With a silver medal already in his possession from the Mixed Relay in Tokyo and his ticket punched for Paris, Morgan Pearson is without a doubt the best male triathlete ever to represent the United States in the Olympic Games.
Coming from running where he was a seven-time All American, he’s transformed into a true threat for an individual medal in Paris this summer. Last year at the test event, Morgan gapped the field early in the run. His eventual sixth-place finish with a run split just 18 seconds slower than the eventual winner Alex Yee earned him a spot to the Games this coming summer. But it also revealed his vulnerability.
Passing the Paris Test
“Let’s go back to that race. I was feeling pretty good,” he told me in a wide-ranging interview (you can watch it in full here).
“But what happened was going on a lot last year. I can get a lower back tightness that goes to the glutes and all the way down the back of the post chain.
“In Yokohama earlier in 2023 I ended up in 44th. I literally had to stop and stretch it all out. There are times I even felt that in my calves, my ankles. It’s crippling! I can usually back off the pace, take some deep breaths and it loosens up, but this year that just wasn’t happening.
“We eventually changed my bike position to get my back sorted out. In Paris it all felt good. Starting the run my only goal was top eight (what he needed to make the US team). I set a fast pace to try to split up the lead pack. I figured maybe it’s not the way to run for the win, but it’ll whittle down the field to eight guys. Unfortunately, my back started getting bad and I had to back off from the pace I was running when I was leading.”
Knowing his talent and training means nothing without a body that cooperates, Morgan shut his 2023 season down at the end of September. He took his longest off-season to date letting things go in training for over a month.
His first step back this year was January 20 at the US Cross Country Championships, where he ran the 10km. He helped push the pace in the lead group until 2k to go.
Eventually crossing in fourth, Morgan qualified for the World Championships which will take place this March in Belgrade, Serbia. With about six months to go before Paris, it looks like his Achilles heel might be a thing of the past.
He told me: “The race served its purpose. I shut it down at the end of September last year and took a full month off. That’s a long break for me. I then use this race to keep me motivated in the winter months.”
Pearson has a great team guiding him, but he also highlights the difference between his own triathlon career (barely six years old) and those of some of his fellow competitors.
“My head coach is Ryan Bolton. He works for USA Triathlon. He helped to come back from the injury. I’m swimming with Ian O’Brien’s team. Swimming has been my biggest focus the last couple of months since coming back.
“But I know that even with their help, I am at a disadvantage. Take the French men. Everyone knows the French guys are fantastic swimmers and they have home court advantage.
“The main factor is that they’ve been triathlon guys for most of their life. I started my first pro season in 2018 (at age 24). The French guys have so much more experience. They’re so crisp in their execution. They barely make mistakes. And they’re super-consistent. I’ve always been up against a time crunch to try to catch up.
“I do think by being in Europe they get better sponsors. Short-course triathlons are more popular in Europe that the US. Here it’s a niche sport. They also have the French Grand Prix team system, which pays a lot to athletes compared to what an up-and-coming athlete can make here. But all that said, the biggest advantage the French and other athletes have is just the experience.”
Paris, and medals, in mind
When asked what excites him most about Paris, the answer is simple:
“Just knowing I have a chance to do well there. And I know I’m not a favourite. But I know if things come together, and I have a good head on my shoulders going into the race, that I have a chance to compete for a medal.
“When I think back to Tokyo, I wouldn’t say I didn’t have confidence, but it was different. Now I know it’s really in there somewhere.
“It’s not about discovering some new level that I’ve never seen. It’s about bringing all the different pieces of my performances where I’ve excelled and put them together in the race on that one day. That’s what’s exciting me.”