Nicola Spirig’s Sprint for glory at the 2012 Olympics. Photo: Delly Carr / ITU
For our followers supporting Nicola Spirig in the build up to the Olympics and who have followed her journey through social media. Here’s a small excerpt from a yet to be published book on Nicola’s final preparation ahead of the Olympic gold medal four years ago.
“… The lack of certainty in the final training regimen would have sent the old Nicola (Spirig) into a tail spin. A lack structure is very hard for Swiss to cope with, but Nicola was now all in and totally committed to the approach.
I had always believed 100% in Nicola’s physical talent. We just had to find the training key to control her injuries. In the months leading into London I was in no doubt I could not have had a fitter or more prepared athlete to be racing in my last Olympics.
However, I still doubted the mind.
At the Olympics the mind is king; who can cope with the extra pressure? Who can believe in themselves when the pressure is put on – when there is nothing more to give but you have to find more?
The Olympics is not about doing your best; Olympic Champions need the quality to ‘get it done’ no matter what it takes. That’s the difference. And up until now Nicola didn’t have that in her weapon bag. After a successful European Championships victory at Eilat (Israel), she returned to Switzerland.
The bad weather had me thinking we should have gone back to Gran Canaria instead for the final preparation, but there was a eery calm as she trained through the weather in Leysin.
The smile. The same expression I’d seen 10 years ago was back. The joy to be racing, joy to be training, joy to be running at full flight had come back. Everyone in the squad commented how they had never seen her so calm and happy. As others were getting wound up ahead of the Olympics, the only thing she was winding up was the training. Her injury demons had left her body and the doubt demons had followed them.
At this time we started to discuss the race.
We spent hours speaking about how it would unfold once we knew who had or hadn’t been selected. By the time of the actual Olympics, the night before we didn’t even discuss it. The plan was in place months before and the lead up went smoother than any other preparation I had ever been a part of.
Nicola was now at her best. I thought she didn’t need another hit out, but the problem was she kept hammering the training at intensities harder than the actual racing. The closer to the Olympics we got, the harder she went. Too hard. My usual coaching tricks to slow her down weren’t working anymore. She would just shake her head and push harder. The transformation into a training monster was complete. Now we had to chain it up and let it loose on race day.
Ironman 70.3 Antwerp
But how to slow her down? In previous preparations with Nicola we used half iron distance races as training hit-outs.
Ironman 70.3 Antwerp was on the same weekend as WTS Hamburg and so fitted our timeline for the last hit out.
The thinking was that if I sent her to the race and made her drive there, it would steady her training down to a manageable level. She would have to spend 10 hours driving in the car both ways. Doing a 70.3 Ironman I also knew she would be careful not to push too hard, something that would have not been possible in the sprint race.
Everyone was screaming at us that ‘you must be crazy’, but Nicola didn’t have to be convinced. She loaded the car and went on a 4-day road trip with Reto (Hug) 13 days out before the biggest race in her triathlon career.
Coaches orders were:
You sit on whoever is leading the bike no matter how slow and wait. I’m serious. I want the last 5km of the run a time trial. Wait!
‘Yes, of course coach. Don’t worry’, she replied.
I was worried. Nicola loves a race and she especially doesn’t like taking orders. Whether that is two weeks before the Olympics or not. While most in my squad call me ‘Boss’ you will never hear the Spirit call me that in a million years.
So I wasn’t totally surprised when Reto called me with the update:
‘She is 12 minutes in front Boss and had a flat at the 60km mark. She rode 10km with it before another Swiss guy gave her a canister.’
I was driving over a mountain pass on the way to Alpe d’Huez in France. I was so angry I could barely keep hold of the phone. She was blowing it! I was worried that the excess effort of riding on the flat tire was going to effect her run and recovery. But I was wrong. Later events would show it only enhanced her endurance when the whips were cracking in the biggest race of her life.
In the end, the win at Antwerp 70.3 just like all the other races in 2012 only gave her more confidence to believe in herself.
In July, Nicola had competed at the Swiss National 5000m Championships. I was travelling to Challenge Roth and stopped in to watch without telling her I was there.
In the middle of a heavy training block she was tired and the first laps were a struggle. But she she didn’t drop. And I could tell that with each passing lap that she wasn’t dropped that the confidence gaining. With 1500m to go the ‘real’ runners started to pick up the pace again to shake the triathlete off, but it was too late.
As she came past me on the back straight with 300m to go Nicola carried this surprised expression on her face.
Is this it? It can’t be. Is this all they got?
50 metres later she exploded to the lead and kept going. The shock of a triathlete defeating the best Swiss runners reverberating around the stadium.
It was a significant win. She ran away not just with the title, but the heavy realisation:
If the professional runners can’t hold me, how will the triathletes?
Right there, at that 300m mark is where I’m quite sure Nicola Spirig decided she really could win the Olympic Games … ”
No matter the outcome this Saturday, Nicola’s already cemented her place in triathlon history. We wish her best mechanical luck for the next chapter and to sharing her story soon.