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Gwen Jorgensen on finding joy in her ‘fun’ triathlon comeback season

The 2016 Olympics winner reflects on her comeback season.

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Redefining triathlon

Gwen Jorgensen says she’ll take lots of learnings – and plenty of confidence – from this year as she looks to book an Olympics spot in 2024.

The 2016 gold medal winner in Rio, Jorgensen stunned the sport when she announced her competitive return 12 months ago after six years away – with a place in Paris next year the ultimate goal.

She’s had to travel far and wide and be incredibly flexible to gain enough points to move up the rankings and give herself a better chance of a place on the American team, all the time juggling it with looking after her two young sons Stanley and George.

She’s been to New Zealand, Mexico, Germany, the UK, Spain, the Czech Republic, South Korea, Japan and Chile and in the process won no fewer than four World Cup races, the same number she accrued between 2010 and 2016.

And it all means that she has a real chance of one of the two remaining spots for Paris in what’s a fiercely competitive battle to make the US women’s team.

Four-midable season at World Cup level

And speaking in her 2023 season recap video, which is embedded below, the 37-year-old says: “This year has been really hard. Not being able to plan races, not knowing where I’m going to race, I don’t think I’ve ever raced this much.

“Also having this balance of trying to maintain fitness through racing and all these long hauls. So, a lot of finding out I’m racing, packing up, travelling to Europe or Japan or wherever it is with less than a week or two notice, and trying to race a race that I haven’t prepared for, and then trying to recover and then racing again the next week. Yeah, it was hard.

“And that’s something that I don’t really prefer to do – I really like to plan for races, hit them and do them with intent and focus. And so I wasn’t really able to do that.”

Yet despite all of that, Jorgensen was able to rack up those four wins and other podium places and she said: “I think that if you look at my World Cup season, it’s been phenomenal.”

She felt the highlight was her victory Karlovy Vary: “I was very happy with that – it’s a non runner’s course, it’s a super hard bike and there were some really fast swimmers there. So I was super proud of that race.”

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On the right track

Stepping back up to WTCS – when she was able to bag a rolldown spot – was a tougher challenge as she readily acknowledged: “I think it was a little more difficult for me to perform when I didn’t have that time to prepare. And some of those races, frankly, I just wasn’t ready for yet.

“But even if you look at my WTCS races, I think each one I was improving – the first one, I got lapped out.”

All of which means she ends the season in a very different frame of mind to some previous campaigns as she explained: “I think a lot of times in the past, the season would end and I’d be like, thank goodness, I need a break as I was kind of at peak fitness all year.

“I felt like this year, I didn’t really ever even see that peak fitness. I felt like I just kept building and building.”

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‘Figuring out what’s best’

She also explains how her and the family will do things differently when travelling to races in 2024 and how she’s had to work hard to overcome what she terms her ‘Mom guilt’.

She said: “When I started this, I had my ideal plan, which is everyone comes together, we bring Stanley and George, plus our au pair, Patrick [her husband] comes too. And that was kind of my ideal scenario. And we did a couple trips like that and we just kind of learned, like, what was maybe best for me wasn’t best for our family as a whole.

“It was really trying, I think, on Stanley to not have friends. It was hard for George, especially at this age right now, to travel to a new place that might not be baby proof.

Every race, I feel like we tried something different and we’ve just kind of been figuring out what is best for our family as a whole.

“And I think ultimately, if I’m gone for less than two weeks, it’s usually probably best for me to do a solo trip. And if I’m gone for a long time, the family coming out in between races or maybe right after a race when I have some downtime is a really great time for everyone to join. So that’s kind of what the plan is going forward, which I think could also help not only for our family but also for my performance.”

And she signs off by underlining just how positive the whole experience has been so far: “I am having a lot of fun and when I retired from triathlon in 2016, it was because I wasn’t having fun.

Gwen Jorgensen World Triathlon Cup Tongyeong 2023 finish
[Photo credit: Janos M Schmidt / World Triathlon]

“I also know that I’m an older athlete and I’m not going to be able to do this forever. I’m really not taking any moment for granted and I think that is something that allows me to have more joy.

“This helps with my ‘Mom guilt’ – I am a better person because I’m able to do something that I love and something that fills me up and then I’m able to fill my children up as well. So, yeah, I think it’s been super fun to be able to do that.

“My whole theme of this year has been to be bold and I think I’ve done a really good job at exposing myself in so many different ways – racing when I wasn’t ready physically, doing criteriums and so on. I’ve really challenged myself in ways that I wouldn’t have many years ago. And so I’ve been super proud of that.”

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  
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