Gwen Jorgensen didn’t want to be a nomad.
She chose the tax side of accounting because it involved less travel. When she started her triathlon career, she trained most of the year in first Milwaukee and then St. Paul, Minn., only going to Florida to dodge the worst of the winter.
“I kept saying it was a huge sacrifice for me to be away from home for so long,” she said. “I didn’t like being away from home.”
After a flat tire resulted in a disappointing 38th-place finish at the London Olympics, however, Jorgensen sat down and took a long, hard look at the next four years. Though triathlon had come looking for her, not the other way around, and she was only three years into her competitive career, she knew she was capable of winning gold at the Rio Olympics.
An All-American at Wisconsin in track and cross country, she could chase down pretty much anyone in front of her and hold off everyone behind her. But she also knew she needed work on her swim technique and to get better on the bike.
As she made a list of possible coaches and training programs, Jamie Turner’s name stood out.
“He is known for making people swim better,” Jorgensen said. “Jamie Turner was just the perfect fit for me.”
Except for one, very large thing: Turner is based overseas, splitting time betweenWollongong, Australia, a city 90 minutes south of Sydney, and Vitoria, Spain, which is about 31/2 hours north of Madrid.
Training with Turner and his group would mean Jorgensen would be home for only three months out of the year.
As they talked, though, Turner told Jorgensen she was looking at it the wrong way.
“He had me think of it as an investment instead of a sacrifice,” Jorgensen said. “It makes me not only see it not negatively, but it makes me work that much harder. I know that every day I’m investing in my career.”
And her investment is paying off — handsomely.
Jorgensen goes to Rio as the overwhelming favorite to win gold in the women’s triathlon. She’s a two-time reigning International Triathlon Union world champion, and has lost just two individual races since April 2014. She set a record with 13 consecutive victories in the ITU’s World Triathlon Series from May 17, 2014, to April 3, and also won the Olympic test event in Rio last summer.
In many of those races, Jorgensen erased lengthy deficits on the run, the last leg. In a victory at Leeds in June, she overcame a 100-second deficit, the largest in the history of the World Triathlon Series — and then won by 51 seconds.
“The last two years — not that she wasn’t as serious of an elite athlete before that, she’s essentially dedicated her entire life to the sport. … She has, like, two weeks off in December,” said Chuck Menke, the chief marketing officer of USA Triathlon.
“She took it to a whole new level in the last two years. Everything that she does, literally, is designed to help with her performance.”
Though it was Jorgensen’s decision to move abroad to train with Turner, that first year wasn’t easy. She and Patrick Lemieux, whom she married in October 2014, didn’t know anyone. They didn’t know where things were. WiFi was spotty, making it tough to communicate with family back home.
Even trips to the grocery store were stressful. Though Jorgensen made more than $200,000 in prize money last year and now has deals with, among others, Red Bull,Asics, Specialized and Oakley, she wasn’t making anything close to that earlier in her career.