Imagine living with an Olympic hopeful who’s feverishly chasing their dreams for four years straight (or longer). Now double it. That’s what life was like at the True household in Hanover, New Hampshire. With triathlete Sarah True having qualified for her second Summer Games at the Rio test event last August, the pressure was on her husband, Ben True, to seal the deal 11 months later at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in July.
Considering Ben’s track record (literally), the 30-year-old 5K record-holder and top American finisher at several world cross country championships seemed like a shoo-in to make the team. Falling short by half a second at the Trials means that Ben has four more years, while Sarah’s second Olympic moment is right now. Having placed fourth in both London and the Rio test event, and nabbing some world championship bling (bronze in 2015, silver in 2014) along the way, she has a real chance of medaling at what might be her last Olympic Games. The 34-year-old will be gunning for the win with her husband’s love, support and true sportsmanship from the stands.
We recently caught up with Sarah just before her send-off to Rio to find out more about what these Games means to her and Ben.
“While one part of me knew that there was a chance that we both won’t make it, you just have to believe that it’s going to happen. But then when it doesn’t, you have to shift gears really quickly.”
How does this Olympics compare to London four years ago?
What’s great about having a past Olympics under my belt is that I’m going in knowing what to expect. In London, it was shocking that there were hundreds of thousands of people out on our race course. We’ve had good crowds and lots of spectators at other race events, but at the Olympics there’s just a lot more people, more cameras and more flags lining the course. You hear noise the entire way. It’s completely deafening. So I’ve had four years to mentally prepare for all the noise.
At 34 years old, you might be considering having kids soon, so I’m guessing it must be on your mind a little bit?
Yeah, I’ve talked to my general practitioner—a former Olympic rower who has stayed abreast of all these issues—about how my husband and I would like to start a family soon. She doesn’t seem concerned. We can always cross that bridge when we get there. Yes, it’s something that you have to think about, but I trust the medical professionals around me.
Is family planning something you might dive into post-Olympics?
I’d like to race next year, then start a family. I love this sport so much and am so excited to race. So it doesn’t fit quite yet into our life plan. If Ben and I had gone into this Olympic cycle thinking that we wanted to start a family right after the Games, then we would be more concerned about Zika. But based on our life plans, it’s not as pressing of an issue as it could be.
Speaking of Ben, he recently faced some devastating news at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in early July. Can you tell us what happened?
For the past four years, we both had this dream that we’d be going to the Olympics together. That we would be that married couple walking together at the Opening Ceremonies. I walked away from London thinking that I completely have to do another four years; I have to qualify in 2016 because I want to do this with Ben. As an athlete, you have to be an optimist. While one part of me knew that there was a chance that we both won’t make it, you just have to believe that it’s going to happen. But then when it doesn’t, you have to shift gears really quickly.
At the Olympic Trials this year, there were some great guys in the 5K and Ben didn’t quite have the closing speed. Going into the race, Ben had previously finished sixth at the 2015 World Championships and was a favorite to make the team… He will be going down to Rio to support me. It will be hard. When he didn’t make the team for London (he contracted Lyme disease before the 2012 Trials), he was an incredible supporter and was able to put aside his disappointment and be there for me. I know he will be able to do the same thing this time around. And hopefully in 2020, I will be there in Tokyo supporting him.
“When he didn’t make the team for London, he was an incredible supporter and was able to put aside his disappointment and be there for me. I know he will be able to do the same thing this time around.”
How far behind was he on the 5K at the Trials?
Half a second.
Oh man, that’s devastating! Was he inconsolable afterward?
You know, he’s a stoic guy. He just internalized it. You go through a bit of shock. The highs in sports don’t last very long. The disappointments stick with you a lot longer. It might be something that sticks with him for the rest of his career. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It could be a positive.
Do you think that qualifying for Rio a year in advance put extra pressure on him?
It’s interesting. It actually took some pressure off of “us.” It meant that we weren’t both trying to qualify in 2016. We were able to focus on him a bit more. It was a positive in that sense, no question. It would have been high pressure if we were both trying to qualify within a couple of months of each other.
Can you relate to his devastation since you missed earning a bronze medal in London by 10 seconds?
His was half a second. I think the biggest difference is expectation. Ben was expecting to make the team. I didn’t go into London expecting to medal. For me, it was shocking to realize, ‘Oh my god, I almost won a medal. If I had approached my training and the race different, what could have been?’ For him, it was more, ‘What did I do wrong to not make the team?’ So we were coming at [this loss] from opposite sides.
How are you feeling about medaling in Rio? Does all this talk about American Gwen Jorgensen being the favorite to win gold get to you?
No, because Gwen has earned the right to be the Olympic favorite—and that also comes with a tremendous amount of pressure. It’s easier to be an athlete without the world expecting you to win the Olympic gold. She’s an incredible athlete under pressure and she’s proven time and time again that she’s the one to watch, but it comes at a cost. If I can get an Olympic medal, I will be really happy. One of the things that I realized while watching Ben at the Trials is that anything is possible.
Are you coming into these Games with the most high-tech gear that you’ve ever had?
Absolutely! I’m going into this race having paid close attention to every little piece that’s on my bike and every article that I’m wearing—from my sunglasses to my helmet. That attention to detail makes a world of difference. It helps that the technology is getting better every year. For example, with my sunglasses, Oakley’s Prizm lens technology lets me see the different changes in road surfaces. We have a course that travels from shadowy areas to hills to flat road. The ability to process what’s on the road at all times could be the difference between me being safe or crashing. Having technology that’s smarter than I am or at least lets my brain process information as quickly as possible is totally an advantage, no question.