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What You Can Learn from the 2008 Olympic Trials

By Amelia Kirkland

Lesson No. 1 
Be prepared for all weather conditions. Even if you’re native to the area in which you’re racing, or have been watching the weather forecast hourly for weeks, Mother Nature may throw you a curve ball.

Tuscaloosa, Ala., was chosen for the Olympic trials because its weather conditions were predicted to be most like Beijing’s – hot and humid. However, April 19th dawned sunny and cool. Not bad weather in which to race, but not Olympic-simulation weather either.

The take-home message for your athletes is this: No matter what the normal weather is; no matter what the forecast predicts, be prepared for anything. Hot, cold, rain, wind. Pack a wetsuit, even if the water temp the week before was 82. Pack arm warmers, rain gear, sunscreen, or anything else you might need. I know what you’re thinking, 'I won’t waste time putting on extra stuff if the weather’s bad.' That’s fine. But be sure to prepare mentally for all the curveballs that Mother Nature could throw.

Lesson No. 2 
Practice transitions. Every race venue is different, so you better be familiar with what’s consistent – your own equipment. As I watched Joanna Zeiger struggle for almost 30 seconds to get her feet square on the tops of her shoes (which were clipped to her pedals), I thought about how many times she’s practiced this. I dare say, a lot. So mishaps in transition can even happen to professionals.

If your athletes plan an advanced move like a flying mount, have them practice over and over and over. Have them practice when they’re wet to make sure they don’t slide off the saddle or their feet don’t slip off their shoes. Podium positions are decided by seconds; one of the best ways to gain time (without having to gain fitness) is to practice transitions.

Lesson No. 3
Practice running drills and teach good running form. Simply put, the foot speed of elite triathletes is stunning. I marveled at their efficient body position, rebounding foot strike and powerful arm movements. Andy Potts and Hunter Kemper: At 6’5”, Matt Reed’s stride looks about 4 feet long, but even short athletes can run efficiently. Take your athletes to the local high school track and practice running drills. Videotape them and analyze their body position. Make sure they’re not heel striking or rotating the upper body so much that the elbows cross the midline of the body. You can even take some still shots for your athletes to take home so they can see what they’re doing wrong and work on correcting it.

Lesson No. 4
Observe the power of the taper. It’s a given that most triathletes are Type-A people. Who else would willingly subject themselves to hours of swimming, biking and running just to get a T-shirt? Most Type-A people believe that more is better. The more training I do, the better I’ll get.

I constantly have to remind my athletes to adhere to their training plan during their rest weeks. This is doubly true of taper. Many triathletes feel slow and sluggish during the taper and are tempted to work out harder.

Help your athletes understand that this is normal and they will sabotage their race if they don’t taper appropriately. Julie Ertel is quoted as saying that she took a sizable taper going into the Olympic Trials and look what it got her!

Lesson No. 5
Be a good steward of our sport. If you’ve ever encountered an elite triathlete, you’ll know that most of them are humble and kind. They’re perfectly willing to chat with age groupers, have their picture taken or sign an autograph. They don’t
consider themselves celebrities, but to the average age grouper, they are awe-inspiring. You’ll also notice that they are respectful of the communities in which they race and they thank the volunteers.

Make sure your athletes follow all USA Triathlon rules, including those involving sportsmanship. Ours is a relatively new sport to the world and to the Olympics. I can’t tell you how many people I educated in Tuscaloosa about triathlon. So be nice out there. Encourage fellow competitors, the local law enforcement officers and volunteers, clean up after yourselves and by all means, have fun!

Amelia Kirkland is a USA Triathlon Level II certified coach.

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