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july 20, 2012 • 11:35 PM • last update 06:55 AM

Groff out to put U.S. on triathlon map

U.S. Olympic tri-athlete Sarah Groff and her boyfriend Ben True (L) sit in an ice bath at their home in Hartford, Vermont after a day of training May 22, 2012.
Foto: Brian Snyder / Reuters In English

While the United States' swimmers and track athletes have had to endure cut-throat qualifying competitions to secure their places in the Olympic Games, triathlete Sarah Groff has had the luxury of a year to prepare for London.

Groff, 30, will be one of three U.S. athletes to compete in the women's triathlon on August 4, starting with a 1,500 meter swim in the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park and followed by a 40-kilometre bike ride and a 10-kilometre run.

Groff qualified for the Games last August with a seventh-place finish at the 2011 London ITU World Championship Series event, on the same flat, fast course that will be used in the Olympics. That enabled her to plan her year entirely around her assault on the Olympics.

"We've laid the foundation work in the past 11 months. We've been addressing weaknesses, layering aspects of training on top of each other," Groff told Reuters in an interview via Skype from her European summer training base in Davos, Switzerland. "Now, we're decreasing our volume, increasing our intensity and honing our race skills."

Triathlon made its Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Games. Australia and neighboring New Zealand have won seven of the 18 medals awarded in the sport so far while the U.S. have managed just a solitary bronze, for Susan Williams in Athens.

For a country that effectively invented the sport, has boasted many of its finest competitors and has a well-organized and well-funded federation, it is a poor return

Groff and her team mates, Laura Bennett, who trains in the sport's hotbed of Boulder, Colorado, and Gwen Jorgensen of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are hoping to improve that tally.

Groff grew up in Cooperstown, New York, and was a multi-sport athlete from the start. She tried her hand at field hockey, softball, baseball and horse riding as well as the triathlon disciplines during high school.

Only after being on the swimming team at Vermont's Middlebury College - where she graduated with degrees in biology and art - did Groff decide to pursue the sport of triathlon full-time.

Today she lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, but spends much of her time switching between Canberra, Australia's capital, and Davos, the high-altitude town best known for its annual gathering of the world's business and political elite.

NO ROOM FOR ERROR

Groff, was the USA Triathlon Olympic/International Triathlon Union Athlete of the Year in 2011 after finishing ranked number three in the ITU World Championship Series ratings.

"It's fast, it's furious and it's exciting," she said. "Those two hours go by so quickly. You make a small mistake, and it could cost you your entire race."

Groff is coached by Australian Darren Smith, known as "Coach Daz" to his team, which includes elite triathletes from eight countries.

"Having an Aussie coach teaches you not to take yourself too seriously. We're not superhuman," she said.

The training lifestyle in Davos is far from pampered but strikes Groff as a luxury in a "slightly monastic" way, with its focus on performance with few distractions.

"The town is not very big. Our excitement here is if we go out and get coffee together. Otherwise, I sit around and read a lot. I sleep a lot," she said.

"We have the luxury that so few people have. Most people have jobs and families and mortgages to pay.

"There are very, very few jobs out there that are so selfish, in that your job revolves entirely around your performance."

Groff will not march in the Opening Ceremony on July 27 as she focuses on final race preparation. Only after her event will she move to the Olympic Village in London's East End to complete her Olympic experience.

"I will try to pretend to be really cool, but I'll have a big dork grin on my face," she said in anticipation of being in the presence of many more famous athletes. "If I meet (Belgian cyclist) Tom Boonen I might swoon."

Olympic triathlon courses are typically set up to be spectator friendly, with multiple laps around a short course that gets the crowds involved and London is no exception.

Among them will be several members of "Team Groff," including the athlete's parents, sister and 90-year-old grandfather.

"What they are proud of is that I've been so persistent," Groff said of her parents.

"It's easy to question all the sacrifice. Year after year, it's been two steps forward, one step back... the Olympics becomes a celebration of the whole process."

(Editing by Mitch Phillips.)

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