By ITU Admin on 07/05/08 at 12:00 am
Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes eyes
They race for different countries but husband and wife team Greg and Laura Bennett have one goal: to bring back two golds for their Australian and the U.S. mantelpieces.
Australian Greg Bennet is a chivalrous kind of guy. Only after his wife Laura had made her first U.S. Olympic Games team at the Beijing BG World Cup last year did he contemplate trying to make his own countrys team.
Laura, 33, missed the Sydney and Athens team by a whisker but this did not send her off in a huff. She just filled in her spare time between Games chances by bending forward on the dais year after year to receive medal after medal at the World Championships.
And with one silver and three bronze medals slung around her neck from 2003-2007, her lower back must be showing some signs of strain. The fact it is not, is a testament to the physical athlete she has become and shows composure doesnt have to be built through Olympic experience alone.
These attributes combined and fulminated last year on the Beijing Olympic course. Laura made the United States first round selection offering a one shot deal, shooting years spent on the sideline into the trashcan of regret like an NBA star.
With the aid of an ingenious coping mechanism, Laura was on the Olympic team at last.
I was actually saying to Greg before the race in Beijing, When I think about racing the other U.S. girls I get nervous because its personal but when I think of racing the rest of the world its just like a World Cup, she said. I think that was the difference in Beijing, I raced it like it was just another race.
In doing this, Laura reduced the pressure of expectation that missing two Games teams can bring. She was the favorite to qualify first for the U.S. Beijing team and she didnt disappoint. Her third place was eight places in front of the next American athlete Sarah Haskins.
Another thing that did not hamper her selection preparation was the big mid-year win she had in Des Moines in June. Laura hung tough in the buffeting bike winds and on the sweltering run to outlast all other women.
The reason Des Moines was such a major achievement was because $200,000 and a Hummer were on the line for the winner. In triathlon terms, these are big bucks, which, when fed into the sporting psyche, converts into big pressure. Laura counted this pressure using another mental trickshe surprised herself with the win.
Des Moines was unexpected, Laura said of the victory. We trained for it and it was one of my peak races but I didnt expect to get that big win. I think it was coming off years of no injury that made the difference. Last year I started to find rhythm, finally.
This new rhythm will surely help when the starting horn sounds in August. Laura, however, is under no illusion about the level of competition she is up against. Apart from her pitch perfect performance in Des Moines, Laura has constantly played second fiddle to Australian Emma Snowsill and Portugals Vanessa Fernandes.
Looking at those two girls I think the Games are theirs to lose, she said, assessing her Olympic reality bluntly. But my goal is to be in the game with them. If they make one slight move that is not on, I can take the day. Id like to be closer but I cant do any more than I am doing to catch them.
And husband, coach, and fellow athlete Greg, 36, will be helping close the gap while managing his own Beijing build-up.
Having gallantly opened the car door of Olympic selection for his wife first, it was Gregs turn to hitch his own ride to China. After placing fourth for Australia in Athens, he almost seemed blas about his selection event, matching his own trial training with Lauras steady Beijing preparation.
Greg categorised his 2008 Mooloolaba selection race lead up as patience phase training. This meant he wouldnt be ripping out too many 400m track reps in anger before the race, preferring to go long, strong and ice cool instead.
Fortunately Mooloolaba was not a speed course with all its hills, its more of a strength course, Greg said about his unconventional training tactic. Every year in our off-season we have the patience phase in which we do all the boring training. You get none of the fun training, like the time trailing or what Laura and I call the glory sessions.
The ones where you get to visualise and pretend you are in a race and go really hard. Youve got to be patient. We did a couple of weeks hard before Mooloolaba to make sure we were ready for the intensity. I think we faked our way through Mooloolaba a little bit.
For faking Greg should win the Oscar. A poor transition left him playing catch up on the testing four-lap Mooloolaba run course. But in true style (he did the same thing in his Athens trial race) Greg used his considerable racing experience to run over the top of younger challenger Brendan Sexton.
I knew everybody would tire a little bit, Greg said of his thinking before the race, and I was strong from the work we had been doing. I thought Brendan would come back a little more. And when he didnt, I thought, Maybe he isnt coming back. In the end I dont know if he came back or I found another gear. I just knew going into the final lap, Id better put myself up into the race.
He did just that by waiting stoically for the infamously tough Mooloolaba last lap to weary his younger competitor. The patience phase training had paid off; his fifth place finish was three places in front of the swift Sexton.
Its pretty cool, Greg said of his subsequent selection, joining his wife as a competitor in Beijing. Because Id been there before and because Laura has come so close the last two times around and hadnt got in, we just said, Right, we cant finish this sport and have Laura not become an Olympian. Especially with all her medals at World Champs and everything else she has done.
Then Greg continued about his own dint at Olympic inclusion, almost an afterthought, So we focused on Laura making the games and in the end we both made it.
Greg Bennett, always the gentleman, nobly coached his wife onto her first Olympic team. Laura Bennett returned the favour by qualifying quickly so her husband could concentrate on making his second Olympic team. With an ever patient attitude, everything is panning out as team Bennett prepares for an August Olympics.
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.