If you try to draw correlations among the five U.S. triathletes going to the Olympics this year, good luck. There are some parallels, like their willingness to work hard and make sacrifices, as well as a few stories of overcoming adversity. But their journeys to where they are now are all over the map. Each day this week we’ll introduce you to a different member of the U.S. Olympic triathlon team. Today we’re telling to story of Laura Bennett, who will race with the support of her husband, and fellow triathlete, Greg.
At one point we were all wondering if triathlon’s leading couple would be the poster kids for the 2012 Olympics. Greg and Laura Bennett practically do everything else together; surely they’d want to take on London as a team. “Going to the Games together would have been a great experience but not worth the sacrifice of Greg having to run around and chase points to get there,” said Laura. “Greg is far too successful at the other disciplines to do that.”
So while Greg “dabbles” in long-course racing (he will take on both the 70.3 and Ironman World Championships this fall), it’s time for Laura to do what she does best: Olympic racing. That is her game, and unlike Greg she has no desire to focus on anything but as a result. “The Olympic format is where my talent lies,” she said. “I haven’t ever put much focus into other disciplines to find out; I have always found this to be the most entertaining. I love the game of it.”
Laura’s words and demeanor exude passion for the sport, making it hard to believe there was a time when she was ready to hang it up. In 2000 she wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue as a pro. She was single then, and happened to be training with a group in Canada, among them Greg Bennett, who was also questioning his desire to continue on with triathlon. When the two met, a void was filled and they were complete—ready to continue on with triathlon, together. “[If we hadn’t met in 2000], I really don’t believe I would still be in triathlon,” Laura said. “I am not sure where my life would have taken me had we not met, but I am so grateful every day that we did.”
Since then, Laura’s accomplishments are too many to list, but among the highlights are a fourth-place finish at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, three-time U.S. National Champion, ITU World Championship medalist and holding more top-10 ITU race finishes than you can count. And this year she said, “I am going to London for a medal.” Beneath this all-American girl’s soft-spoken nature, mile-wide smile and thin frame, you know she means business when she says those fighting words.
At 37, she’s beating women whom she has 10-plus years on, like in her third-place finish at ITU San Diego that secured her Olympic spot. Likewise, Greg, at 40, is beating guys much younger than he at all distances. One must wonder what they cook for meals together at their home in Boulder, Colo.
As cliché as it may sound, she says a lot of her talent lies in being one of the best well-rounded triathletes because she’s evolved with the sport over the years. “When I first started in ‘98, and through to 2004, it was all about the swim-bike, and then the best runner of that group won,” she said. “Then 95 percent of the swimmers retired and it was all about the run, so we made a shift and from 2004-’08—it was how fast could you run after an average swim-bike. Then from 2008-‘12, there’s still a lot of weight on the run, but with a bit more effort in the swim-bike… To take gold in London, you will have to be strong across all three disciplines, and be the fastest runner on the day.”
She knows that Greg is a huge part of her success—not only does he coach her, but he helps her stay mellow and not waste precious adrenaline before racing. That said, maybe it’s a good thing that Greg will serve as sherpa rather than fellow competitor.