World Triathlon Paths to Paris: Sergio Baxter Cabrera

by Ben Eastman on 20 May, 2024 07:45
World Triathlon Paths to Paris: Sergio Baxter Cabrera

The day was drawing to a close when Sergio Baxter Cabrera (ESP) sat down earlier this year to talk to World Triathlon. The smile on his face belied the barrage to which he had just subjected himself.

Roasted by the Lanzarote sun, managing a stress reaction in his foot that hindered aspects of his training and navigating the pervasive pressure of his Olympic quest, Baxter had plenty to contend with before the actual stresses of training are thrown in. Respite is not a word often seen on the path to Paris. Yet, at the same time, his grin was one of a man that knew well what could lie ahead this summer.

As part of World Triathlon’s series tracking the journeys of athletes aspiring to make it to the Olympic Games, the rising star is the latest to share his experiences amidst the fierce battle to make the Spanish team.

With the latest day of training behind him, Baxter is forthright.

“I can’t remember who exactly told me this but I remember the sentiment pretty clearly. The Olympics isn’t the hard part. The hard part is actually qualifying for the Olympics.” He pauses for a moment. “I think at this moment right now I can truly see how hard it is.”

Far from being daunted by the challenge, Baxter is evidently relishing tackling it head-on. The path ahead, though, is seldom simple.

“Currently I’ve got a little injury in the bottom of my foot, which is making the qualifying process that little bit harder,” he explains. “It’s just constant pressure from your federation and pressure you put on yourself.”

Stress reactions of the kind he faces can sometimes be more complicated than actual fractures. In our conversation, Baxter is on week eleven of the injury and has only just started to run again, having also missed a chunk of cycling.

Moreover, he is in the thick of one of the tightest battles to make an Olympic team this summer.

Sergio Baxter

Spain is one of the few countries with a chance to qualify three men in the individual triathlon event at the Paris Games. With such depth comes intense competition.

“Spain have got many strong athletes,” acknowledges Baxter. “We’re all fighting for those three spots, even to maintain that third spot.”

Right now, Baxter is one of five Spanish men in the top-40 of the Olympic Qualification rankings. Ahead of him, Antonio Serrat Seoane has already been selected. Meanwhile, WTCS medallist Roberto Sanchez Mantecon also holds a healthy lead in the rankings.

To earn a third slot for Paris, one of Baxter, David Castro Fajardo or Alberto Gonzalez Garcia will have to be sat in the top-30 come the end of May. The rising youngster is thus not only tasked with making the team himself, but also potentially securing the third male Olympic slot for his country.

In addition, Baxter is not only competing against Castro. He is training with him too. In the midst of a training camp in Lanzarote alongside Serrat and Castro at the time of talking, the group was then on to a new camp in Girona. On the surface, such proximity to a direct rival could be unsettling.

However, Baxter insists otherwise.

“I try not to take it with too much pressure. We’re rivals in the race but we’re friends outside.”

With equanimity he adds, “may the best man qualify!”

“It’s a motivation. Unfortunately I can’t really push myself every day due to the injury but now it’s about making the most of the swim, which is my weakness. Someone like Castro, he’s such a good swimmer in the pool and in the open water. Having him to train with is great to help me improve.”

Furthermore, training with Castro also pays a different kind of dividend.

“We always say we’re listening to Radio Castro! It doesn’t matter if it’s a half hour ride or a five hour ride, he’s always got some great chat.”

Baxter’s domestic rivals also extend beyond his current training partners. World Cup winners Genis Grau and David Cantero del Campo may stand behind him in the Olympic Qualification rankings, but their results speak for themselves. Indeed, so do the performances of plenty of further Spanish athletes. Nevertheless, Baxter has credentials of his own.

A World Cup winner himself (in Pontevedra in 2022), he made an impressive WTCS debut in 2023 and has since only finished outside the top-15 in the Series twice.

“I’ve only just arrived and the best is yet to come.”

Sergio Baxter

Notwithstanding the injury problems that have sometimes thwarted him, he can see the progress he has already made. “I know I can be better than what I’ve done. I’m happy with the results I’ve done up to now, they’re very good. As athletes we always want more though.”

“With a year without injuries, I will make it on the scene.”

Through the setbacks, the pressure, the rivalries, the expectation, and more, Baxter is fully embracing the road ahead.

“It’s a long and hard process. But we enjoy it. We all get the best out of each other. And the federation is going to take the best athletes in the end.”

Other targets lie ahead. For example, Baxter is keen to try some Xterra races and some long distance events. However the Olympics are central to everything.

“It’s the Olympic Games. It’s definitely the biggest objective of the season.”

“Every high performance athlete dreams of getting to the Olympics and it’s really a privilege to even say I’m fighting for one of the spots,” he says with the smile of an athlete in the middle of the fight that he is enjoying. “To make it to the Olympics would be unreal.”

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