Gwen Jorgensen, a part-time tax accountant from Milwaukee, surged to second place in the International Triathlon Union Championship Series race on Saturday and earned a return trip to the London course for the 2012 Olympics.
In just her second year as a pro triathlete, Jorgensen posted the best finish by an American in the history of the International Triathlon Union World Championship Series and leaped to the top echelon of the sport.
The top two U.S. women finishers earned spots on the squad, provided they finished in the top nine overall. Sarah Groff, who finished seventh, will join Jorgensen representing the U.S. in 2012.
“No, I mean it’s just surreal, we have so many great people in the U.S. it’s just an honor to be going,” Jorgensen said, in a post-race interview. “It really is surreal and give credit for USAT for coming to me, I mean I wouldn’t have even known about this without them, so it’s awesome.”
USA Triathlon officials recruited Jorgensen, a Waukesha South graduate, near the end of her stellar collegiate career running for the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
"You just go out there every day and you learn from each race," Jorgensen said. "The USA athletes and coaches have been helping me and teaching me the ropes. I'm just taking what I learn."
She used her All-American foot speed in London and posted the fastest run split of the day, 33:43 over the 10K. That propelled her from a pack of roughly 50 athletes chasing winner Helen Jenkins, Great Britain, and into the Olympics.
Jorgensen said the race played to her strengths.
"I was fortunate to be in a chase pack made up of extremely talented bikers, allowing us to catch the leaders," she wrote in an email Monday morning. "In other races I've had to make up time on the run; however, in London, we started the run closer together. The other competitors are fierce and talented and pushed me in my strongest leg of the triathlon."
Improvement in the cycling segment has been a key to Jorgensen's rise to the top of the world-class rankings. Recent tutorials from pro bike racers Adam Bergman and Patrick LeMieux, who roomed with Jorgensen during the International Cycling Classic, provided a strategic advantage.
"Bergman and Lemieux were gracious in letting me join them on some of their bike rides," she said. "During the rides they gave me tips on how to draft, maintain a good position in a pack, pedal, use cadence to my advantage, and more.
"They also let me join them for coffee when they talked about bike race strategies. I would then go to their races at night and watch the strategies play out. Although crit races have different game plans than triathlons, it was still beneficial."
Jorgenson finished in 2 hours, 41 seconds, seven seconds behind Jenkins.
Gwen Jorgensen - photo courtesy of USA Triathlon