Tim O’Donnell is one of 70 elite Olympic-distance triathletes slated to race at the 2010 USA Triathlon Elite National Championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala., this Saturday. He was second at last year’s national championships, and he’s coming off of a silver medal at the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in August and a successful season of 70.3 racing. Inside Triathlon’s Courtney Baird caught up with him recently as he prepares for Tuscaloosa.
Written by: Courtney Baird
Triathlete.com: What has your training been like in preparation for nationals?
Tim O’Donnell: I think it’s gone pretty well. This will be my first ITU race this season, since I’ve been focusing on 70.3s. I have a lot of good strength and base work, and in this last block [of training] I’ve been doing a lot of speed work. So I’m pretty excited for the race.
Triathlete.com: What’s your strategy going into the race this weekend?
O’Donnell: It looks like it’s quite big field. It seems to be that little hill on the bike can break the race up. I foresee a pack of 10 guys or so upfront with some great cyclists. Matt Charbot, the defending champion, has proven he can run fast off a breakaway on the bike. I think everybody is going to be looking at him to make a breakaway.
Triathlete.com: Have you been training for the heat and humidity of Alabama?
O’Donnell: You know, I haven’t done any real specific heat training. We’ve had pretty hot weather the last couple of weeks [here in Boulder, Colo., where I live], and the humidity is kind of going to be the factor in Alabama. To me, altitude and humidity are kind of a trade off in terms of taxation on the body. I’m pretty content with being up in altitude and training normally.
Triathlete.com: You took second last year at Nationals. What do you think it’s going to take to get a spot on the podium again?
O’Donnell: I think last year Matt [Chrabot] had that breakaway on the bike, and I think we ran almost the exact same time. The breakaway got him the win. When I came to nationals last year, it was my fourth race in five weeks. I didn’t come in fully prepared, and I was little disappointed in myself because I think I could have had a shot [at the win] last year. For me the proper focus [this year] is going to hopefully be giving me that next little boost and give me that win. I’ve had five weeks of not racing going into nationals. I’ve made this race a priority and hopefully it pays off.
Triathlete.com: Do you think you’ll have an advantage over some of the athletes who’ve never raced on the course in Alabama before? [Last year’s national championships and the ’08 Olympic Trials were held in Tuscaloosa.]
O’Donnell: Absolutely. I love racing on courses that I know. That’s why I really excelled at Boulder [Boulder Peak Triathlon], in particular. This will be my third time on that course. I feel pretty comfortable that I know the ins and outs. This also helps with visualization, and hopefully it will be another factor in having a successful race.
Triathlete.com: What is the rest of the season going to be like after nationals are over?
O’Donnell: I have another ITU race after. I’m going out to Korea for the [2010 Tongyeong ITU Triathlon World Cup], and on my way there, I’m going to go out to Kona, [Hawaii, for the Ironman World Championships] to cheer some friends on and kind of soak that up. But the main race of the season will be Clearwater [the Ironman World Championship 70.3]. Clearwater is such a fast race, so I’m hoping ITU racing and short course speed will be a good approach for Clearwater.
Triathlete.com: You got silver at ITU long course this year. How do you think the season has gone for you so far?
O’Donnell: You know, I had an unbelievable season last year, and I think it’s hard to replicate. I think I raced a little too much last year, just because I had that momentum. The number one thing I was trying to do this season was find the best competition. And number two, I was just kind of proving myself. I didn’t have as many wins but I had some great races. I was second at St. Croix [the Ironman 70.3 St. Croix] and at the Texas 70.3, both to Terenzo Bozzone. They were great races, even though I didn’t win. I stepped up to face the best, and I’m throwing down with everybody, so in that sense I’m happy with the season.
Triathlete.com: Are you going to step away from 70.3s and focus more on ITU now that the Olympic qualification process has begun?
O’Donnell: That’s kind of the question I’ve had all year for myself. I’ve had great success in the 70.3s, and with my performance at worlds, I think I could step up to Ironman races and be pretty competitive, as well. But I still think I know I can make the Olympic team, and to be able to represent the country on the world stage like that—that is quite an honor. I’m going to take next few ITU races and see how I do and make the judgment call at beginning of next season.
Triathlete.com: What do you think about the new Olympic qualification process?
O’Donnell: You know, I was actually a part of the committee that decided the criteria. You know, everybody always wants the shots for the underdogs to get in there. That’s the American way—to rise up and maybe have someone come out of the blue. The way I look at it, when you go to the Olympics, you have to put the country above yourself. Winning a medal for the country, even if you’re not that athlete that wins, should be paramount. I don’t know if the criteria will bring a team or three individuals. Hopefully they’ll figure out a way to bring a team that will get the country a medal as opposed to three individuals that may not be medal contenders and don’t want to work together.
Check back to Triathlete.com all week as we continue to lead up to Saturday’s USA Triathlon Elite National Championship.