Summer Rappaport at the swim exit during the women's elite olympic race at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final on Aug. 31, 2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland
Considering that she will compete in Tokyo as a member of the U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team, it’s amusing to hear that Summer Cook Rappaport knew essentially nothing about bikes when she graduated from Villanova University in 2013.
“When I began triathlon, I had no experience with biking,” Rappaport recalled. “I actually didn't even know that there were different kinds of bikes for different disciplines of training/racing until I joined the (USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program).”
Rappaport had come out of Villanova as an accomplished swimmer and cross-country/track and field runner, so she had two of the three disciplines under control. The bike was another matter.
“Since draft-legal triathlon requires a high degree of both fitness and skill,” said Rappaport, “there was a very steep learning curve that has taken years of playing catch up.”
Rappaport had been a swimmer who wound up walking onto the Villanova cross-country/track and field team.
“I first began thinking of a future in triathlon around my sophomore year at Villanova,” Rappaport said. “At the end of my freshman year, I entered a 10-mile road race for fun and surprised myself with the time I ran. My swim coach recognized my running talent and put me in touch with the cross country/track and field coach to walk onto the team.”
He also put Rappaport in touch with USA Triathlon, and she was invited into its Collegiate Recruitment Program when she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“I entered my first triathlon in the summer of 2013,” said Rappaport, “and earned my professional license in early 2014 and began competing on the international circuit later that year.”
By 2015 she was posting podium finishes, including a gold-medal performance at the Catania ETU Triathlon European Cup. Since then, Rappaport’s career has taken off. In addition to making this year’s Olympic team, her career highlights include ranking fifth in the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series, winning four career medals in that series, earning 13 medals in the ITU Triathlon World Cup, collecting two bronze medals in the ITU World Mixed Relay Series, taking three medals in the CAMTRI/PATCO American Cup, and bringing home two gold medals from the ETU Triathlon European Cup.
Rappaport was the ITU 2016 Women’s Breakout Star of the Year and ITU Best of 2017 Rising Star.
Not bad for a woman who once had no relationship with the bike. Yet she’s still learning more about that discipline.
“At this point in my career, I would like to improve my biking the most,” said the 29-year-old Rappaport. “Over the past Olympic quad, the top-level bike courses have become more technically demanding, and the level of cycling in the races has risen.”
As one could imagine, Rappaport’s training schedule is full as the Tokyo Games fast approach.
“My current training regimen is about 25 to 30 hours of training per week,” said Rappaport said, “not including calls with sports psychologists and nutritionists, as well as time spent on physiotherapy.
“In college, I trained about 20 hours per week between swimming and running, but between my course schedule and a demanding competition schedule, I wasn't able to prioritize recovery properly. My current regimen includes much more sleep — nine to 10 hours per night — and time spent preparing nutritious meals.”
Though she had already earned her spot on the U.S. Olympic Team, Rappaport turned in a superb performance May 15 at the World Triathlon Championship Series in Yokohama, Japan. Rappaport took second to Taylor Knibb, who earned a place on the U.S. team by winning the gold medal. Rappaport is currently ranked fourth in the world.
“Japan is one of my favorite places to race, and I love coming back to Yokohama to race year after year,” Rappaport said. “I was so happy we were able to hold the races here under safe conditions, and I’m so happy I was able to come back here and be part of a 1-2 American finish.”
The only race remaining for Rappaport before Tokyo is the 2021 World Triathlon Cup Lisbon on May 23.
“For 2021, my goals are entirely focused on racing for a medal at the Olympics in July,” said Rappaport, “before taking a longer reset to prepare for the next Olympic cycle.”