It’s two days before the biggest race of their lives to date. Not that you’d know it. Giggling and cracking jokes with the media our GB ladies (minus Lucy Hall, who, with perfect timing, has had to visit doping control) are in fine form. In fact, it may the calmest I’ve ever seen them; Vicky thrilled by all the free stuff she keeps being given.
Sadly all I can offer is a dictaphone in her face but she’s even enthusiastic about that. Both her and Helen enjoying the limelight and proffering as honest an answer as they’re allowed.
A popular question among the world’s media is with regards team tactics, and what exactly Team GB are going to employ on 4 and 7 August.
“The aim is to win a medal,” says Helen emphatically, “and with the three of us working together we’re more likely to… that’s our aim, to try and win a medal. And we’ve got three of us committed to that. And it’d be hard going into any kind of specific tactics that we’re going to use, but the three of us are a team and will be approaching the race as a team.”
Olympic performance manager Malcolm Brown elaborates:
“I think British Triathlon have had a number of Olympic experiences where they did not work as a team. And the results of those haven’t always been great. So we’ll see what happens on Saturday morning. But it seems like a logical development of British Triathlon’s strategy in order to try and get a medal is to move to this approach.”
While Vicky adds: “We’re not the first to approach it this way and we won’t be the last. And with a potential for a medal outcome here, I’m going to assume it’s going to become a more popular approach. It’s not brand new – the Canadians used it four years ago to great effect, as Simon Whitfield won a medal – it’s not often used, it’s harder to implement it the way that our racing circuit works. So there are limited opportunities for this kind of approach and the Olympic Games is one of them, so that’s possibly why it’s not seen so widely on the circuit.
The home advantage is also a strong motivator among the girls; all three taking full advantage of the location and only arriving on site yesterday.
“This week has been fantastic,” says Helen. “Monday and Tuesday were just my normal days of training. Wednesday was my travel day and my rest day. This morning we were out on the course, we got to ride the full bike course this morning which was great to get a good feel for the course. We’ve been doing all our media commitments and picking up all our race stuff, and just getting ready tomorrow, maybe a little bit of training, an hour total and then Saturday, racing at 9am.”
The three recently got together for a 10-day ‘training camp’ in Bridgend, home of the Jenkins’ (Helen and her husband and coach, Marc).
“Yeah it was probably not the most idyllic of training venues,” admits Helen. “You know, the boys were out training in St Moritz, there’s a big difference. But it really worked for us. We all train individually and all have faith in our coaches that we’re going to prepare the best individually. But having that time together to get to know how the other athletes work, to do some specific bike training together, I think was really positive for all of us.”
“We don’t often get the opportunity to train together,” adds Vicky, “so it was a good chance for us to get to know each other a little bit better and to see how we can work together as a team. And work in a new environment, and Helen’s environment was very welcoming to us, so that was great. Even for those 10 days. And I think we came away stronger as a team, and more united in our purpose as to what we’re going to do.”
But what about those hoping to upset that purpose?
“The beauty of tri is that you can never be sure who’s going to do what on what day,” says Vicky. “So you have to be prepared for anybody to come out of the woodwork and have a really impressive performance. Many of the girls are looking in great shape, as you’d expect this being the Olympics, so it’s not necessarily one person to watch, but probably everybody!
“It won’t affect what we do on the day, we’ve got our own plan of what we want to do. It would be remiss to go into that in too much detail, but let’s just say that we want to go hard.”
Helen: “It’s always interesting to see your competitors, like at the race briefing. And it can make you really nervous if you’re looking at them too much. But we see everyone at every race and we’re just going to focus on what we need to do, cause that’s what we can control. For the race itself, we want it to be hard in all three disciplines if possible.”
While this is Vicky’s (and Lucy’s) first Games, it’s Helen’s second. What are the differences between Beijing and London so far?
“Very very different situations,” says the reigning the world champ. “In Beijing I was a pretty young athlete and just so pleased to have even made the Games. Whereas coming into London 2012 it’s all I’ve been thinking about for the last three years and it’s been about getting a medal. And I’ve become a more experienced athlete over the last three years. But I think being in London, it feels like home. The venue does look different but we love it, we know the course, and I think that really does help and makes me more relaxed going into the race. Overall it’s just a bit of an easier experience than Beijing.
So no pressure?!
“There is a bit more pressure, but we’re pro athletes and we have to learn to deal with that pressure. And also enjoy it, too. It’s great that we’ve got the pressure. It means there’s definitely potential of us winning medals. I’m just trying to enjoy the whole experience and just really looking forward to racing.”
Not only is she the reigning world champ but Helen also won the test event on what was effectively the same course last year. That must boost your confidence?
“It gives me great confidence to know that I’ve won on this course,” says Helen. “And also earlier this year winning in San Diego. Over the past few years I’ve had a lot of second and thirds, but to step on top of the podium over the last couple of years has really given me the confidence to know that if I get it right on the day, I can win. I’ve got so much support and it’s really carried me forward over these last few weeks and I really want to go out there and do my best and hopefully that’ll be good enough. And just to thank all the people that have supported me.”
What about the weather? How will that factor?
“Obviously we can’t predict what’s going to happen. So we have to be prepared for all eventualities. I don’t mind if it rains, I don’t think it would phase myself, Lucy or Helen. Equally if it’s a sunny day, the crowds will like it more so maybe there’ll be more people there!”
Helen: “We did all of our training in Bridgend in the rain, so it would probably be a good things for us if it rains! But for us it would be great if it was a non-wetsuit swim, so for that the water has to be above 20°C, currently it’s 19.8°C, so hopefully it’ll warm up over the next couple of days. It just plays into the hands of the stronger swimmers so that’s one thing we always hope for.”
There’s a definite advantage to racing a home Games. The girls are relaxed and evidently get on extremely well as a team. They know the course. They’ve got the talent, with one team member who knows what it takes to win at the top level. Now all we need is for the Serpentine to warm up half a degree and we have the perfect set-up for success come Saturday.
So will 4 August be the day we see a British athlete bring home the first Olympic triathlon medal for GB? Hell yes.