Gwen Jorgensen was the first US triathlete to qualify for London 2012 Olympics, finishing 2nd in the World Championship Series race in London in July 2011.
This in itself is a great achievement, but what makes it even more impressive is the fact that 2011 was only her 2nd year of racing triathlon.
An accomplished swimmer and runner at school, she then went on to achieve many honors in both swimming and running whilst studying accounting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Upon graduating she was working at Ernst and Young when USA Triathlon’s College Recruitment program contacted her and asked her if she would give triathlon a go. She did, and her first competitive triathlon was in March 2010. 16 months later she qualified for the Olympics, aged 25.
You can follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/gwenjorgensen
What did you think after you completed your first competitive triathlon? Did you enjoy it and did you think you could improve?
My first competitive triathlon was the Elite Development Race in Clermont, FL in March of 2010. Although I’ve swam since I was a baby, the swim was different than I’d ever experienced before.
It was rough – I was pushed, pulled, and swam over. I ended up wasting energy worrying during the swim, instead of focusing on the race. I struggled on the bike, and after I finished my coach and I knew I had a lot of work to do on the bike.
It was an eye-opening experience that forced me to take my triathlon training more seriously.
You are a very talented swimmer and runner, but it wouldn’t have been a case of just hopping on a bike and becoming a triathlete - you must have had to put in a lot of work. What have you learned about triathlon that has had the biggest impact on your performance?
I am fortunate to be surrounded by amazing athletes. My coach, USAT, fellow USA athletes and others help teach me about biking. USAT held a camp where they brought in a USA cycling coach. We worked on drills and skills that helped improve my cycling.
My coach, Cindi Bannink, along with a former National Champion Cyclist (Tom Schuller) gave me weekly lessons on the bike. Without the help of others, I would not have had such meteoric progress on the bike.
What do you most want to improve between now and the Olympics?
It is important for me to focus on my weaknesses, while maintaining my strengths. I am focusing on the little things this season (transitions, etc.) along with my cycling. I will be riding the best bikes this year: Specialized. I will be cross-training to improve my skills on my new Fate Specialized Mountain Bike. I will be training and racing on my Amira Specialized Road Bike.
How did you approach the change to open water swimming? What was the biggest hurdle and how did you over come it?
ITU swimming can get physical because of the amount of people swimming and going around buoys. I think it is important to remain calm throughout the race.
What advice would you give to someone contemplating triathlon who has never done one of the disciplines before?
It is important to get a coach to guide you in areas of triathlon you are not familiar with. I would be unable to compete at the level I do without the help of my coach, Cindi Bannink, family, friends, USAT, and other supportive athletes.
I think it is also important to immerse yourself in the discipline you are unfamiliar with (Example: if you are a weak swimmer, swim with a swim team and compete in a swim meet; if you are new to cycling, do some local crits, etc.)
Has making the change to becoming a triathlete been harder mentally or physically?
Becoming a triathlete has been extremely fun because I am surrounded by supportive family, friends, sponsors, coaches, and teammates.
Last year you were pretty much an unknown, with no expectations on you. Now things will be a bit different! Barb Lindquist (USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Coordinator and former Olympian) has been quoted as saying “I raced professionally for 10 years, was ranked number one in the world for two years and made the Olympic triathlon team in 2004. Gwen has more potential on paper than I did.”
Do you feel there is now pressure/expectation on you to do well, and how do you handle that?
My family, friends, sponsors, teammates, agent, and coaches are extremely supportive of me and I am truly blessed in this area.
You were thrust into the spotlight with your Olympic qualification, and the media interest in you must be huge, what has that been like?
It has been overwhelming, but an amazing experience that I’m truly blessed to undergo. I am fortunate to have a great support system!
What do your family and friends think of your move to triathlon and your success?
My family and friends have been behind me in everything I do. I feel like I am the luckiest person to have this support.
You’re a qualified accountant and have been maintaining a part-time role at Ernst and Young. Being an accountant and being a triathlete are so very different!Now that you’re a full-time athlete, do you think that you could go back to being an accountant?
I love my job with Ernst & Young, LLP and am currently on a Temporary Leave of Absence, with a plan to return.
Regardless of what happens in the Olympics, would you like a long-term career in triathlon?
As long as I am blessed enough to be able to compete and am still enjoying sport, I would love to continue my triathlon career. I love triathlon and believe it will be a part of my life in the future.
5th February 2012