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Catching up with: Susan Williams

Catching up with: Susan Williams

Susan Williams is the only U.S. triathlete with an Olympic medal. That could change in Rio.

Triathlete Susan Williams stood on the podium at the 2004 Athens Olympics, a bronze medal around her neck and her 3-year-old daughter, Sydney, in her left arm. 

An official placed an olive wreath on Sydney's blonde locks. Sydney, who was wearing a leopard print swimsuit, removed the olive wreath and carefully positioned it on her mother's head, before changing her mind and putting it back on her own head.

Sydney is now a freshman in high school. Since her mother became the first U.S. athlete to win an Olympic triathlon medal, no other U.S. triathlete has stood on an Olympic podium.

That could change at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

"It's not a sure bet," Williams said, "but between Gwen [Jorgensen] and Sarah [True], I think the probability is quite high that we will get one or two medals."

Susan Williams

Susan Williams with her daughter, Sydney, at the 2004 Olympics Credit: Getty Images

Jorgensen, the triathlon world champion in 2014 and 2015, broke a World Triathlon Series record by winning 12 consecutive races. She was a collegiate runner and swimmer at the University of Wisconsin, but Williams credits Jorgensen's growth on the bike leg as the reason she has dominated the sport in recent years. 

"It's going to be really hard to beat her if she's anywhere near to being on her game," Williams said in a phone interview.

Williams, who used to train with True, watched the 2012 Olympics on television. True got dropped on the run and fell so far behind that Williams could no longer see her with the front group. Then True managed to battle back and pull even with top three triathletes, before ultimately finishing fourth. 

"I've never, ever seen that before in a world-class triathlon," Williams said. "She has to be one of the toughest competitors I know."

Williams, the oldest Olympic triathlon medalist ever, won her bronze medal at the age of 35. True will be three months shy of her 35th birthday in Rio. 

"For Sarah, I think that age is the peak of being of being a triathlete," Williams said. "She's got a lot of experience and a lot of training under her belt, a lot of base. I don't see that as a detriment."

While a U.S. woman has finished fourth or better at every edition of the Games since triathlon made its Olympic debut in 2000, a U.S. man has never finished better than seventh. 

"That has been an enigma for USA Triathlon for a long time," Williams said. "We obviously have a lot of talent with our runners and swimmers in the U.S., so it's kind of odd that we haven't had more guys coming up through USA Triathlon."

Susan Williams

Susan Williams celebrating her 2004 Olympic bronze medal Credit: IOC

Williams now coaches triathletes, including Sydney, in Colorado for Team EMC and C2E Coaching

She often tells the story of how she crashed during the bike leg at the 2004 Olympics, got up, and still managed to claim the bronze medal.  

"Things happen to derail us," Williams said. "You can still make the best of it and keep going."

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