Olympic Odyssey: Will Travel

Olympic Odyssey: Will Travel

By ITU Admin on 17/06/08 at 12:00 am

Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes eyes

Matt Reed joins his brother Shane to be the first sibling combination to compete at the same Olympics in triathlon.

Matt Reed has jumped some hoops lately. Upon finding out that his win at the U.S. Olympic trials in Tuscaloosa, Alabama did not automatically place him in the team as he had assumed, he set about travelling the world to gather the precious ITU points he needed to secure his berth.

As Matt flew to the Richards Bay BG Triathlon World Cup in South Africa, his wife Kelly, at home with the two kids in Boulder, Colorado, worked the calculator 24/7 with the efficiency of a NASA technician punching in the coordinates for the shuttles re-entry to the Earths atmosphere.

Kelly calculated Matt needed top-15 results in Richards Bay, Madrid and the world championships in Vancouver to single-handedly keep the U.S. ahead of the Russians, Canadians, and Aussiesthus retaining his Olympic spot.

Matt exceeded this top-15 marker in South Africa by placing himself in a three-way sprint for the win with 2007 world champion Daniel Unger and past Richards Bay winner Hendrik De Villiers. He placed second behind Unger.

Matt flew back home, then onto Madrid three weeks later. He raced solidly on a day which could have rattled the nerves of the most experienced athleteeven thunder, lightning and a bike ride that must have felt like a swim couldnt deny him another top-15. He placed tenth.

These results brought him to the world championships in Vancouver, the final race to secure each countrys Olympic qualification. Continuing his quality form, Matt out-sprinted Canadian Simon Whitfield and Russian Igor Sysoev to take fifth place and truly make the second U.S. Olympic position his own.

Matt had finally secured his Olympic start.

When I crossed the line at the U.S. trials in Tuscaloosa, I thought, Thats it, I am going to the Olympics. I have got my spot, Matt said about the race he assumed sealed his Beijing selection. Then Scott called me on Tuesday and said if the USA lose their third country spot then the spot I just won gets awarded at Des Moines.

My spot was secure as long as the USA kept in the top eight countries, holding three spots, so thats why I went to race in Madrid. My race in Richards Bay counted also, thats why I went down there. The Russians were trying to overtake us at the time and Australia and Switzerland were pretty close. The other guys didnt race these two races so it was up to me to get the points.

As far as the points went it was mission accomplished. Matt had raced so well at the end of the qualification period that his results thrust the U.S. into fifth place on the Olympic country rankings, well inside the top eight. Matt was going to Beijing with his older brother Shanewho races for their country of birth, New Zealand.

Matt, 32, and Shane, 35, have competed in the sport of triathlon forever. Well, it seems like that because they have been racing world cups for that long.  Their combined careers would easily top 30 years of racing experience.

The fact they have been in the sport of triathlon for so long and this is only their first Olympic Games is startling. One would have assumed that their ability and dedication to the sport would have taken them at the Games before, but no.

Triathlon is a tough sport and when Olympic selection time arrives, this tough sport becomes ruthless as well. One error in selection race preparation or mis-step in selection race competition can leave Olympic dreams crushed into the pavement of Maybe Next Time Boulevard.

There was always going to be a next time for the Reed brothers selection narrative because they were never going to stop trying. With this mentality it is fortunate they have athletic longevity in their genes.

Their father, Robin, is a triathlete and renowned runner. His graceful running gate has been passed down to his two grateful sons. And his enduring love of endurance sports has provided them the staying power to pursue their unfulfilled Olympic dreams.

That was awesome, Matt said about Shane making his Olympic team first. It was good for me because he got on the team two weeks before I raced at the U.S. trials and I was thinking a lot about it when I was racing. He was going to retire if he did not make the team. So it was really cool. And he deserves it, he has been doing it for so long.

Matt also deserves his Olympic berth. Not so much for the heroics he displayed trying to secure his spot over the last few months, but for the years hes spent just trying to make the Olympic start line.

Born in New Zealand, Matt applied to race for the U.S. when he married U.S. resident Kelly. To do this he had to sit out the 2003 season, missing the chance to represent his new country in Athens. This setback did not dissuade him, arriving in career-best form four years later. 

Ive just been healthy, Matt said in explanation of his great 2008 form. I had a sickness in 2006 which set me back. Even last year I think I wasnt quite right either. This year Ive felt really good. Im mainly focusing on my run more than anything else.

I realized I had to improve it because I looked at most of my runs from last year and I came to the conclusion that I was a good 70 seconds behind Gomez and those guys that are running the best. That is where I needed to make most of my improvements.

Judging from his Vancouver world championships run split, where he was 40 seconds behind Gomez, the gap is still wide but closing in his favour.  Matts obvious running talent has finally caught up to his height.

Towering at 6 feet 5 inches, pumping blood from head to toe must be a logistical nightmare for Matts heart when he runs ten kilometersthe equivalent of freighting salsa from Toronto to Mexico and back in a few seconds.

Now in an Olympic year, his body seems to have cracked the code right on schedule, pumping blood to its extremities with the efficiency of a 20-lane interstate highway network and delivering him into the U.S. team with wings.

With his brother beside him in the Olympic field, a couple more months training under his belt and the confidence of an impressive, if longwinded, selection campaign behind him, Matt Reed looks forward to one more trip abroadthis time to Beijing.

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.

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