American Gwen Jorgensen big favorite in women's triathlon
Gwen Jorgensen, the first American to win back-to-back world triathlon titles, could have been an accountant.
She gave up on her Olympic dream as a teenager when she realized she couldn't swim fast enough and decided she'd go to college.
She spent three years on the swim team at Wisconsin, where she was an All-American and Big Ten track champion, and would parlay her master's degree and CPA into a job at Ernst & Young upon graduation.
Then she got a call from Barb Lindquist, at one time the world's top-ranked triathlete and a former Olympian. She told Jorgensen that she, too, could be a world-class triathlete if she took up biking and dedicated herself to the sport.
Jorgensen thought back to her childhood dreams of being the next Amy Van Dyken or Brooke Bennett.
"I was glued to the TV when they had Olympic trials on like they have now. It was just something that I really loved," Jorgensen said.
"But I came to the realization at a relatively young age, in high school, that I would never go to the Olympics in swimming. I just wasn't good enough. I wasn't making any national teams. I wasn't even making junior national teams.
"So, I just thought I would never be an Olympian. And then when the USA Triathlon approached me, one of the first things they said was, 'You could be an Olympian.' And I was shocked. I basically laughed at them. I said, 'No, I tried than when I was younger and I basically don't have what it takes."
She gave it a shot in 2010 and realized Lindquist was right, she was a natural and her Olympic dream was back — even if triathlon as a sport wasn't that familiar to her. But she was hooked in no time and a few years later qualified for the London Games, where she was a favorite.
That's where the wheel came off.
A flat tire doomed her to a 38th-place finish and fed her fire to make amends in Rio de Janeiro.
"Every race is completely different and that's something that I like about the sport, you go into the triathlon and you have no idea what could happen on race day and you have to be prepared for anything, which I think really makes it a hard race," Jorgensen said.
Throw in the massive hype, crowds and logistics at the Olympics and it's even more unpredictable.
"Every race is different and the Olympics are more different," said Jorgensen, who is a heavy favorite in the women's race Aug. 20 at Copa Cabana Beach, where the men's race will be held Aug. 18.
Jorgensen, who's from Waukesha, Wisconsin, has 17 career wins and 21 medals on the ITU World Triathlon Series circuit. The sport's two-time defending world champion, she had an unprecedented unbeaten streak stretching from May 2014 to April 2016 that produced a dozen consecutive first-place finishes.
To ensure maximum energy and optimal condition for Brazil, Jorgensen eased up on her competition schedule this year and participated in races that were closer to her training base in Victoria-Gasteiz, Spain.
"I have one goal this year and that is the Rio Olympics on Aug. 20," Jorgensen declared.
Other things to know about triathlon at the Rio Games:
The 1,500-meter swim, a 24.9-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run on Copa Cabana Beach features a challenging hill that's sure to slow the competitors and could tucker them out.
"The course is really good. It's tough," said Jorgensen, who qualified for Rio by winning the triathlon test event on Aug. 2 on the course. "There's a big hill on the bike and I think that makes it an honest course and everyone is going to be tired. It's going to be interesting to see how quickly you run after ... that really hard bike ride."
ALL TIED UP
A photo finish at the London Games led to Sweden's failed attempt to have the Court of Arbitration for Sport rule the women's triathlon a dead heat. CAS said the photo finish ruling was a "field of play" decision by the International Triathlon Union and couldn't be challenged.
That left Lisa Norden with a silver medal and Nicola Spirig of Switzerland with the gold. Spirig and Norden finished side by side and were given the same time at the end of the race, but officials ruled Spirig crossed the tape first.
Sarah True and Katie Zaferes join Jorgensen on the U.S. team, which is by far the best in the world. Americans Greg Billington, Ben Kanute and Joe Maloy are longshots in the men's race, where Spain sports the world's top triathletes in Mario Mola and Fernando Alarza, currently 1-2 in the ITU World Triathlon Series rankings.
MEN'S MISFORTUNE: Five-time triathlon world champion Javier Gomez Noya will miss the Olympics after breaking his arm during training on July 13. The Spanish triathlon federation said Gomez Noya fell while riding his bicycle on July 13. The 33-year-old Gomez Noya won the ITU world championship in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015. He was the Olympic silver medalist in London in 2012 and placed fourth at the 2008 Beijing Games.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.