Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes eyes
Selected for his third Olympics, Olivier Marceau is ready to do it all over once more.
Olivier Marceau is an Olympian again. This puts him in the rare club of athletes who will have raced all three Olympic Games triathlons. And there seemed to be no rust in his race to get there this time around. His was a straightforward selection campaign.
Marceau, 35, made short work of the Swiss selection criteria. He had to place top-12 in a World Cup this year before the qualification period ended in Vancouver to get a spot on the strong three man team with Sven Riederer (Athens bronze medalist) and Reto Hug (2008 world championships bronze medalist).
With an 18th place to blow out the athletic cobwebs at the Mooloolaba BG Triathlon World Cup at the start of the year, Marceau turned around an 11th at New Plymouth the next weekend to secure his third Olympic start in April. All the Swiss officials had to do was to make it official at the end of June.
It is hard to be fit all the time, Marceau said of preparing for Olympic selection at this point in his career. I have to peak for the races I want. I cant start in January and end in November and be 100 per cent the whole time. When you are older it is hard to stay angry like the younger guys, always training: fast, fast, fast.
Marceau used to be one of these angry, young guys. His Olympic debut in Sydney 2000, where he placed seventh, was speedy but a long time ago now. If you consider Marceau had already been 11 years in the sport at Sydney his achievement to get to Beijing seems all the more noteworthy.
I started in 1989, Marceau said of his long career. I have been racing for 20 years now. I still enjoy the way of life.
It is a way of life that has seen Marceau cruise leisurely along only to whip out a world championship win here (he won in Perth, 2000), an Olympic team there (he placed 8th in Athens to go with his Sydney 7th). Racing almost seems nonchalant for the Frenchman turned Swiss. His best races, like his 1996 world cup win in Paris, coming when he wanted to roll over and sleep in.
Over his 20-year career Marceau has managed to make it look effortless by spreading his triathlon motivation like jam across a warm croissantenough interest to attain longevity and enough enthusiasm to get results. And his inspiration coming from the sports pioneers.
I was too young to race in Avignon but I watched it on TV, Marceau said about starting triathlon in the same year as the first ITU World Championships. It is where I kind of discovered triathlon. I was just starting and watching this race on television inspired me. That was my first year, 1989.
In the meantime, two decades of fun times have felt like they have flown by for Marceau. It is a long time ago but that time has gone fast, he said. It feels like only five years ago.
Another thing that keeps him grounded is his family. With a wife and son, Marceau has found a balance that adds to his career more than it takes away. I have a family life, he said, so I have to manage everything really well. It is good though. I do not have to train too hard all year. When I have a goal I train for two or three months at the maximum for it. So, I can get some breaks throughout the year for my family.
This means Marceau needs to make the races he does count. And the biggest weapon in his race is the giant bike leg he packs. To stand out as a bike rider in the sport of triathlon is a hard thing to do. Pack riding makes a bike group look like a homogeneous clump of bees.
To stand out as an individual on the cycle leg an athlete needs either panache or power. New Zealands Kris Gemmell has panache in the same way Marceau uses brute power to pull back bike groups or breakaway from them.
For Marceau to excel in this highly competitive age of triathlon running he needs bike breakaways to secure enough time to hold off the best runners. But while the running is getting quicker, the biking is speeding up too. On top of this, Marceau is a marked man.
It is getting harder and harder to breakaway, he said of the current cycling leg climate he operates in. I did a breakaway with Robbo [Peter Robertson] at the 2003 world championships in Queenstown [he won a bronze medal] but now it is almost impossible. As soon as I move, everyone moves as well. And the pace is always very high. So, if you try to breakaway you gain 10 or 20 seconds not two minutes like you used to.
Marceaus run has always been solid but not brilliant. But if he breaks away on the bike like he did at the European championships in Lisbon earlier this year, it is strong enough from him to clinch a podium result. He took third place.
In this way, the Beijing course works in Marceaus favour. The hill on the bike could be enough for him to jump from the pack. And the run, up the same hill, could be enough for him to hang tough for another high Olympic placing.
You never know in Beijing, he said. The bike course is a bit challenging. It is not like Athens but what could make the difference is that there are only 50 guys on the start line which means there are smaller bike bunches than with 80 guys. That works in my favour. The run is hard too. So it will be an interesting race.
It will be all the more interesting with a man of Marceaus ability to break down a race to its most essential players. While he will be no doubt marauding on the bike at the Olympics again, he will do so with similar ambitions to his last Games visits: I did top eight in Sydney and Athens, he said, and I would like have another one in 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.