In triathlon headlines, American Gwen Jorgensen has been the marquee name, with a record-setting four consecutive World Triathlon Series wins this year and seven overall.
But Sarah Groff has also had a banner year, finishing on the podium right behind Jorgensen in the London WTS race in May — just under two years after she finished fourth at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“It took a couple of years and persistence, but I finally earned a podium in London,” Groff tweeted after the race. “And yes, it moved me to tears.”
Prior to the London WTS, Groff had a strong start to the season, finishing in the top five at the first two WTS races. She also got engaged.
Having recovered from a minor foot injury that interrupted her season in June, the 32-year-old triathlete is now aiming for a podium in the final two WTS races, the first in Stockholm this Saturday.
|Ben True walks near the finish line of the 2014 B.A.A. 5K after finishing in second place on April 19, 2014 in Boston.|
But Groff is doing more in Sweden’s capital than swimming, biking and running. On Thursday, she will cheer on fiancé Ben True in the DN Galan, an IAAF Diamond League track meet. One of the United States’ top distance runners, True is aiming to break 13 minutes in the 5,000, then go after Bernard Lagat’s American record at that distance (12:53.60).
After Stockholm, Groff will fly across the Atlantic to Edmonton, Alberta, to compete in the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final. True will stay in Europe to race the Weltklasse Zurich meet in Switzerland on Aug. 28.
“Doing two hard 5k’s in a week is very tough,” he said. “But I decided to go for it because it gives me an opportunity to see Sarah for the first time in a month and to be able to watch her race.”
Both athletes will be back home in Hanover, New Hampshire, this fall. They finally have an event in October in which both will participate: their wedding. Then they will embark on their own newlywed game: preparing for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in their respective sports.
It’s not an easy life to balance, especially because they participate in different sports that often find them in separate countries and often on separate continents.
The two met in Hanover in the fall of 2010. True, 28, a Maine native and Dartmouth College graduate, had moved back East after training for a year with the Oregon Track Club. Groff had moved to Hanover, where she was born and where her brother and his family live, after she graduated from Middlebury College in 2004.
Shortly after he moved to Hanover, True broke his toe and couldn’t run, so he was riding his bike instead. Mutual friends suggested that True ride with Groff.
Asked if they are compatible on the bike, True said yes, then confessed that competitiveness often led him to push the pace.
“I think a lot of times Sarah would have wished that I went a little easier on the bike,” he said with a laugh.
But Groff never gave in, and True has always been impressed by her toughness, calling it her greatest strength.
“She’s not afraid to go into the proverbial pain cave and bang her head against the back of the pain locker,” he said. “She’s not afraid to push herself to limits where a lot of other athletes refuse to go.”
Tough or not, Groff still needed to find a better balance to her life after the 2012 Olympic Games. She changed coaches to Joel Filliol and began working out with new training partners.
“I took a lower key approach to the season than I had the past years, a little less travel, doing a few different kinds of races, trying to get the fun back and not put too much pressure on myself,” she said. “We knew I had to be really careful about how I approached last year to make sure that I can have a good build up toward Rio.”
She ended up having a solid year, finishing ninth overall.
Groff started the 2014 season with an engagement ring. In January, True proposed while the two were sledding one evening. When it came to wedding plans, Groff said that True had only three requests: they get married in a barn, have a pig roast, and that he wouldn’t have to wear a tuxedo.
“We’re making all those things happen,” said Groff.
Wedding planning didn’t interfere with training though, and Groff started the 2014 season with a fifth and fourth place at the first two WTS races.
Back home, True raced in the BAA 5k, held two days before the Boston Marathon. He finished second in a photo finish with Ethiopia's Dejen Gebremeskel, Olympic silver medalist in the 5,000 at the London Games.
“Watch out world. The Americans are coming,” tweeted LetsRun.com. “@bentrue edged out by 1246 man at finish.” (Gebremeskel’s personal best in the 5000 is 12:46.81.)
In early May, True set his own personal best at the Payton Jordan Invitational, running the 5,000 in 13:02. At the time, it was the fastest 5,000 of 2014. And he believes he could have broken 13 minutes that day. A slow pace in the last quarter of the race took that mark away.
Then True skipped the 2014 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in late June. He wasn’t injured or over-trained. He wanted to watch Groff compete in the Chicago WTS race.
Asked if it was a difficult decision, he said no. The U.S. championships were not serving as a qualifier for any international races this year. Most importantly, he wanted to support Groff.
“Anytime I get a chance to watch her race, I’m always jumping at the opportunity,” he said.
Unfortunately, Groff had to pull out of the Chicago WTS because of minor tendon damage in her foot — her first injury in triathlon. But it was too late for True to enter nationals.
This week in Stockholm, the two athletes will have the rare opportunity of supporting each other, with Groff at the Olympic Stadium Thursday to cheer on True, then True at the Royal Palace as Groff’s cheering squad on Saturday.
With Jorgensen, a dominant runner, leading the WTS standings, Groff faces stiff competition. Although Groff doesn’t ask True for running advice (she prefers to have a separation between training and home life), he says that his fiancée is definitely a stronger runner than she was two years ago, mainly because she is more confident.
“The Olympics was a big eye-opener,” he said. “She realized that she can run with those other top women. That mindset really helps to be able to find those extra legs to carry you.”
After their wedding, Groff will begin preparing for 2015 and what she hopes will be the Olympic qualifying races (the qualification schedule has yet to be released). True is also aiming for Rio.
As for becoming one of few married couples in the Olympic village in Rio, True said, in his understated way: “That would be cool.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.