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San Diego Elite Athlete Q&As
With the 2012 London Olympic Games approaching, elite triathletes are aiming to represent their countries. This weekend's ITU World Triathlon in San Diego will serve as the second qualifying event for U.S. elites, and USA Triathlon caught up with athletes racing Friday and Saturday to find out their goals for the race and the 2012 season.
USA Triathlon: Congratulations on a personal best of seven wins in 2011. What do you think made you such a consistent performer throughout the season?
Sarah Haskins: Thank you. The main component in my consistency this year was my ability to stay injury free. I met wonderful support staff in 2010 and 2011 to help me stay in one piece, but also I have learned to really listen to my body through my years of experience.
USAT: What are your offseason plans? Does the fact that 2012 is an Olympic year make your prep work for the season any different?
SH: The offseason for me is time to recover both mentally and physically. I like to take at least six weeks of light "exercising" and not specific training and letting my body do what it wants to. [Haskins started to zone in on her training in early January.] With the Olympic qualifier being such a key race in May, I will be hitting the intensity in my training a little earlier than usual, but other than that I will be starting the season like any other season.
USAT: With the ITU World Triathlon Series event in San Diego serving as the second Olympic qualifier for the U.S., what races will you use as a tune-up for that event?
SH: I plan on racing and training in Florida leading up to the trials race. I am really looking forward to not traveling far distances for the first five months of the year and focusing on consistent training. I plan on racing the Clermont Challenge in March and also competing in several non-drafting races in Florida in March and April.
USAT: What advice can you offer to age-groupers on preparing for an "A" race like this year's event in San Diego?
SH: Sometimes before "A" races we train with much more intensity and focus leading into the race. This is great for race prep, but it's important to remember to back off prior to the race to allow for adequate recovery for the "A" race. Allow enough time for a rest and taper, but also time to get in some short quality speed workouts the week before the race so you do not feel flat on race day. Make sure when you start doing those short quality workouts, you are rested from your intense training block prior to the workouts. In addition, pick one or two races in April to get your feet wet before the "A" race.
USAT: What would qualifying for a second Olympic Team mean to you?
SH: Since I finished competing in Beijing in 2008, London has been the number one goal on my radar. I would love the opportunity to represent the USA in a second Olympics. I am excited for the challenge and want to look back at my life and know that I had an amazing opportunity in 2012 to go for London, whatever the outcome may be. It is going to be even more challenging than the last go-around to qualify in May, but I am going to give it all in my racing, training and preparation leading up to May and the possibility of the Olympic Games in August.
USA Triathlon: With 2012 being an Olympic year, have you approached your offseason training any differently? Or do you prepare for this season as you would any other?
Jarrod Shoemaker: I am preparing for this season to be the best I can be. I've been working very hard on a few keys things and pushing myself really hard in training. Just because the Olympics happen this year doesn't mean there isn't a full slate of triathlons to race, and I am going to be as prepared for those as I ever have been before.
USAT: Is there anything you can take from your experience in Beijing that would make you better prepared for the 2012 Games in London? If so, what?
JS: One nice thing about London vs. Beijing is that they speak English in London, so understanding what's going on is going to be much easier. The biggest thing I learned in Beijing is that the Olympics are crazy -- seriously crazy. There are people everywhere, it's impossible to get anywhere you want to be on time, it's next to impossible to get tickets to any event. But the best thing is the patriotism; nowhere else will you see as many people so proud of their countries, and that is a pretty amazing sight.
USAT: What does it mean for U.S. athletes to have the opportunity to compete on their home soil in an event like the San Diego WTS?
JS: Racing on U.S. soil in a big-time ITU race is such a thrill for U.S. athletes. Back in 2009 we had the Washington, D.C., WCS and it was the most amazing course I had ever raced on; racing by the Washington Monument, U.S. Capitol and up and down Pennsylvania Avenue was quite a thrill. It was a big advantage to U.S. athletes as we did not have to travel overseas to get to a race; we made the athletes from other countries come to us. The European athletes have a huge advantage right now as almost two-thirds of the ITU WTS races are within a two-hour flight for them, so they can sleep and train at home until the last minute. We are making the international athletes come to our turf and change to our time zone, so that should give us a little edge.
USAT: You recently had an opportunity to preview the course in San Diego. What were your thoughts on the venue?
JS: I am very excited to race in San Diego. I have spent a lot of time out there over the past six years so I know the city well. San Diego has a great triathlon community and is very easy to get around so it's a great triathlon host city. I did get to check out the venue and I wish that we were racing on the age group course; that course is going to be amazing!
USAT: As someone who produces draft-legal races for age-groupers, what do you think are the most important aspects of an age group course?
JS: There are two ways I can answer that question - as a race organizer and as an athlete. I'll go with my race organizer hat first. The most important aspects are making the course easy to manage, easy for athletes to follow and impacting the least amount of locals (which is easier said than done!). And from the athletes' perspective, the better courses are the courses that incorporate something unique, a steep climb, a stretch of road that is scenic, a stretch of road that you usually can't bike on. The accessibility and ease of racing are also very important. And finally, it's all about making the race fun and enjoyable for spectators and athletes.
USA Triathlon: How has your success in 2011 helped prepare you for the 2012 season?
Manuel Huerta: 2011 was one of the best seasons of my career. I started more slowly than I wanted to at the beginning of the year, but I picked up my fitness halfway and finished strong. I've been able to carry my fitness into this season, plus it was a huge boost mentally. I will stick to a similar training plan that I used for the second half of last year's season since I know how my body reacts to it.
USAT: What are your plans to prepare for the upcoming World Triathlon Series event in San Diego? Do you approach this race any differently since it is an Olympic qualifier?
MH: My plan is to race the Sydney WTS a month before just to get that feeling of racing very fast guys. Then I will start an altitude camp. Pretty much in that last month it's a matter of just tuning my body and working on my speed. My goal for San Diego is to finish in the top nine. I will need the race of my life to do it and I'm looking forward to it.
USAT: What would it mean for you to represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games?
MH: Well, it's my dream. My family and I have made a lot of sacrifices like every Olympic hopeful out there, but we had to move to the U.S. for a better life. The U.S. opened its to doors to our family. To represent the U.S. at the biggest sporting event in the world would be an honor, and I hope to inspire many young immigrants who may have come to the U.S. looking for freedom and a better life like myself. I want to demonstrate that here in America if you work hard your dreams will become a reality.
USAT: Can you tell us a little bit about your training routine on the Irazu volcano?
MH: My coach has a farm on the Irazu volcano at about 7,000 feet, and my apartment is in the city below to it (Cartago at 5,000 feet). Every afternoon after working out in Cartago we drive up about 20 minutes to the farm and we sleep up there. This way we can train at a lower altitude and sleep higher.
USA Triathlon: How did your training in Australia go? What is your focus now that you are back in Boulder?
Laura Bennett: Training went very well in Australia this winter. My focus, now that I am back home in Boulder and racing season has begun, is still on my plan of staying strong and building appropriately to be peaking in August.
USAT: How is an Olympic year unique compared to any other season?
LB: An Olympic year is generally unique because everyone vying for an Olympic medal is trying to peak on the same day. In any other year, athletes might have different goals throughout the year, and not everyone is trying to peak for the same races.
USAT: What would it mean for you to qualify for a second U.S. Olympic Team?
LB: I would love to have a second Olympic berth. I love this style of racing, the game and excitement of it all, plus I love big-stage racing. I love the hype around it and the fact that the whole world will be watching. It provides added pressure and added reward if you can perform on the day.
USAT: You come from a family of competitive triathletes. Will any of them be competing in San Diego or will they be on hand to watch you race?
LB: My father will be competing in San Diego. My mother will be coming to watch and cheer me on. And of course, my husband, Greg, will be there to support me in whatever I need.
USAT: As an athlete who travels all over the world for races, what advice can you give to age-groupers who will be hitting the road to race in San Diego?
LB: I think the only advice I could give is have a great time. The main adverse elements are likely to be cold water, so prepare properly for that, but otherwise, San Diego is great location for the race. Hopefully it will be an enjoyable race for the age-groupers and they can come out chatting about their war stories of the day. All the best to those racing!
USA Triathlon: What do you like best about training in other countries like Australia in the offseason?
Sarah Groff: The ability to train in amazing places is one of the best parts of my job. Other than the weather (huge improvement over New Hampshire in the winter), my favorite thing about Australia is how active and sports-crazy it is.
USAT: How have you prepared for the race in San Diego? What will change as you turn your focus to London?
SG: I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to racing in the home of triathlon and on U.S. soil. For me, the race in San Diego is just another chance to gain experience in the lead up to London.
USAT: Are you spending any time in San Diego after your race? Will you be there to watch the men's event?
SG: I've been looking forward to watching the men vie for Olympic spots in San Diego; I wouldn't miss it!
USAT: Do you have any special race-day rituals or superstitions that you do before a big race?
SG: I try not to change anything from the normal pre-race routine. I do try to make sure that the day before the race is pretty dull and I spend more time than I'd prefer in my hotel room.
USAT: What are your goals for the 2012 season, London included?
SG: This year I'd like to build upon the work that I've been doing the past few seasons; I've been gradually progressing and would like to continue the trend. I'm looking forward to being well prepared and in the great shape when I toe the start line in London.