.