“My personal experience told me that there has to be some reason for people to keep their Olympic ranking high enough to keep the U.S. having three spots, rather than just keeping it high enough to get into races,” Shoemaker said. “I really wanted to write something into the [selection] criteria that kind of favored the athletes who did that.”
This sort of incentive never made its way into the selection criteria.
But it’s not to say that Shoemaker and Chrabot aren’t ready for the challenge of fighting for their spots.
Chrabot has spent a good chunk of this year training with two-time Olympic medalist and Kiwi Bevan Docherty in Santa Cruz, Calif., along with pro triathletes Paul Matthews and Tommy Zaferes.
“When I was first out there I was training with Bevan as much as I could, just to get a feel for his program and for his habits going in and out of races—like training habits,” Chrabot said. “And listening to him tell stories has been helpful.”
Chrabot also feels he’s in the best shape of his life right now.
“Some of the first track workouts I did at the start of the season were some of the best in my entire life, and I had a lot less in the tank,” he said.
Shoemaker, whose stellar running résumé makes some observers believe he’s the only American man who has any chance of medaling in London, is also feeling upbeat as he heads into San Diego.
“I’m confident in where my fitness is, and I’m confident that I’m training at the level and I’ll be racing at the level I’ll need to be to come in top nine in a [World Triathlon Series] race,” said Shoemaker, who started off the 2012 season with a win at the Clermont ITU Sprint Triathlon Pan American Cup.
Even if Shoemaker and Chrabot don’t finish in the top nine in San Diego and automatically qualify for the London Olympic team—and this could occur because of something as unlucky as a flat tire—a variety of scenarios can unfold where either one or both of them makes the team, including being selected for USA Triathlon’s discretionary spot, if the selection process comes down to that.
To put it another way, if Shoemaker or Chrabot doesn’t automatically qualify in San Diego—and if two other athletes such as Kemper, Huerta or even a possible Lukas Verzbicas don’t place in the top nine—he will find out the answer to a big question: Will USA Triathlon’s discretionary selection committee send someone to the Olympics who did no work to secure American country spots?
To be fair to USA Triathlon, there are legitimate reasons for why they wouldn’t select Chrabot or Shoemaker for a discretionary slot. But if the successful points chasers do end up unrewarded this Olympic cycle, what incentive will other athletes have to chase points from this point forward? And if there aren’t any incentives to chase country spots, then we have to open ourselves up to the possibility that no men will chase country spots leading up to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, potentially leaving the U.S.—the country that invented triathlon—without any men in Rio.
Fortunately for Shoemaker and Chrabot, if they race well at the Sydney leg of the World Triathlon Series, which is in April, and in any other races they compete in before San Diego, their consistent results in 2010 make them likely candidates for potential discretionary selection if it comes down to that. (Although both men didn’t do themselves any favors last year—they endured sub-par seasons due to injuries, with Chrabot suffering from back problems and Shoemaker from a concussion and neck problems.)
Shoemaker is the only American to ever win a World Triathlon Series event, which he did in Hamburg, Germany, in 2009, beating out men such as Docherty, reigning Olympic champion Jan Frodeno, and Olympic gold and silver medalist Simon Whitfield in the process.
In 2010 and 2009, Shoemaker finished in the top nine in eight of the 14 World Triathlon Series races that he entered, stamping himself as one of the most consistent American men in recent history.
“I feel like over the past three years I’ve been the athlete on the U.S. side who has consistently had a good chance of getting on the podium,” Shoemaker said.
2010 was the year Chrabot emerged as a top ITU athlete—he finished fourth at the Kitzbühel, Austria, leg of the World Triathlon Series thanks to a gutsy break on the bike, and he ended the season as the top-ranked American ITU athlete. It was also in 2010 that Chrabot proved himself to be a “1 percenter”—or the type of athlete who thrives off of unpredictable conditions and high-pressure situations, making him a wild card podium contender for anything-can-happen events such as the Olympics.
“My heart belongs on the Olympic team,” Chrabot said. “It’s been there for the past four years. I just need to put my name on the spot.”
Tune in to the ITU’s live feed of the Olympic trials, on Triathlonlive.tv, to see if the names they’ve etched on these spots will finally be set in stone.