Olympic Odyssey: A New Standard

Javier Gomez dominating ITUOlympic Odyssey: A New Standard   (April 15, 2008 )
Former World Number one Chris Hill takes us to Beijing through the athletes’ eyes

Like the all the greatest athlete and coach combinations, Javier Gomez, along with Jose Rioseco, are redefining the sport of triathlon with efficiency, talent, and pure speed.

Spaniard Javier Gomez doesn’t spin his wheels like other less efficient triathletes. All his horsepower goes directly onto the pavement, pedals and water. This not only propels him forward in a race, but it also consigning the old standards of men’s triathlon to the past.

Like the leaders of the sport before him; Mark Allen, Brad Beven, and Simon Lessing, Gomez’s career is starting to acquire the momentum of a runaway success.

His racing resumé of nine BG World Cup wins and 15 consecutive podiums is quickly exceeding dominance, eagerly edging its way toward legendary (the men’s World Cup win record for an active athlete stands at 11, held by 2000 Olympic champion, Canadian Simon Whitfield).

But it is another champion athlete that Gomez, 25, is beginning to resemble most.

Both were born in Basel, Switzerland but the similarities don’t end there. Triathlete Gomez and tennis player Roger Federer seem close sporting cousins. Both share an ability to single-handedly reset their sport’s perimeters of possibility, all with what looks like a modicum of effort.

As Federer rips a stunning cross-court winner with more angle than a marine’s sideburns, Gomez crushes the hearts of his opposition with unparalleled swim and run poise.

Gomez’s swim is freakish. His best 1500-meter time is under 16 minutes, which puts him in a class alone with former swimmer Andy Potts of the United States. But the difference with Potts is that Gomez’s swim personal best was recorded this year when training for triathlon not in his competitive swimming days.

“I had my best 1500-meter time ever this year,” Gomez said after the New Plymouth BG Triathlon World Cup. “I’ve always kept on swimming. Even nowadays I do three good months of swimming in November, December and January. And I always have a race at the end. This year I did my PB in the 1500meter, which is 15:45.”

“Under 16 minutes is enough for triathlon, I think, but I am not a very good swimmer in open water. I like the swims that are totally flat, like a swimming pool. Last week I had a very bad swim, I was 24th out of the water. Running into the water is hard.”

Hard for Gomez one week, easy the next—he’s that type of athlete.

In Mooloolaba, after the beach start, Gomez tripped over the first carpet of water—it wasn’t even a wave—when the other athletes beside him, all Kiwis and Aussies with surf skills to burn, waded another 20 meters or so.

Another athlete in this situation might have dreaded the same predicament reoccurring in the beach start at New Plymouth the following weekend, but not Gomez.

He led on the beach run to the water, replacing his bellyflop of the previous week, with a few giant steps. The fact he subsequently added a couple of graceful duck dives proved he is a quick school and reaffirmed his Federer type genius.

Gomez’s race brilliance does not end there. His run is now second to none and because of his swim, it goes against triathlon’s natural order.

Triathlon’s natural order states that a pure swimmer CANNOT be a pure runner. Australia’s Craig Walton and Athens Olympic gold medalist Kate Allen exemplify this.

Gomez, however, does not run like a swimmer or swim like a runner—he swims like a fish and runs like a gazelle. And his physical appearance on the run should not deceive the spectator.

The ruby hue that flushes Gomez’s cheeks is only a red herring, fooling the viewer that he is hurting. It only acts to distract from the relative ease of his strides, the smoothness of his locomotion—again the triathlon equivalent of Federer.

Before the 2008 BG Triathlon World Cup season commenced, Gomez spent some time training in South Africa. One of his sessions included a running race.

“I did a 10-kilometer race on the road in South Africa,” Gomez said of his 2008 preparation. “I ran 29:47. I got third and Tim Don was fourth, 25 seconds behind. Two African guys ran really fast and won. I tried to run with them and managed only four kilometers. We ran the first three kilometers in 8:25. Then the last five kilometers was hilly so it was slower.”

Great Britain’s Tim Don is known as probably the number one triathlon track runner with a 3:46:60 PB for 1500 meters. But sometimes Don’s form does not carry over to running ten kilometers off the bike.

For Gomez, it always does.

On Mooloolaba’s hilly 10-kilometer run course, Gomez knocked out 30:29 and on the undulations in New Plymouth, 29:37. If you couple this, as Gomez did, with second out of the water the results are scary for the opposition.

They are also scary if you are the type of athlete that likes to slink into an Olympic year with solid races building to a crescendo. Gomez, obviously, is not this type of athlete. To him, great form now is a harbinger to great form in the future.

“Things are going well,” Gomez said about his two wins in two races and the frame of mind they put him in. “It is a positive pressure and a motivation. It is a sign things are going well. I won the first two World Cups so it is just perfect.”

“I did not expect to be in such good form. It was so much better than what I thought before I came to New Plymouth. Things are going well, I am training well and I must keep on working for the Olympics.”

His coach Jose Rioseco was also happy with his athlete’s early season form. As Gomez loomed large down the finish straight in New Plymouth, Rioseco stopped pacing and started punching the air. The victory obviously meant a lot and it was a team effort.

“He was very happy because I did a very good race,” Gomez said of Rioseco’s quiet fist pumping, “better than last weekend and that’s the important thing. My coach is a great support and he has coached me since I was 11 so he is more than a coach, he is more like a friend.”

After New Plymouth post-race press interviews, countless selfless t-shirt signings and drug testing, it was time for coach and athlete to make the 4-kilometer journey back to the Devon Hotel.

Wheeling his bike when the rest had ridden, Javier Gomez joined his coach for the tramp home as darkness descended. When victories convert to Olympic confidence, they crunched the numbers and plotted the next along the deserted Sunday night streets.

Their partnership becoming as successful as coach Tony Roche and Roger Federer when the pair worked together in his prime.
Former World Number one Chris Hill brings his unique elite athlete perspective in weekly Olympic columns to ITU’s 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 Hill’s column, “Olympic Odyssey” every week on triathlon.org.

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