Margaux Isaksen Rebounds from Fourth Place in London
Margaux Isaksen is doing a whole lot of nothing these days — and loving it.
“I haven’t been working out at all the last week and a half and it’s been absolutely wonderful,” the two-time Olympic modern pentathlete said last week. “I’ve been eating a lot and gained about five pounds.”
After going non-stop for months — preparing for the Olympic Games, competing in London and then traveling to Poland for the UIPM Junior World Championships, where she won three gold medals — Isaksen has hit the pause button on her usually go-go life.
Now, instead of training eight hours a day, she’s sleeping later and settling in with a good cup of coffee before deciding what kind of fun she wants to have.
After Poland she took a quick trip to Italy, then returned to the United States to spend some time with her boyfriend (Olympic gold medalist speed skater Joey Cheek) in New York City to do some sightseeing, visit a few museums and just “walk around.”
Soon she will be back home in Fayetteville, Ark., to be with family and friends.
“I’m going to take a couple months off, which is not normally what I would do after a season,” said Isaksen, the 2011 Pan American Games gold medalist. “But this is the last of an Olympic year, and I’ve got four years before Rio, so I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can.”
For Isaksen, 2012 has been a year of highs and lows, with her whole attention always focused on the London Games.
Now, with the Games and her competition schedule over, the 20-year-old — already a two-time Olympian — finally has a chance to reflect on what has been a hectic year.
First, she contracted mononucleosis, which laid her low for about four months and left her at less than full strength for pre-London training and competition. Then, in London, she finished fourth in the modern pentathlon, narrowly missing a medal, which she called “devastating.”
She went on, however, to compete in her last UIPM Junior World Championships, where she teamed with her younger sister, Isabella, and Samantha Achterberg to win the women’s team and relay gold medals. In addition, Margaux Isaksen won the individual championship.
The decision to compete in Poland after the Games, she says, turned out to be a good one.
“I’m definitely walking away from this season happy,” she said. “I feel like I really had this epiphany: I’ve always felt really blessed and know how fortunate I am, but when I was at Junior Worlds and finished on such a high note and saw the look on my coach’s face when I won, I (felt) so blessed.”
Now, instead of feeling down about about her finish in London, she has an optimistic outlook about returning to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs later this year and picking up where she left off. Determined to compete at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, Isaksen said she’s excited by the chance to go to a third Olympic Games.
“To experience the Olympics is amazing, and not that many people do,” she said. “So I’m really a very lucky person.”
Isaksen wasn’t feeling so fortunate, however, on Aug. 12, the day of the women’s modern pentathlon at the London Games. She finished just eight points behind bronze medalist Yane Marques of Brazil, a result that left her in tears.
Her swim time was slower than usual, she had a so-so ride, her shooting “wasn’t great” and she didn’t feel as strong as she normally does in the run, her best event.
“All in all I’d say my day just wasn’t my day,” she said. “I think in a sport like pentathlon you have to get all the five pieces together perfectly, and my day was everything was OK and nothing was really good.”
She admitted that finishing fourth is “nothing to frown upon” but told her coach that coming in fifth might have been better because she wouldn’t be replaying the entire day in her mind, looking for the points that would have put her on the podium.
“Being fourth is devastating because I keep reliving the day in my head and I’m just…” she said, her voice trailing off. “If it was one rail, if my horse just hadn’t pulled that one extra rail. I think if I’d missed one less shot or gotten one more fencing touch. So you re-live all these specific moments in your mind. That’s what continues to haunt me.”
Isaksen felt so bad after London, she started to have second thoughts about going to Poland for the junior worlds. But after spending a few days at home with her family, she rebooted and committed because it was her last shot as a junior — she had never won an individual gold at the event — and she wanted to compete with Isabella.
First, the Isaksens and Achterberg combined to win the relay gold medal. Margaux then won her individual championship and the trio wound up with gold as a team.
Margaux said winning with her sister and Samantha was special.
“Seeing how happy they were really made my day,” she said. “There were a couple of pictures of us hugging at the finish line and we have the finish banner around us. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it.”
In the individual competition, Margaux had the lead after the fencing and swimming, but fell to second after the riding. She turned it on in the final event, the combined (shooting and running) with the fourth-best mark, to take gold. With Margaux’s first-place finish, Isabella’s seventh and Achterberg’s 18th, the U.S. earned team gold.
“It was exhilarating,” Margaux said of winning the individual championship. “But I definitely say that the team meant more to me than the individual.”
Now, with a fresh, positive experience — and a chance to relax — Isaksen said she has turned the page on London.
“I’m really OK and going to move forward and train, train, train the next four years and hopefully bring home a gold in Rio,” she said.
Isaksen, who turns 21 next month, knows she has many years left in the sport. She wants to continue to improve.
“It’s a sport that favors the more experienced, and a lot of the top athletes are in their late 20s, early 30s,” she said. “So it’s a sport definitely you can be older and accomplishing a lot of good results.”
And, she says, the disappointment in London will be fuel for her fire.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she said. “I feel like I’m even more motivated going to Rio because I feel like I have to redeem myself now.”