All right, Rare Birds. Despite the fact that you’re dedicated triathletes, many of you seem to know little about the pros at the top of the sport. In my first blog, for instance, I mentioned Sebastian Kienle, the new Ironman world champ. A good number of you told me that you had no clue who he was until you read my blog and Googled him. That surprised me. How could you know nothing about the new King of Kona when you’re such passionate triathletes that you spend more time on your bikes than with your family?
I’ve begun to learn that you’re not unusual, though. During some recent training runs, I threw around names like Jan Frodeno and Craig Alexander to pass the time with my training partners. Without fail, at least one of them would ask me who the heck I was talking about, even though “Frodissimo” is an Olympic gold medalist and “Crowie” is a three-time Ironman world champ and Kona course record holder.
That probably says more about the uninspired marketing efforts of triathlon’s governing bodies than the celebrity-triathlete IQs of you Rare Birds. But whether that’s true or not, as a fan of triathlon – as I know you are too – I feel duty-bound to raise awareness about the sport when I can.
From this point forward then, I intend to showcase a top triathlon pro in every couple of blogs. These men and women are the finest and most inspiring athletes in the sport we love.
And if that sport is to ever grow beyond its niche-sport status, every Rare Bird and fan of triathlon needs to know and support these men and women.
There’s no one better to start off with than American Gwen Jorgensen. Who’s that, you say? Well, with all due respect to the likes of Andy Potts and Tim O’Donnell – don’t worry, I’ll explain who those two are in later blogs – Gwen Jorgensen is the greatest American triathlete in the game today.
Gwen stands at the pinnacle of ITU racing (you probably know it better as Olympic-distance racing) as the reigning 2014 world champion. In reaching that top spot, she became the first woman in history to win five ITU races in a row, with her streak culminating with a win at the season-ending ITU Grand Championship in Edmonton, Alberta. This makes Gwen America’s best hope for its first triathlon gold medal by a man or woman in next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Gwen’s also a marketer’s perfect pitchwoman for the sport of triathlon. To start, she’s got a likeable background story. Like many other pro triathletes, she sacrificed a steady, well-paying career for triathlon’s relatively paltry prize purses: she was an accountant at Ernst & Young before chasing her triathlon dreams. Of course, she didn’t abandon her comfy white-collar gig without good reason. Gwen had a distinguished amateur athletic background, having been a swimmer and All-American runner at the University of Wisconsin. It’s because of that background in both swimming and running that USA Triathlon, in its never-ending search for Olympic-quality triathletes, recruited Gwen in 2010 to give triathlon a shot. She immediately proved them prescient to do so, qualifying for an elite card in her first triathlon ever.
The other, much more important reason why she’ll be fantastic at marketing triathlon is an easy one: she’s a winner. After earning her elite card, Gwen quickly racked up a couple of decent accolades – you know, just becoming the 2010 USAT Rookie of the Year and the 2011 USAT Elite Race Series Champion – before qualifying for the Olympics in her very first attempt in 2012. She finished a disappointing 38th in London because of a flat tire, but three years later she’s the undisputed queen bee of triathlon and the gold medal favorite for Rio.
What makes Gwen special is her run leg. She’s the Olympic-distance version of Ironman world champ Mirinda Carfrae: if you haven’t built a hefty lead during the swim and bike legs, you’re dead. Her race at the ITU Grand Championship is a great example. In Edmonton, Gwen was a minute and ten-seconds behind the leaders after the swim and bike legs, in most cases an insurmountable deficit in an Olympic-distance race. But since we’re talking about a former Big Ten champion in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters, it still wasn’t enough of a gap for the leaders. On the 10K run she quickly rallied, ending with the fastest run split of the day at 33:24 and crossing the finish line a comfortable sixteen seconds ahead of her closest competitor.
A few months after the Grand Championship, Gwen emphatically showed off her pure running speed by winning the Dash to the Finish Line 5K, a respected road race held the day before the New York City Marathon that’s littered with pro runners. Her winning time was 16:03, a tad over a five-minute average-mile pace to us mortals. Among the over 4,000 women (and countless men) she outpaced was a British Olympic 1,500-meter runner. That’s blistering world-class speed, whether you race on a track or a triathlon course.
Given her already long record of excellence, the USAT would be foolish if they didn’t take advantage of Gwen’s massive marketing potential when the Rio Olympics come around. With the USAT’s support (and maybe a talented agent) Gwen could become the face of triathlon, and possibly take the sport to new heights of popularity, expanding it into demographics beyond the old forty-year-old men like me who presently dominate the sport.
So please, if you’re passionate about triathlon, remember the name Gwen Jorgensen. She deserves your full attention.