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© Janos M. Schmdit / ITU Media /
Gordon Benson: aiming for Rio selection
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Sunday 21st February 2016

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Gordon Benson targets Rio 2016 selection in support of the Brownlee's

"I think it's a realistic goal, but also fits with my longer term objectives"

With the pre-selection of the Brownlee brothers for Rio 2016 last November, the door for some Elite male British triathletes and their chances of joining them in Brazil this summer may well have closed. Of course, their dominance of ITU racing over the past six or seven years made their selection something of a formality given that no other British men who are currently active within the ITU World Series have ever made a WTS podium, while the Brownlee's have accumulated 45 between them. However, that 'door' closing relates more to the requirements of the athlete who will be selected for that third spot. Simply being the 'third best' athlete may not be enough.

From the selection policy:

If both British 2012 Olympic medallists meet the criteria above and NO other male athlete wins a medal at either of the 2015 Assessment Races, the nomination process will proceed straight to the selection of a Pilot Athlete.

A Pilot? No, we are not looking to fly an aeroplane. Often referred to within the sport as a domestique, British Triathlon's 'Pilot' is defined as:

A ‘Pilot' will be an athlete or athletes who are capable of having a positive impact on British medal success in the Olympic Triathlon. A Pilot athlete's primary role will be to support their teammate(s) prior to and during competition to enhance the chances of medal success.

One man who has his eyes on joining the brothers in Rio this summer is European Games Champion, Gordon Benson. Ironically, Gordon has proven success in the 'team' environment; his Baku success in large part a result of benefiting from the work of team mates, Tom Bishop and Philip Graves. He wants to be the one in the Pilot role on 18th August he told me last week.

One of my highlights of 2015 came on the outskirts of Baku, Azerbaijan. On a personal level, I'd been asked to travel to the inaugural European Games Triathlon at Bilgah Beach in the role of on-site commentator; a fantastic experience working with a brilliant team. That memory was enhanced further by a men's race which proved to be one of the most unpredictable and exciting of the 2015 season. Team GB were exceptional, with Gordon Benson earning Britain's first ever European Games medal (that'll be a quiz question in years to come...), thanks in huge part to the work of team mates Tom Bishop and Philip Graves. So good was that 'team' effort that it was recognised at last years BTF Awards with the Peter Holmes Award for Inspirational Performance in International Competition. Eight months on, I asked Gordon about his Baku memories.

"It was just great to be a part of it. To then be there in the role of leader was an additional pressure, but we were all confident in what we could achieve and it was a great opportunity for me so early in my senior career. I thought we controlled the race and it panned out perfectly.

"I have done a few multisport events previously as a junior, but this was the biggest by far and it was great to be there with all of the other athletes from different sports."

Related Article - Gordon Benson wins European Games

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Gordon's final major event of the year was the Under-23 World Championships in Chicago, and event that didn't go fully to plan but one he feels was still a positive learning experience:

"Yeah, I was fifth in the Under-23 World's which I was disappointed with to be fair, given that I had got third previously in Edmonton (2014). I think I was just tired and a bit over-trained from a big block of training in St. Moritz during the summer. Having gone to Baku, then Hamburg for the WTS race [Ed. where Gordon was part of the Bronze medal winning Team Relay World Champs squad] and then St. Moritz - I found the recovery from that busy period difficult, plus of course you are training hard. With training camps, it's always up an extra 5% of effort. I take that as a positive learning though at 21, you always need to find what and where these limits are. I was in great shape aerobically in Chicago, but the fatigue meant that I lacked that sharp end that was needed when the pressure was on over the final lap of the run."

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Given the pre-selection of the Brownlee brothers for Rio, the Olympic selection policy confirms that the nomination process will 'proceed straight to the selection of a Pilot Athlete'. Previously referred to as a domestique (the role that Stuart Hayes took at London 2012). That's a role that Gordon has in his sights.

"I'd identified that potential position as something that I wanted to do a couple of years back and I signed up to the Pilot Program in early 2014. For me it is a logical step in my career. I think it is a great opportunity for further development and, were I to be selected, a chance to go to an Olympic Games with a key objective there. I've made some swim technique changes and been putting in more hours on the bike to try and meet the requirements of that position. I have been running too and I do feel in good shape.

"I'm enjoying the process and getting my head down and working hard. I think it's a realistic goal, but also fits with my longer term objectives. I see this process as hopefully a way to ensure that, by that additional swim focus, being confident that I won't miss any packs in the water again."

"Tom (Bishop) and Phil (Graves) did a great job for me in Baku, so I've seen it from that side and how it can work."

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Having a strong running background as a junior, I suggested to Gordon that a temporary focus away from his own running speed objectives (essential, in order to meet the high level swim and bike requirements in order to be able to play a positive role as a 'pilot' in support of Alistair and Jonathan), was a relatively risk-free option for a young and developing athlete.

"I swam and ran from a young age and feel as though I'm building a big aerobic base now and have no injuries - any decisions regarding Olympic selection (or not), will I guess be made in May / early June, so if I'm not going to be going to Rio I'll still be in a strong position for the rest of the year. We know from the past that I can add the top end / speed element of the run relatively quickly, so I would still be a good position to potentially target the Under-23 World Champs again."

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Are you studying at Leeds currently?

"Yes, I'm studying nutrition and should graduate this summer and then the plan is to be a full-time athlete."

What is life like as part of the seemingly dominant Leeds triathlon environment? How much training is done as a group?

"I've lived in Leeds all my life. I swam with the teams there a few times a week from 16 and then joined the University at 18 and so have been a part of the group there for 3/4 years now. It just seems to work for me, it's where I grew up and is the only place I would logically choose to be.

"Well we do five swims per week together, plus I'm now doing a few extra sessions on my own. Cycle wise I typically cycle between four to six times per week with Alistair and Jonny, Harry Wiltshire, Richard Varga and Mark Buckingham. Running is probably the most individual element. We do specific sessions on a Tuesday and Saturday and the rest are all separate. I tend to run with a mix of people, some from the University, some pure runners plus some on my own."

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