So I have a lot of other blog posts already in the queue, but considering what tomorrow is… I thought we’d move this one up to the front. Last week, Triathlete Magazine published my latest article- A Case for Jan Frodeno as Triathlon’s GOAT.
If you don’t know much about my background, I’ve been a journalist and writer for the past 13 years. I’ve interviewed NFL quarterbacks and super models, as well as World Champion athletes and everyday normal folks with incredible stories. I never really get star struck. It’s just part of the job. But having the opportunity to interview Jan Frodeno ahead of his last dance at the IRONMAN World Championship in Nice… well that was pretty surreal.
Below is the extra content from my interview with Jan, his coach, Dan Lorang, and IRONMAN commentator, Dede Griesbauer. It’s the bonus bits that won’t fit into an article because of a pesky thing called “word count,” but that I think are still pretty amazing and deserve a permanent place in print.
In the article, we talked about Jan’s most memorable wins, which surprisingly weren’t in Beijing or Kona. Although winning Olympic gold and three World Championship titles on the Big Island were undoubtedly special, for Jan, beating Javier Gomez at the French Grand Prix the year before the Olympics was truly “life-changing.” Another important race was St. George 70.3 in 2015 when he got dropped on the bike and ran his way to a win in the last 1km.
Both of those moments hold importance, I think, not because of what they meant to others, but because of what they meant to Jan and his own self-belief. He talked in the article about how the mental highs and lows of the sport can be a roller-coaster ride. It’s something that only the most self-assured pro athletes can manage with any success.
“True self-belief is a hard thing to find,” he says.
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He talked about the challenge of getting into the right headspace for big races, which is something his coach, Dan Lorang, was able to comment on as a great strength of Jan’s, in addition to his thirst for knowledge and ability to overcome adversity.
“For sure there were bad moments, where he struggled with injuries or sickness, but with the help of his family and friends, he always came back to a good position and was able to compete at the highest level,” Dan says. “In the past, he also worked with a sports psychologist and learned some techniques to deal with situations. He’s also really interested in these topics and reads books about it.”
As a triathlete myself, I’ve competed in sprint, Olympic, and 70.3 races, and I’ve realized that the skills needed for short course and long course are incredibly different. It’s almost like two different sports. So it’s mind-boggling to think that an athlete could be equally good at both… and not just good, but exceptional.
I was curious how Jan approached the transition from short course to long course triathlon and wondered if there was ever a moment when he thought, “Hey, maybe this might be a bad idea…”
“It wasn’t as daunting as it’s sometimes made out to be,” Frodeno says. “I waited long enough to be in a spot of being well and truly done with short distance, and I needed a new home for me as an athlete.”
“Traveling to Kona in 2011, back in the day, to present the new Specialized TT bike and witnessing Craig Alexander- from the pre-race nerves to absolutely smashing the race- gave me a North Star to follow.”
Dan says the single most important factor that contributed to Jan’s success in the transition was that he had a clear vision.
“He wanted to go to long distance triathlon to win Kona and make history,” Dan says. “After that, it was consistency in training without having really big peaks of 40-hour weeks that kept him injury-free for a long time and let him progress step by step in long distance racing.”
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For me, I viewed the purpose of the article as a career retrospective that would detail an incredible athlete’s decades of dominance in the sport. But, of course, we had to have a catchy headline, so that’s where the Triathlon GOAT theme came in. It’s something people use to describe Jan quite often, but I was curious how he feels about this moniker.
“Like many expressions, GOAT is something that gets thrown around a lot more than it ever did, just like everything is ‘totally amazing’ these days and a simple good is almost offensive. 🙂 I feel honored to be considered in this group of people, but personally it’s never how I would refer to myself,” Frodeno says.
“I’ve had good innings over a long career, given my all to the sport, and dragged a few people off the couch over the years that otherwise may have stayed there. That’s as much as anyone can ask for: to make a difference, hopefully a positive one.”
That’s the cool part about Jan. Not only is he an immensely talented athlete, he has a heart for service, as evident by the creation of a pump track for kids in Salt through the Frodeno Fun(d).
When I spoke with professional athlete and IM commentator, Dede Griesbauer, about Jan, she talked about another aspect of the man that sets him apart from his fellow athletes. He’s one of the most “professional professionals” the sport has ever seen.
“He has been approachable, accessible, and personable, all while being a consummate professional,” Dede says. “He has displayed moments of being absolutely superhuman on a race course. But at other times, he’s been remarkably human as well.”
“He appears to be super careful and selective about the brands he partners with and has a super unique mind for the business side of triathlon, as well as the athletic side. Those business endeavors haven’t seemed to detract from his incredible commitment to training, racing, and family life. It’s hard to look at Jan’s career and find things he’s done wrong.”
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I think the bottom line is that Jan is a mature athlete, and I don’t mean his age, (although he did recently turn 42). He’s mature in the way he commits to his training, conducts himself in the media, interacts with fellow athletes, and races fearlessly.
Don’t misunderstand. Jan definitely knows how good he is. He just doesn’t need to shout it from the rooftops like others do. But likely that comes from self-awareness that’s been cultivated over time.
There was one funny comment I enjoyed from a post-race interview at the PTO US Open when Jan commented about getting knocked around in the swim by Kristian Blummenfelt. He said, “Ok, we can have a changing of the guard, but the throne stays with me.”
I chuckled a bit and decided to ask Jan about it. “The PTO interviews are meant to be polarizing and bring out another layer in the sport,” he says. “It’s good fun, but also to be enjoyed with a pinch of salt.” He did comment in the article how he thinks Kristian has had the greatest season of any individual ever, and he has a great amount of respect for that.
In talking with Dan about what he feels has led to Jan’s success over past 20 years, he had this to say:
“Jan is the incarnation of an athlete who loves what he’s doing, who lives his passion, and who knows what it means to be a professional,” Dan says. “But he still has that kid inside himself who’s really nervous at the start of a competition, who always wants to win, and who dislikes losing. He doesn’t have to force himself to live that life; he loves that lifestyle.”
Because Dede is a commentator for IRONMAN, she’s had the opportunity to watch Jan compete many times. I wondered if there was a memorable performance of his that ever made her say, “Wow, this guy is one of the greatest we’ve ever seen.” She said that making her answer that question before Nice seems unfair, but Jan’s win at the PTO US Open in Milwaukee is definitely at the top of the list.
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“Sure, he’s faced more ferocious fields in more high pressured competitions, but just when many were counting Jan out, (including PTO commentators during the broadcast) he proved them wrong. Had Jan come into this year ‘less than,’ athletically speaking, it would’ve been easy to say, ‘Yep, one injury too many,’ or ‘He was a great champion whose time has simply come.” But he stood up and delivered once again, proving you can absolutely never count him out. He’s been incredibly triumphant on the race course and has also shown vulnerability through injury. But he always finds a way back.”
That’s why it’s sad that tomorrow will be the last time we will see Jan Frodeno compete at an IRONMAN World Championship. Do I think it will be the last triathlon Jan will ever do? No. But his last WC appearance? Yes.
I’m glad he will get to spend more time with his wife, Emma, and his kids, and finally get to be a soccer dad, but I will certainly miss seeing that tall, graceful figure float out of T2 on his way to conquer whatever obstacles lie ahead.