It’s been a while since I’ve written anything worth reading. The problem I have with my fellow triathlete’s blog post is that they typically tend to get repetitive and seem uninteresting after a few reads. Who’s really that interested in reading race reports if there isn’t some sort of valuable take away in the end? “The swim was good, I struggled a bit on the bike, had a great run. I’m happy I won.” Puke.
This season has had it’s ups and downs. I won a few smaller races and had a tough time finding my way in the big and important ones. Recently, I competed in the Pan American Games in Mexico. Triathlon was fortunate enough to have the race in Puerto Vallarta along the oceanfront rather than the host city, Guadalajara about 350km inland. The original Men’s team was Mark Fretta, Hunter Kemper, and myself. Unfortunately, Hunter crashed in a race in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina two weeks before and was forced to withdraw because of a broken elbow. Our replacement was Manny Huerta.
Aside from competing at US Olympic selection events, the ITU World Championship Series, and WCS Grand Finals, the Pan American Games was the first Major Games any of us had ever competed in. The only other Major Games the US competes in is the Olympics. The commonwealth countries compete in the Commonwealth Games. Just being part of the team was an honor.
Mark Fretta and I were placed on the team for one sole purpose: to protect our team leader on the bike and drain our competition’s legs. USA Triathlon told me I can only go for the win if our team leader or Mark Fretta are both incapable of doing so. Who ever wins the Pan American Games solidifies their country a spot a the Olympics. The other two ways are to place in the top 3 at a selected event (in this case it was the 2011 WCS – London) or by accumulating “Olympic Points” at WCS, World Cups, and Continental Championships. The period lasts from June 1, 2010 to May 31, 2012.
For a detailed account of what the US Men are up against obtaining our third spot, check out Ben Collin’s blog
Jarrod Shoemaker and I were ranked top 20 in the world on the points list and are on course for solidifying the US spots that way. Our 3rd place guy was ranked too low to be in contention to solidify the 3rd spot, so winning Pan American Games was our next best option.
Into the Race
I’ve never been appointed as domestique to protect and keep a team leader out of harms way, with my own result as second priority. In the past a domestique in Triathlon will help a team leader, but still has their own interests in mind in the end. Mark Fretta and I were competing only to put Manny in the best position to win. Mark and I weren’t even interested in our own performances. I gave up one of the best swims I’ve had all season to drop back and wait for Mark and Manny. There was a gap of about 15 seconds at one point during the first lap of the bike. Two Brazilians, Brent McMahon, and some other strong cyclists were trying to pull away. I could have easily been a part of that and raced for a podium position on my own, but chose to soft pedal the first 1km so I can bring my boys up to the leaders.
For the rest of the bike, Mark and I would let gaps open up and force some of the stronger runners around us to close the gaps. Slowly, but surely we zapped as much energy as we could out of everyone. All but the eventual winner, Reinaldo Colucci. He was one of the only guys in the race who trained specifically for this race since June. Manny was admitted to the race less than two weeks before. Mark led Manny into T2, just in front of the group so he would have the best advantage on the run. At that point we’ve done our jobs and it was all up to Manny to seal the deal.
Below is Melissa Merson’s account of the US Men and Women’s perspective of the race:
“I want everyone to know what an incredible job the USA men and women did in PVR on Sunday. There is absolutely no question but that it was a transformational event in terms of the evolution of our international competitiveness and in my mind a true prognostication of what our athletes are capable of on the field of play.
“The women’s team lead by Sarah Haskins brought home the gold medal. We just HAVE to look at this as a team event although Sarah stood atop the podium. Sarah McClarty and Gwen Jorgensen both turned in fantastic performances as well with Gwen finishing fourth after the second fastest run split. In my mind, the story that doesn’t get enough attention is the role played by an athlete like Sarah M. in leading the swim and the bike so as to assist the others and heightening their chances of success. I can only wonder what would have happened in Athens or even in Sydney has we employed such great team tactics. She is no doubt the workhorse of the team and a personable, intelligent woman as well. It would be great to see Sarah McClarty on our board at some point — or any of these ladies of course.
“The men’s race was a site to behold. The execution of the planned strategy was as close to flawless as possible. With Hunter sidelined, the team was rearranged with the goal of trying to secure a third spot for our men in London next summer. To do that, we needed to have not Matt Chrabot or Mark Fretta atop the podium. We needed to have Manny Huerta win the gold. Manny is an incredibly talented rising star who is training at sea level in Costa Rica while living at altitude. Matt and Mark both completely sacrificed their own possible podium positions to give Manny the best possible chance of success. They pulled him through the swim and all three headed out on the bike course in a small lead group at the head of second and third packs that later merged. Matt and Mark both strategically thinned out the field with sprints and a variety of superb tactics on the bike with the goal of leaving Manny with as few serious competitors for the podium as possible. From our vantage point above the transition area, it was spectacular to watch the small remaining group charge into transition. It appeared as if Manny was sling-shot out onto the run within a breath of the Brazilian Colucci. Matt and Mark gushed telling the story afterwards – they were so proud not of themselves but of the brilliant teamwork that gave Manny the best possible shot at the gold.
“The run was a white-knuckle drama. Each time they came through the transition we were screaming our lungs out for Manny, knowing what was at stake. He poured his heart and soul into running shoulder to shoulder on the last lap with the Brazilian. At 200 meters from the finish, Colucci kicked in another gear. The Brazilians also were fighting for slots in London, for them a second athlete position. He pulled away for the final straight with Manny holding on for a fantastic silver medal performance.
“Each and every one of our triathletes put in fantastic TEAM performances. As one of the few individuals privileged to have attended every Olympic triathlon to date, I can tell you that this was the very first time the United States came as one entire TEAM dedicated to the proposition that the team comes first before the desires of the individual. This is such a critical concept as we head into the final Olympic year because our prospects of winning any medals in London hinge on our ability to field a team of TEAM rather than a team of individuals.
Quotes from Manny and Myself following the race USA Triathlon’s site
I think one of the driving factors that contributed to great success was from USAT. The only way any of the athletes would win any sort of money was if we employed team tactics. The bonus structure was set up so that it was split up evenly 3 ways. As long as one of us made the podium, all of us were paid equally. Money, funding status, and self interest has been the driving force of the elites competing at major races since the beginning. All USA Triathlon did was make an adjustment to how we get paid when someone performs well.
Team tactics can work. If Hunter Kemper was racing and ran a 31:00 10km that day, it might not have been as obvious. Lucky for us, Manny was in stellar form when he stepped in to fill Hunter’s role as leader. If everyone raced for themselves, I’m not sure Manny or I would have even come close to making the podium. By giving Manny the support he needed during the race, we took a guy who’s at best had some “good performances” to the “race of his life and a silver medal.