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Olympic Q&A: Manuel Huerta
LONDON — Manuel Huerta has inspired many with his story of perseverance. The Cuban-born Miami native qualified for his first Olympic Games appearance with a hard-fought ninth-place finish at the ITU World Triathlon San Diego in May and his post-race celebration was as emotional a scene as you will see in sports.
USA Triathlon recently caught up with Huerta in advance of race day.
USAT: What has your training been like since you arrived in London?
MH: We’re so used to training so much, and all of a sudden we come here we’re in a hotel we’re resting, we’re eating. You tend to think you’re losing your fitness. You think ‘I have to go out and train. I have to go do more sprints, and I have to go harder,’ but that’s not the right approach. Hunter had a good point that you need to step back a little bit. You need to rest more than you actually train because you’ve already done the training.
My training for the last few days has been two training sessions — either a swim and a run, or a swim and a bike or a bike and a run. They’re a lot shorter than what I’m used to doing but with some pick-ups and intervals in between to simulate race pace.
USA Triathlon: What kind of support have you had here?
Manuel Huerta: I’m very happy with what Jonathan Hall and Andy Schmitz and all the USAT staff have been able to provide us — obviously the USOC as well. They’ve given us the best support that we can possibly get for our race. I think we are very luck to have such a big team around us.
USAT: What was it like when you returned to Miami after qualifying in San Diego?
MH: First, there was a group of friends and fans and triathletes at the airport waiting for me with a U.S. flag. My mom was there, too. I was coming from San Diego with my girlfriend.
That was just the first night. Then my phone was ringing non-stop. I changed phones over the years so I lost some people’s numbers, so I was getting calls and I didn’t even know who they were from. I was getting texts, too, and I was trying to text back. It was so overwhelming.
After San Diego, I was in Miami for two weeks and I think I ate dinner in my house just once. Everyday someone took me out to dinner or something.
Within two days, I went from 200 Twitter followers to 1,000. Everyday, I would open my email and I’d have like 40 new emails. They were from sponsors, interview requests and friends. Coming from where I was before where I didn’t get much exposure or have so much going on, I couldn’t sleep for the first couple of days. Once I was able to settle down, schedule everything and prioritize my training everything felt natural. Then I went to Costa Rica where I’m somewhat isolated I didn’t have as much going on.
USAT: What friends and family do you have coming to watch you in London?
MH: My mom and my sister are coming in two days before the race. They are getting here on the fifth. Then I also have a group of four good friends that are coming to watch the race. I’ll probably see them after the race. It will be very cool.
USAT: Were you happy with your race performances in the build up to London?
MH: I did two races. I did one in Dallas where I was second, and then I did the Edmonton World Cup where I was fifth. I showed up to those races a little bit tired from my training. I was fully focused on London and I just wanted to stay in race mode to not lose that feeling. On the other hand, I didn’t want to travel too long so I kept it within North America.
I took only the positive things from those races and that was to get out there to do a hard effort. The results were good for me. For the amount of training I was doing, I was happy with the outcome. After London, we’ll see what I can plan with my coach.
Training wise, my level has gotten a little bit better. Now that I’m fully rested and tapered I know that I’ll have a good race here and we’ll see what happens.
USAT: What would mean a successful race for you on Tuesday?
MH: One thing that I learned is the only thing I can control is myself. I can’t control what the other guys do. Sometimes we like to put that medal, that top five, top 15 out there. … I got this call from some friends of mine the morning of the day before the race (in San Diego) and they told me to forget about finishing top nine and to go as hard as I could and know that I was able to go 100 percent. If you do that, at the end of day you can’t be mad at yourself.
That’s what I told myself there. In San Diego, that’s what I had, my 100 percent. So if I can do the same thing here and that means a medal, if that means a top five, if that means a top 10, but if I know I gave my 100 percent then I’ll be happy with that. My goal here is knowing that I gave 100 percent and that I did the best I can.