Today was the men's semi-final competition here in London. In the pentathlon, only 36 people compete in the finals events. At "open" competitions, World Cups, World Championships, and Continental Championships, we have to compete through semi-finals to make it to the finals. At the Olympics and the World Cup Final, only 36 are invited. (If you want to read more about semi-final formats, check out my blog from last year's World Championships). So today we had to cut from a field of 96 athletes down to 36 for Saturday's final.
There were three semi-final groups of 32 athletes. I was disappointed to learn that my group was the earliest, starting at 7:30 this morning. Not that I normally mind getting up early, but 7:30am here is 12:30am at home... and I am pretty much never up that late. So physiologically, it sort of felt like we were competing through the middle of the night. But since most pentathlons are held in Europe, and I have "hopped across the pond" around 40 times now, I'm actually used to that feeling. It still never feels quite right.
The first discipline for my group was fencing. And the word of the day for my fencing would have to be bipolar. I had a great start and was actually leading after 7 bouts with 6 victories and just one defeat. Then I lost 6 in a row and dropped to around 18th place by the 13th bout. Then it all clicked again; and on the last 18 bouts, I won 13 and only lost 5. For any pentathlon junkies out there, that equated to just over 900 points and put me around 6th at the end of fencing.
Then came the 200 meter swim. I had no idea how I would perform in the event. After getting pretty well clobbered this World Cup season in the new combined run/shoot, I decided to back way off of swimming and see if I could get a hang of the new format by Worlds. So I have only been swimming three times per week to total six miles per week since May. To put that in perspective, during the same period last summer, there were many days I would swim six miles. So chalk up lack of training to the prospects of a bad swim.
But there was a compounding factor that made me think I might have some speed in my swim. TYR sent us some of their new swim suits (you know the ones that have been making headlines and that swimming will not allow next year) before we left. They are every bit as fast, and fun, as I have heard from the swimmers who have tried them. At the Olympics, I swam in the LZR and it felt fast. These blow the LZR out of the water, so to speak, and thus have created the controversy. In a nutshell, they are buoyant; and buoyancy helps you swim faster. So I knew I was wearing technology that would make me pretty fast. In the end, I swam a 2:04, about what I expected to swim and fast enough to put me in 5th after two events.
Next up was the combined run/shoot. I wouldn't say I was anxious or scared of it, but I wondered how my training would stand up. The last seven weeks have felt a bit like cramming for a final in college. It seems like you are getting a lot done, but you don't know until you open the test how you will do. I have been shooting okay in practice, but I also knew that the competition and everything that goes with it can cause a performance breakdown.
There were about 35 seconds between me and the all important 13th place (top 12 from each group make the final) which is not a lot of buffer. My first shoot was pretty shaky and dropped me down to 12th. I made up ground in running the first 1,000m and knew that I would still final with two decent shoots. The second shoot did not improve much, and I dropped back to around 20th. Making up places again in the run, I headed into the final shoot. That was better, but not enough to put me in competition for the final.
My last 1000m was probably the perfect end to the season. Shortly after leaving the shooting, I easily cruised passed Andree Mosiev, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist. He started the combined in 8th place today and would eventually finish around 24th. Shortly before the Olympics at last year's World Championships, Andree and I were also in the same semi-final. We both had to run hard and finished 11th and 12th in our group. Later that summer, he went on to win the Olympics, and I had my lifetime best competition with a medal at the World Cup Final. (I would have much preferred his season to mine in case you were wondering.)
So as I finished up my last event of this season back in 20th place in my semi-final (at an event where I finished 12th in the final last year), it didn't really bother me too much. For me, this year was about exploring the new format of the sport and exploring my interest in continuing on through the 2012 Olympics. If you had asked me 3 months ago, I would have told you I am retiring at the end of this season. If you ask me today... dream on, I'm not telling anyone yet!
(This will not be the last blog from London. Tomorrow, I'll fill you in on the other US men's athlete's results and on Margaux's quest to make it to the women's final. I'll also recap what I think about the new format and my potential to pick up the combined run/shoot.)