Olympic Odyssey: Steely Sam
Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes eyes
Some may say that the Beijing womens event is a race in two between Australian Emma Snowsill and Portugals Vanessa Fernandes, Kiwi Sam Warriner has other ideas.
Sam Warriner is underrated. Shout her Beijing chances from the rooftops, give your money to the bookie in wads, it wont make any difference, no one will believe you, shell still be underrated. Warriner knows it, and like everything else she has at her disposal, shell use it to her advantage.
In our interview she bristles at an innocuous question about her Olympic hopes, the fact that youve asked me that question fills me with confidence, she said, you dont expect me to win, and thats just the way I like it.
Despite not being a bona fide Beijing favourite, Warriner seems comfortable with her underrated status. However, it belies the reality that over the last couple of years she has gradually amassed a pile of results that would suggest she be taken more seriously. She is a 6-time world cup winner, a recent world championship medallist, and she was 18th at the Athens Olympics.
But when Snowsill (three-time world champion) and Fernandes (20-time world cup winner) roll into a race with their resumes in tow, the numbers simply dont stack in Warriners favour. Being a favourite in this era of womens racing is hard to achieve. So does Warriner let this pre-race form worry her? Not a chance.
Emma and Vanessa are outstanding athletes, theres no doubt, she said, but they are not unbeatable. Theyre human and as such they are liable to the same failing as all of us. The expectation on the two of them will be immense leading into Beijing.
How many times have we heard commentators say, He came from nowhere, or She is rocketing through the field, where did she come from? The Olympics are a lottery; Im doing everything humanly possible so that when the cards fall my way, I can play the hand Im dealt as best as possible.
Note the way Warriner said, WHEN the cards fall my way. She seems to be on a constant mission in search of the positives. And this becomes powerful when it combines with her constant desire to better herself as an athlete.
This strength is why she is going to be a contender in Beijing and why she is underratedbecause she is not quite there yet. One Olympics can change all that and Warriner knows it. With the right race, underrated athletes can become superstars.
I guarantee, she stated, as an example, if you asked both Loretta Harrop [silver medallist] and Kate Allen [gold medallist] what their thoughts were leading into Athens, they would have both been in very different states of mind. One had the weight of expectation; the other went to Greece with no expectations other than to lay it all on the line. I know which one was happiest after the event. Thats when it counts.
Yes, winners are grinners indeed. In the same way Allen overcame Harrop, Snowsills and Fernandes impressive race numbers arent going to trouble Warriner because she has some of her own to throw into the mix.
The number 150, for example, is the number of kilometres she was running per week in the base phase of her preparation for the Olympics at the start of the year. She took this number into the New Plymouth world cup in New Zealand in April.
You always want to do well in your own country, especially when the event is a world cup. Sponsors, friends and family expect you to perform, she said of her eighth placing. But if Id been serious about winning New Plymouth my training would have been very different leading into the event.
Warriner was willing to take a little race result pain for her overriding goal and driving force of the last couple of years, Beijing. There was not going to be too much more pain ahead anyway. Her mega mileage was paying off sooner than expected.
Having recovered well after New Plymouth, Warriner ripped out a world cup win in South Korea three weeks later. Winning in Korea was not part of the big plan at the start of the year, although it fitted in well with my periodization [training plan], she said. Essentially that was the last training session of my four month base phase.
When this form appeared again with a bronze medal at the world championships, Warriner had secured her highest finish at the worlds and she had beaten one of the Olympic favourites (Fernandes finished in tenth) in the process.
At the world championships, Warriner took the bronze from the grasp of two Australians, Erin Densham and Emma Moffatt, in a courageous sprint to the line on a freezing day. All this as she moved from base to strength specific training.
The world championships did give me confidence because it was the culmination of my strength phase, she said. I think everyone would agree that the sprint was a strength sprint and I came out on top.
It was also a sprint which typified Warriners determination. Faced with prospect of out-running the two hungry young Aussies, it would have been easier for Warriner, 36, to save herself from having to commit to a draining 10-kilometer battle ahead of the Olympics. She never considered this an option because backing down is not in her playbook.
I was happy with my composure at worlds, Warriner said of the race she treated like a Beijing dry-run. It was still 70 days out from the Olympics and I have plenty still to add to the equation in those 70 days. We used worlds as a role-play for Beijing. Everything we did at worlds we will reproduce in the days leading into Beijing: stretching routines, diet, sleep, etc.
And what a role-play. If history repeats and Warriner is in a three-way sprint for bronze in Beijing she will be tough to beat. It would be the culmination of a professional career that only began in her early 30s. Warriner, however, is not gunning for the minor medals, her focus is on gold.
My goal is to win the Olympics, she stated resolutely. I am aiming to get myself in the best shape possible; both mentally and physically, so when I stand on that start line I know that Im fit enough and anything is possible.
Despite her run of good form this year, the New Zealander will be considered to have only an outside chance for the gold heading into Beijing. But because Sam Warriner has the mentality of a favourite, come race day, this underrated athlete could be underrated no more.
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.