In 2012, a fairly new name to the elite ITU triathlon world lined up in London to compete in her very first Olympic Games. Competing for the United States of America, this woman unfortunately suffered a flat tire during the bike leg and finished 38th, a place that would be an unheard of position given her incredible past two years.
That woman is Gwen Jorgensen, the back-to-back World Champion in 2014 and 2015 that executed a 12-race winning streak.
For the past two years, Jorgensen has dominated women’s elite triathlon earning her world-wide recognition & the term “Gwensanity” that could only be used to describe her phenomenal reign.
Despite all of her accomplishments and achievements obtained over the last couple of years, her finish at the London Olympics has always been a defeat in the back of Jorgensen’s mind. The finish caused her to initiate a series of changes and training adjustments that have all been working towards exacting revenge on the Olympic course.
Born in Wisconsin, Jorgensen was an all-around athlete that attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While she first competed on the swimming team at Wisconsin, halfway through her collegiate career she decided that she wanted to switch sports to concentrate on running. In her last remaining years of college eligibility, she became a member of the track and cross country teams where she earned All-American honours. Despite a high level of collegiate success, when she graduated in 2008 she thought her days of elite competition were behind her as she took an accounting job at Ernst & Young in Milwaukee.
However, not long after graduating, USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Recruitment Program tracked Jorgensen down and encouraged her to compete in a sport that would combine her passions and athletic gifts in one sport.
“When USAT recruited me into the sport of triathlon I didn’t want to be a pro because I didn’t think I was good enough. I refused to quit my job at Ernst & Young LLP because I wanted to support myself financially without the help of others. I now do triathlon full time thanks to the support of many people and I absolutely love it.”
Jorgensen competed in her first official ITU competition in 2010 and began climbing in the rankings by racing in various World Cups. In 2011, in just her second year in the sport, she scored her first WTS podium in what was only her third WTS race - it also happened to be on what would become the Olympic course. The following year, Jorgensen qualified to represent the USA in the Olympic Games.
“London was a disappointing race for me. I had a flat tire and ended up finishing 38th. However, the London Olympics were a turning point in my career. It is when Patrick (my husband) and I decided to search for an international training squad. We found Jamie Turner, who I believe is the best triathlon coach in the world.”
London became the turning point in her career. She and her now-husband relocated to Australia, where they spend a large amount of the year training in an elite international group known as the Wollongong Wizards. With the Wizards, she trains alongside other top-tier elites such as Aaron Royle (AUS), Ryan Bailie (AUS), Barbara Riveros (CHI) and Charlotte McShane (AUS). There, Jorgensen found her niche and within a short amount of time, the results started to present themselves.
“My first race with Jamie was in Auckland where I actually DNF’d. I remember asking him what we needed to change. His response was that we needed to change nothing and needed to just continue to trust the process and path we were on. Boy am I glad I listened to him. Jamie is a phenomenal coach. He teaches and allows his athletes to grow, instead of just dictating. As one of Jamie’s athletes, we aren’t dependent on him. Instead he creates an environment where we can all thrive. He creates a group environment that is one of a kind. The athletes I train with are my competitors, but we all help each other and know that we have to contribute to the group in order to receive.”
In 2014 at World Triathlon Yokohama, Jorgensen pushed her way through a massive bike peloton to blast away on the 10-kilometre run to win the race with a lead of over 35 seconds. Nobody knew it at the time, but Yokohama would be the start of a 12-race win streak.
“What I love about sport is that you never know what the result will be. It’s what I believe attracts so many people to sporting events. Everyone is cheering for someone, but you never know who will win. When I line up on race day I know I have the tools to be successful, however, I also know that all my competitors have the tools and will to win as well. Every race is different and we watch sport because we can’t predict the outcome.”
Ultimately the streak came to a close in the Gold Coast this year when Jorgensen finished second to Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins. While that chapter ended, for Jorgensen that means she now gets to focus on a new topic - the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“The Olympics are unique. As an athlete, you only get one opportunity every four years. It’s an event that is anything but mediocre. The Olympics bring out the best in everyone. They bring the world together and allow athletes to perform at the highest level. Years of investments go into one race and the world comes together to watch and see how the races pan out. As an athlete representing the USA, I am proud and honored to wear Red, White, and Blue. I feel fortunate to be a part of such an amazing country.”
So London is now history. The winning streak is now history. But the Rio Olympics is not, it is the future. And for Jorgensen, all of the training, all of the transitions and all of the hard work over the last four years have come down to a single race on August 20th. Make no mistake about it, she will be racing for gold in Rio.