Interview With Ryan Bolton
By Kristen McFarland
ISSUE #8, October/November 2000 – What was it like to get to the San Diego processing center for all of the U.S. Olympic Team?
“It was kind of chaotic. Processing itself was like a twelve step process. When we got there we checked in and stayed on a military base, which was kind of interesting in itself. But we got up at 7 a.m. because you could start processing at 8 o’clock and it was first come first served, so we wanted to get there early….They gave you a shopping cart, and you walked through and they just started filling the cart…like outfits and uniforms… Then they had an alterations room, and a team photo room, and you had to sign all these banners. Then they had all this stuff you could sign up for…for over in Sydney. An example was AT&T. They had a hospitality restaurant that you could go to any time of the day from 6 a.m. until midnight. It was a buffet, free drinks, free food, and you could put people on your guest list…After that we went to the airport, took off and went to L.A., and that night we flew all the way to Sydney. So it was a really long day, a really long day.”
So when you got to Sydney, did you first go to the athletes village?
“The security was overwhelming because when you got to the airport, we couldn’t go outside until we had all this security with us, because we were the U.S. Team….. So we went through that whole process, and had to load our stuff up again and our stuff was taken to the Olympic Village and we got to see where we were going to stay but we weren’t moving in there yet. It was actually the first day that the Olympic Village was open, so it was kind of surreal because not very many people were there yet. It was a giant ghost town. The cafeteria was seriously about a square mile big and there were about a hundred people in it…So we had dinner there and we loaded our stuff up onto yet another truck and drove down to Wollongong, which is like an hour and a half to two hours south of Sydney right on the coast. That’s where we stayed for our camp, for like a week and a half…. The triathlon community was really into us being there, and they had dinners for us and showed us around and took us on rides and runs, and we also swam at the uni-versity pool, which was a fifty meter pool. There were five fifty meter pools in a town the same size as Boulder. It was typical Australia. Swimming is a real big deal… During our stay there we came up into Sydney the first time on a Sunday to go over the course. They actually closed the entire course down. It was pretty crazy, because when we went to the course on that day there was tons of media, of course, but also there were a couple of thousand people there just to watch us train…. Everywhere we went before the race we had security…They were kind of like Secret Service guys with the things in their ears…They saw us as being Americans as targets….. And the commentators were practicing that day also and were doing a mock race. It was funny listening to them because they would be saying really funny things like ‘Oh Ryan Bolton, it appears that he’s been eaten by a shark! But no! Here he comes out of the water missing a leg!!’ … Then we went back to Wollongong but had to come up again on Wednesday for the pro meeting. It was a very standard pro meeting, kind of a lot of ten-sion in the room…Got up on Thursday morning and came back up to Sydney…We did-n’t move into the Village yet. We stayed downtown. ….It was really close to the course…On Sunday, after our race, we moved to the Olympic Village…They did-n’t want us in the village ahead of time…also it was quite a ways from the race course.”
When did Joe (coach Joe Friel) get there?
“He came over on the same day that we came, but on a different flight, so he actually showed up in Wollongong on that first day when I got there….It was awesome to have him there because Michelle was the Olympic team coach, of course, but she ‘s not my coach. She was good at figuring out where stuff was and getting stuff done. Tim Yount was very good with that, too. It was good to have Joe there because he knows what’s affecting me and what’s not affecting me, and what I need to do and what I don’t need to do….He left the day after the race right away, because he, like you, had to be in Hawaii, and he had to get home first to take care of all his obligations….Having him there was invaluable…. He was partly the reason why I was there.”
How long have you worked with Joe?
“Since the beginning of ‘98….He has worked out great for me. And I think he will for a long time to come.”
So you are going to continue work-ing with him?
“I think he will be, if anything, even more of a benefit to me now, mov-ing up into longer distance racing. His specialty is cycling…..I can hon-estly say that I cannot ride with those guys [Ironman specialists] today. I need a year of miles, and Joe will help out with that….I like that type of training….In World Cup racing it’s almost a passive part of the event.”
So tell us about the race.
“I actually slept very well, which always helps….We got there and went through the standard warm-ups. The only thing that wasn’t standard was that the course was already lined a few rows deep of people, so you could already tell how crazy and chaotic it was going to be. Its very typical to a standard World Cup race…..The only thing that was different was that they introduced us and we had to walk in front of the grand stands, in front of the tv cameras, then out on to the pontoons. It was somewhat nerve racking but really not any more than a normal World Cup. In the Olympics its kind of easy because you just know that no matter what happens you’re just going to go hard. The Olympic Trials was actu-ally a more nerve racking race because there were strategies to be played out….In the Olympics my philosophy was that if I’m behind on the bike and we’re not making up any ground on the front pack I’m just going to go solo, go for it, try to catch them, because it’s the Olympics. What have you got to lose? …”
Did you talk to any of the other athletes about drafting strategies, like the Swiss ladies did?
“No. It’s kind of unspoken. Its just like bike racing, guys in a group. I thought what would happen in the Olympic races is that everyone would want to get to the front pack and no one would become apathetic. In world cups often if you’re in the second group sometimes people will become apathetic and people start not pulling….In the Olympics I was pretty sure that everyone would go hard and everyone did. We got on the bike and we started rotating and riding hard right away. And I was in the pack in not much time at all. I had a decent swim… I had a really good start. We’ve been practicing dive starts. And I was kind of in the middle of the group but I was surrounded by really fast swimmers, so I got on really good feet fast…Craig Walton was about two people over from me…By 500 meters, which was the first buoy, right hand corner, I was in mid-pack… I knew I was in a safe area. If I just held on and stayed strong I would be in good shape…..I got my goggles knocked of once, but in a normal world cup that can happen five times…I came out of the water, felt that I had a decent swim, I had a decent, not a great, transition, hopped on the bike, and got with a few guys right away. Actually I got with the guy who was second. He came up from behind me and he was riding really strong…By lap two and a half we were in the front group… By the time we got there it was probably 25 people. But by the time we got to the 6th lap it probably grew to 35 people… It was most of the field… Unfortunately, on the last lap, probably a little more than half way through…..there’s a really short, steep grade, and I was sitting three or four rows back and the front guys just totally sat up…and the second row ran into the third row, the third row ran into me, and there were about six of us that ended up almost grinding to a halt and then falling over, because we were just on top of those people. I got road rash all over my right hand side and there were bikes piled up on top of me. By the time I got up and got back on my bike the pack was gone, and there were three of us left. My brake hoods were all messed up and I was totally bloody. The only person that I recognized, that I remember being around me, was Gilberto Gonzalez, which I thought was a bummer for him because I know he’s a really good runner and I’m sure he was thinking the same thing as me. On the sixth lap of the bike I’m thinking ‘okay I’m in the front of the front pack, my legs feel good, I got here pretty easily, I’m ready to run hard’…I just put my head down and went solo, hard. By the end, right at transition, I was catching the end of the pack again…came into transition and put on the running shoes and started running and I was blown, pretty lactated. I was hurting from just going hard on the bike…Took off running and tried to get myself going and I was having a hard, hard time. But I was telling myself ‘this is the Olympics, just keep on going hard’. On the first lap I really held steady ground, I wasn’t making up any ground, which is frustrating, especially when you’re a runner. And then on the second lap I started moving up, which was good. I started catching people. I think it was ‘cause I was kind of getting my legs back under me. I probably passed five guys in the last mile. Crossing the finish line it was kind of a goofy feeling. I didn’t know how to feel. I was like, ‘I went down. I could have been there’ but you never know if you could have been there. My legs on the run felt like hell, and I don’t know if they would have felt that way if I wouldn’t have wrecked. If they would have I would have maybe been in the top ten, but I wouldn’t have been in the top three. All the what ifs start playing in your mind right away. But I was psy-ched, it was a crazy experience. On the run it was just deafening the entire way, with people screaming.”
When you went to Sydney, what were your expectations for the race?
“I think I would have been happy with a top ten finish…But really, as far as satisfaction goes, just being there was good….You realize that, hey, you are right there, and this is the highest level that there is. You realize that you have the poten-tial to be that good.”
It sounds like you don’t have any disappointment.
“No. More perspective than disap-pointment… If you go into a race and you feel like you gave it what you can give it then you’re going to be happy even if you get last place. I felt like I gave myself to the race…When I crossed the finish line I was happy and content. The most important thing is feeling good about what you put into it.”