“Don’t believe the hype.” I can’t tell you how many times my dad has repeated this to me over the years, and especially in the lead up to the Rio Olympics. It’s to remind me that no matter how successful I am, my main focus should be on bettering myself and working hard. It reminds me that one race does not define you, but rather it is how you act as a person and the effort that you put forth every day.
Leading up to the Olympics, it is extremely hard to treat it just like any other race and not get caught up in the hype. Between the media coverage during the lead-up to the games, and the fact that I was going to get to live out a childhood dream, it got my stomach doing flips just thinking about it. Before Rio, there were so many emotions to deal with and process - the honor and pride that I felt representing my country, the relief and satisfaction of years of hard work paying off, and the pressure to compete to the best of my ability. My fake “opening ceremonies” video was fun to make with my training partners in Flagstaff and it was intended as a joke, but it got way more attention than I thought it would (just about viral) and even ended up on the Today Show. That was a surprise. But no matter what I felt, I just kept going back to the basics of working hard and preparing to put myself in the best possible position to perform to my full abilities, which kept me strangely calm before such a big event.
The week leading up to the race, we stayed at the Hotel Debret right on Copacabana Beach. This is the same hotel we stayed in last year for the test event, so everything felt familiar and relaxed upon arrival. I ended up having a great experience here, and USAT gave us the best support possible. Every detail was taken care of, and the staff made everything so easy on us. Training was a challenge in Rio, as it is in most cities, but the local facilities turned out to be great, and I felt like my pre-race prep was ideal. We were able to swim at the Brazilian Naval Academy, which had a beautiful pool. And our bike mechanic, Sherpa, set up trainers on his hotel room balcony on the tenth floor so we could ride with a view. It is pretty cliché, but the days went by so fast leading up to the race. Waiting is the hardest part before a big event, but between training, media, meals, and family, I kept myself occupied. This was perfect because I did not have a chance to overthink the race at all.
The Olympic Games present a few more challenges logistically with all of the security, so I made sure to have everything on race day planned out very well. It was one of the warmer days of the week, so while I wanted to leave plenty of time for warming up and for checking into transition/athletes lounge, I wanted to limit my time in the sun. I nailed my planning, and had no trouble with getting to the start line on time. Even if a few of the extra steps were annoying, it was incredible to be in the middle of all of the excitement. The atmosphere at the venue was amazing, and Team Kanute showed up en force!
I started in spot number 33 slightly left of center. We had a lottery to choose our starting positions during the pre-race meeting, so there was no drama involved with getting the perfect spot. I had fast swimmers on either end of the start line, but with the first buoy 500m+ straight out, I just wanted to find my own space and clean water. The beach start helped spread everyone out a bit, and I was pretty quickly leading the middle section of the field. I tried to focus on getting to the first turn buoy as close to the front as possible, which I did fairly well, but noticed Varga on my right hand side starting to pull ahead slowly. By the time I hit the first buoy, I was in the top 20, and the pace was full on. I was not too worried about my position because I could see that the leader was fairly close, and recognized some lead pack swimmers around me. Aaron Royle was just ahead, and I tried to follow him through the group toward the front of the race, and stayed patient. My swimming had been strong lately, and my plan was to move up on the back half of the 1500m. The last few hundred meters turned out to be pretty hectic. Because everyone wanted to be in that first group, the pace got even faster so I did not make much headway towards the front. However, there were not that many gaps in the field ahead of me, which meant that I still had a good chance of being in that front group. It had been a hard swim, but I was right where I wanted to be.
I ended up exiting right around the top 15, and tried to do my best to move up a few more spots in the run to transition. I had a solid T1 and was able to get my shoes on right away. This was key because the pace on the bike was immediatley all out. There was no way I was missing out on being in the front pack at the Olympics, so I turned myself inside out to hold onto the Brownlee express. While the effort was hard, it also took all of my technical ability to stay towards the front and out of trouble. The downhill was tricky, and resting was not an option there or around any other corners. In fact, there was hardly a time when we were not just crushing it, and that is what changed the race and created a front group of ten guys.
The crowd on the course was incredible. Although It was mostly a blur at 25+ miles per hour, it was hard to ignore the flashes of crazed fans waving flags, yelling themselves hoarse, and chanting all sorts of things. Reflecting on it now is cool, but during the race I basically stared right through them and had laser focus on not getting dropped.
About halfway through the bike I was able to compose myself and feel like I was actually in control of my effort. The Brownlees had our group pushing the limit, and I was doing everything I could to not only stay with the group, but prepare for the run by drinking and taking in calories (and trying not to burn all my matches at once). After putting in some time at the front and taking my fair share of pulls, I started to skip turns for the last four laps. I’m not sure this helped much. I found that taking turns at the front helped because I was able to have a consistent draft until my turn at the front. At the back,there were a lot more gaps to close, and I felt like I was spiking my power a whole lot more as we rounded corners. Each gap continued to get harder to close as our pack got closer to the run. It was amazing to me how strong all of the guys were in our pack. I have never been more fit, and I was pushing myself to the limit just to stay relevant. My NP for the ride was 351w, and each time up the hill had me pushing close to 1000w if not more. By the time we hit T2 I was more than happy to be off the bike.
That happiness did not last long though. I was not moving well in T2, and got out a bit slow. Everything felt pretty heavy, but I had a couple guys to run with. That first lap I hung pretty well and held onto my top 10 spot. I started to feel it a bit more that second lap, but was still holding strong in about 15th. Then the fireworks started to happen. I faded real hard, and could not believe I still had two laps to go. It turned into a deathmarch as I ran down each long straightaway. I was basically walking as all I focused on was drinking as much water as possible and trying to keep my legs turning over. By the time I crossed the finish line, I had gone all the way back to 29th, and I was completely spent.
While the result is not what I wanted, I am happy with the effort that I put out. I went into this race in the best swim, bike, and run shape of my career. I put myself in a position to finish well, but ran out of energy with about 5km to go. The swim and bike obviously took a toll, and while it is dissapointing to fade so far back and not be able to show off the hard work I put into my run, I left nothing out on the course.
I won’t go into too much detail, but the post-race festivities were also really fun. From Austria House to international beer pong in the Olympic Village (where team USA took home the gold!), the whole experience was awesome.
Earning a spot on the Olympic team has been one of my biggest triathlon goals. Being able to check it off my list is hugely satisfying, but I am already setting bigger goals. This experience has only made me hungrier, and I am excited for the coming years. However, before looking too far ahead, I want to thank all the people and organizations that have helped me in this process. It takes a truly dedicated team to support someone on his Olympic journey, and I am so grateful to all of those that made my dream a reality.
The amount of support I have received leading into the Olympics has been nothing short of incredible. I have tried to remember and soak in every little thing people have done or said to me. There have been so many messages of support in all forms, and I am truly and deeply thankful to all of those people that reached out to me, and continue to do so. No matter how you did it, if you took the time to reach out to me, thank you so much. You are the reason I was able to race on the biggest stage in sports.
Many of these thank you’s look similar to my blog post Yokohama. I wanted to take time to thank them again, as well as add in a few more special thank you’s.
Parents- Without their constant support, I would not have made it a year in this sport let alone 15. They are my biggest fans and have done more for me than anyone ever could. They never let me give up on myself and pushed me to be the best that I could be. They are the main reason for my success as an athlete and a person. Not to mention they are probably the two biggest fans of the sport and helped draw in so many different people to watch in Rio and back home!
Brothers – Josh and Nick, my two younger brothers who have been a big part of my life, who keep me grounded, and who keep me entertained with their Snapchat stories (and who helped me celebrate in Rio after the race!)
Coaches- There are many coaches that have helped me over the years. Adam Zucco has stuck with me for the longest, and has never given up on this dream. He developed me into the athlete I am today. Ryan Bolton has taken the reigns the past year and a half and he gave me that extra boost I needed to qualify for Rio and be a contender throughout a majority of the race. He is a veteran of the ITU circuit and the Olympic Games and his experience has been so valuable to me. These two have made me a true professional in the sport.
Dr. Stephen Walker may have one of the most important jobs as my sports psych. He was able to get me to the line in Rio 100 percent focused and confident in my abilities. He has helped me so much on the mental side, and I cannot thank him enough for helping me develop my mental game.
Then there are all of the swim coaches I have starting back on Geneva River Rats: Ken and Janice. Then St. Charles Swim team with Mary, Jon, Joe, Rooney, and Tim. Then it’s onto high school with Bill Schalz. Recently in Tucson it has been Jeff and Geoff from Dolphins in the Desert along with Ford Aquatics Paul Stafford and Rick Laing.
Bike specialists Rob Kelly and Shawn Heidgen who worked with me at various times as I grew up. Along with the entire Bicycle Heaven group who taught me what group riding is about.
Marmion Cross country coach Dan Billish
The famous Multisport Madness Kids Triathlon Team I grew up on with mastermind Keith Dickson whose dream it was to put one of us on an Olympic Team. This team gave me my passion for triathlon and opened my eyes to draft legal racing and the Olympics. It gave me my dream.
UA TriCats Brian Grasky for letting me practice and race with the greatest college team in Triathlon.
Mentors- People like TJ Tollakson showed me what it took to be a professional triathlete and how to make it a career. Doug Friman and Jimmy Riccitello who have immense amounts of racing experience, a lot of it happening in the golden days of the Sport. Paul Thomas who always has helpful tips of how to be more efficient whether it is on the bike or in life. Bill Kruse with his infinite knowledge of all things, and making sure I was always recovered and ready to race. I would be remiss to not mention the monks of Marmion Abbey who helped mold me into the man I am today.
Sponsors- I am going to brag a bit about my sponsors. They are truly the best in the sport. To believe in someone as young as me in pursuit of a dream means the world to me. Not to mention that they have the best service around. One person I do want to group under here is Lars Finanger. He has helped so much by helping me build and maintain the great support team I have. I will list them out here, but check out my sponsors page for direct links to their sites and social media.
Trek (seriously badass bikes),
Bontrager (great bike accessories, clothing etc.),
TYR (I have used their gear for the past four years in training and racing and could not be happier with it),
New York Athletic Club (the greatest athletic club in the world),
Advanced Physical Medicine (best Physical Therapy in Tucson),
Picky Bars (not only for helping me Feed my Dream, but for supporting so many others that needed it), Hoka (A brand new partner, but already making a huge difference in my training and racing),
Geneva Running Outfitters (hometown run shop that sells top notch running and tri gear, and owned by former ITU triathletes Eric Ott and Liz Ott),
Verve (their infocrank power meter is the best that I have used),
MPG (Clothing company that supplied me with top notch training and casual gear. They are also dedicated to promoting an active lifestyle and people that live one.)
Nuun (best tasting sports drink, and it works!).
USAT is also a huge part of my success not only by supporting me financially, but by providing a first class team to make sure I have everything I need in training and on race day. People like Andy Schmitz, Courtney Koulick, Bobby Mcgee, Sherpa and Jarrod Evans to just name a few of those key personnel. Not to mention some of the key players in Rio like our Chef Adam!
Friends- Stephen Pedone, long time roommate and friend, pushes me no matter if it is on the bike or in my love for coffee. Cody, Shannon, Ryley, McKenzie, all people who made my time at the U of Asome of the best years of my life, and gave me an escape from the daily grind that triathlon can be. John and Mike, two of my best friends from high school who are some of the best guys I know. All of the UA TriCats for letting me remember how great it is to be a part of a team (To name a few like Neil Segel, Greg York, Luke Mcguire, Molly Supple, Laura Haley, Tom Valente, Josh Fowler…and so many more that I could name). I could go on and on, but this is basically a whole blog in itself.
One person who has had a profound positive effect on my life, but sadly is not here to see it in person is Ben Wilkinson. I know he is with me every day, and I try to live by the example he set when he was here. My victory is just as much as yours.
My Olympic Teammates- Greg and Joe, thank you for pushing me to be my best. It was great to share this experience with the two of you, and always love racing against the both of you. Gwen, Sarah, and Katie, you are all awesome in my book. You have raised the bar for USAT, and it was amazing to watch Gwen take home the Gold!
Rio Crew- Thank you so much for coming out to watch me race! It was so special to have my parents, brothers, friends (Stephen, Cody, Shannon, Mama Fitz, Meredith), and other family members (Nana, Uncle Ted, Aunt Paulette) come out and experience the Olympic Games with me. Sharing this with you guys made it that much better!
Everyone else- This list is by no means comprehensive. I tried my best to mention everyone, but I know I have missed some people. This does not mean that I am not eternally grateful for the role that you have played in my life. Whether a friend, acquaintance, training partner for a day, or fan, thank you. I hope to see all of you at the races again soon!