In an instant, a flat tire dashed triathlete Gwen Jorgensen’s dreams of an Olympic medal in London.
Just as quickly, however, new dreams sprang to life.
Now the 26-year-old is plotting a course she hopes will lead her to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
“After (what happened in) London, I know for sure I want to go for medaling in Rio,” said Jorgensen, who is from Milwaukee. “That’s my four-year goal, and I want to have a four-year plan that just helps me get there. I really hope I can go back and have another shot at it.”
Team USA on YouTube | Jorgensen looks ahead after London
Considering how far she’s come in just the past two years, nothing would be a surprise.
After entering her first competitive triathlon in 2010, the former University of Wisconsin runner and swimmer was one of the world’s best this past season, finishing a career-high ninth overall — No. 2 among Americans — in the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Series rankings.
She seemed in prime position to compete for a medal in London, after claiming her second career World Cup victory in Banyoles, Spain, about a month before the Games. But it wasn’t meant to be. Nearly halfway through a 26-mile bike loop around the streets of Hyde Park and central London, disaster struck. With debris strewn around the course from morning rains, Jorgensen was stopped in her tracks by a large chunk of glass in her tire.
“I was freaking out, for sure, because I felt like I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I spent a few minutes in the pit… and then once I was back on the road. I got back in the racing mode and tried to finish as best I could. I wish I could’ve had a re-do, but you can’t have that, so you move on and learn from it.”
Team USA on YouTube | Meet Jorgensen's tricked-out bike
By the time she was able to resume the race, she had fallen several minutes off the lead, and finished a disappointing 38th.
“I took a little break after the Olympics and focused again,” Jorgensen said. “My goal was just to have a strong finish to the end of the season.”
And she did just that, closing the season with a runner-up finish in the ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final earlier this month in Auckland, New Zealand, surging from more than a minute down after the bike with the day’s fastest 10k split of 34:10 — more than 40 seconds faster than any other competitor.
The silver medal marked her second career trip to the podium in the series.
She said her natural running ability played a major role in the result.
Team USA on YouTube | Gwen Jorgensen: Born to Ride
“I had a great finish,” she said. “I knew going into the race it was a really tough course — really hilly. It played to my advantage in the sense that everyone on that course worked hard on the bike. It hurt my legs, but it also hurt everyone else’s legs because there were so many hills. You couldn’t really finish that bike course without suffering. My goal was to just kind of suffer as much as I could and finish strong.”
For now, though, the suffering is on hold, with what Jorgensen said is a much-needed mental and physical break from the rigors of training. On the agenda was a much-anticipated trip to San Francisco with boyfriend and fellow foodie Patrick Lemieux, himself a professional cyclist, as well as the holidays with family.
“Everyone talks about the physical break, and needing that … but I think you need just as much if not more of a mental break — just get away from it,” she said. “Just to have a mental break and not have to think about any of that … helps refresh you and gets you ready to go for the next season.”
And next season is definitely in the back of her mind.
She said Lemieux is helping her improve on the bike, still unquestionably the weakest of her three legs. After previously working on the basics with former pro cyclist Tom Schuler, Jorgensen said Lemieux is now pushing her to reach the next level.
“He’s forcing me to do things out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I got a track bike and did some track cycling with him, and some mountain biking on single track (a narrow course only about the width of a bike) and cyclo-cross races — all of this stuff that I don’t want to do. It scares me and I’m not good at it. I showed up at my first cyclo-cross race, and I was on the start line and knew that I wasn’t going to do well. That’s something I’m not used to … but I know I need to do things like that to improve.”
And a little more improvement, she hopes, will be the key to another run at the Olympic team.
“I just try to test my limits because I know that if I don’t push myself, I won’t be the best athlete I can be,” Jorgensen said. “I really just continue to improve. Hopefully that gets me back in the Olympics.”