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Olympic Q&A: Hunter Kemper

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LONDON — USA Triathlon recently sat down with veteran Hunter Kemper in the lead-up to his record fourth Olympic Games triathlon appearance. The Florida native and long-time Colorado Springs resident is one of only three athletes to qualify for all four Olympic triathlons and ranks among the all-time great Americans in the sport.

USA Triathlon: What would constitute a successful race for you?
Hunter Kemper: A successful race for me would be leaving it all on the race course, and whatever finish that is for me, it is. If it’s sixth place or if it’s fifth place or if it’s ninth place, and I know that in my heart that I did all I could on that day and that’s all it got me, I have to be happy with that. I can only be happy with that. I have good fitness; I have good form.

I’m fit and ready to go, but so are a lot of other guys. There are some amazing athletes that I’m going to racing against — Alistair Brownlee, Jonathan Brownlee, Javier Gomez, Sven Riederer, Simon Whitfield, Bevan Docherty. The list goes on and on — Brad Kahlefeldt, Jan Frodeno, Steffen Justus. There are amazing athletes all across the board. Ultimately for me, I want to be in contention and I want to give myself a go to really lay it out there.

This could easily be my last Olympic Games. I’m 36; I’m definitely the old guy of the group. I don’t know what’s going to happen after this, so I want to say at the end of the day that I did all I could and I raced as hard as I possibly can. You might think that should be easy, but it’s hard to get your body to get your mind to shut off on a race and try to go above that pain threshold of knowing that you have to push yourself to the limits, to the point where you cross the finish line and you’re completely exhausted you can’t do an interview for like five minutes — you’re just spent. That would be a great day for me, and the placing will take care of itself.

I’m looking forward to the challenge. … I really just want to leave it out there and have a great race and see what happens.  

USAT: Were your wins in Austin and Minneapolis an indicator that you’re where you want to be entering the Games?
HK: I think the Life Time races in Austin and Minneapolis are good indicators of my race form and overall fitness. I don’t think it probably translates into a positioning or a placing at the Olympic Games, but it shows that I’m fit and I’m ready to go.

I’ve really been trying to get my run faster. I feel like my swim and bike usually take care of themselves. For me, it’s all about the run. As you get older, you get a slower tempo and it’s all about getting that leg speed without hurting yourself — so that your not pulling hamstrings or going over the edge to try run in the ballpark of a Javier Gomez or the Brownlees. I’ve been trying to do workouts in Colorado Springs in the lab that simulate that fast running. I’m in the best fitness and running the best times of my career right now, so we’ll see what that gets me.

USAT: How has this sport changed since the 2000 Sydney Games?
HK: Over 12 years, it’s just gotten a lot, lot faster. It’s a lot more dynamic; it’s a lot more intense right from the go. You’ve got to be a great swimmer and you’ve got to be a technical biker … and you’ve got to be an amazing runner off the bike. It’s like this wave that’s grown and keeps on building; it just keeps getting faster. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like four years from now. It’s great to see. That’s what happens with a young sport. Athletes just keep getting better and pushing the envelope.

I hope people get to watch the race on TV, experience it and get to see video of what it is that we’re doing here in London. I think it’s going to be spectacular. I think it’s going to super fast. Even though draft-legal racing is getting opened up to the U.S., I still think that people still haven’t seen it. When it comes to San Diego, where we had our qualifier, people were like ‘Wow. It’s so dynamic. It’s amazing racing.’ For me, I want to showcase that, and I want to have that be something talked about. I think if they watch that on TV, they’ll see something pretty amazing.

USAT: How do you balance training and rest in the lead-up to a race like this?
HK: A lot of it is the balance between downtime and rest and still keeping the body fresh and sharp and going fast. It’s a tough balance I think to figure out. It’s very tricky. I think it’s about keeping the volume down and still keeping the intensity.  

My goal is that when I’m on the starting line I want to be jumping out of my skin thinking I’m feeling so fresh, almost to the point that you start to think, ‘Am I a little bit flat?’ It’s hard to get yourself there without letting your mind wander.

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