Olympic Odyssey: Paco Poised
Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes eyes
With a great finish at the world championships in Vancouver, Francisco Paco Serrano is Mexicos one man Olympic mens contender.
Francisco Serrano is hot property in Mexico. Having qualified for Beijing with a 25th place at the BG World Championships in Vancouver, his quiet triathlon life as an Olympic aspirant has been turned upside down.
Serrano, 28, is riding high on the news of his Olympic selection but it has come with an unexpected downside to his training program. This relatively low profile athlete has become the centre of attention as his countrys media flesh out Olympic stories with the Games looming large.
Its been really crazy, Serrano said of this new media focus. Much more crazy than I expected. Earning that spot and going to the Olympic Games has made it hard to get back into my training because there have been so many interviews to do. Then there are the invitations to events and everything like that. So it has been tough to find time to train.
Having got over the initial frenzy, Serrano is settling back into his training, only buying into the hype in small part. This is because he knows that his main job, as an Olympian, has not been achieved yet.
I think it is part of the whole Olympic deal, he said. But the only thing I want is to be in Beijing is the best shape I can be because everyone is going to be ready for that race. And I want to have a good result. Its not one of those races that you want to go to and just finish.
If Serranos 2008 form is anything to go by he might just be in for the race of his life. In the space of six months he has racked up some of the best results of his career. And they came perfectly timed for his run at Mexican team selection.
He placed fifth, fourth and fourth in Pan American Cups at Vina del Mar, La Paz and Valle de Bravo respectively. Then he won the Nevis Continental Cup, his first international points race win since 2006 in Ixtapa, Mexico.
I have been racing consistently since early January, Serrano said. I think the key is that I havent had any injuries in about a year. Thats the main reason why I have been racing better. One of the things I have done differently was skipping a bike ride I was doing and added a run session in its place. The extra mileage has helped me improve my running.
He then placed second to 2004 Mexican Olympian Eligio Cervantes at the Lima Pan American Cup and sprinted head to head with U.S. Olympic team member Jarrod Shoemaker at the Mazatlan Pan American Championships, finishing third to the Americans second.
Shoemaker and I were running together, Serrano said of his battle with the American. He dropped back in the first 7.5 kilometers but then he came back in the last lap and he beat me in the sprint. Around that time I was running pretty good, pretty consistent.
Serrano had proved he was a contender for his countrys Olympic Games team, all he had to do was seal the deal at the world championships in Vancouver. And the basis for the success of his race hinged on his improved swim leg.
Worlds was a great race for me, he said. I have been training my swim really hard for about eight months. And most of that has been training with an open water swim squad. One of the girls actually qualified for the Olympic open water swimming event. So, training with her really helped me a lot.
Once you are up near the front of the pack and swimming without so much effort, I think your whole race changes. That meant I felt really good on the bike. I had no trouble keeping up. Then all I had to do was pull off a decent run to grab the spot.
Serranos fresh legs meant he was able to keep pace in the early stages of the run with Australian Simon Thompson, who finished 12th, and beat home Olympians: Olivier Marceau (Switzerland), Marko Albert (Estonia), Bruno Pais (Portugal), and Shoemaker, to qualify for Beijing as the first Mexican in the top-30 athletes.
This was my second world champs, Serrano said of his 25th place finish. My first was in Lausanne two years ago. I did not have a great swim there, so I finished 50th with an okay run. But this year was much better. It was a really good experience finishing a world championship in a good place.
This good placing, his increased experience and a reconditioned swim have Francisco Serrano in a great place for his first tilt at an Olympic Games. Thats if this Mexican-on-the-rise can get out of the media spotlight for a second in order to add the finishing touches to his Beijing campaign training program.
Former World Number one Chris Hill brings his unique elite athlete perspective in weekly Olympic columns to ITUs website, triathlon.org. He competed on the ITU World Cup circuit, winning three titles and ten medals in total. He was crowned the overall World Cup series champion in 2001. That same year he was silver medalist at the ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Watch for Chris Hills column, Olympic Odyssey every week on triathlon.org.