When Gwen Jorgensen crossed the finish line to capture the gold medal in the triathlon at the 2016 Olympics, no other competitors were in sight. That won’t be the case this Fourth of July when she storms Piedmont Park at the front of the 60,000 participants running The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race.
The 2018 race marks Jorgensen’s Peachtree debut, but she’s no stranger to distance running.
Since winning America’s first triathlon gold and etching her name into Olympic history, the 32-year-old transitioned to track and field with the goal of winning Olympic gold in the marathon.
On the journey toward becoming a champion marathoner, Jorgensen has been building her mileage and recently recorded a personal-best 31:55 10K at the Stanford Invitational. Twelve days ago at the U.S.A. Track and Field Outdoor Championships, she finished seventh in the 10,000 meters with a 32:24:09. It wasn’t until after the meet in Des Moines, Iowa, that Jorgensen set her sights on the Peachtree.
“I finished (at U.S.A. Championships), and Coach said, ‘You should do Peachtree!’ I love racing, and I got so excited,” she said. “The Peachtree has such history, and I looked at the calendar and was like, ‘Whoa, that’s six days away! We gotta book some plane tickets!’ It’s pretty exciting to be able to race in Peachtree. It’s such an iconic event.”
Jorgensen will be joined on the famous course and infamous hills by numerous seasoned competitors who make up the elite women’s field. The 2017 winner and nine-time U.S. Champion Aliphine Tuliamuk is back for a shot at reclaiming her title, and runner-up Sarah Pagano also returns to vie for the trophy.
Because this year will be Jorgensen’s first time running the Peachtree, she isn’t quite sure what to expect on race day. She is excited to “race on U.S. soil on Independence Day” and plans to “put (her) nose in it and see what (she) can do,” but she doesn’t have a finishing time in mind.
“My goal is to finish and feel like I’m totally depleted, feel like I gave it everything I had,” she said. “Just to go out there and push my limits. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be hot. It’s going to be humid. Just kinda see what I can do under those conditions. Especially with (the 2020 Olympic) marathon trials being here, it will be nice to kind of get a little bit of a simulation of the city and what it’s like to race here.”
The exposure to Atlanta before the Olympic Trials is valuable experience Jorgensen can’t replicate while training with the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore. Though she is accustomed to the high altitudes of the Pacific Northwest, running in the humidity that will surely hang over the course is a foreign condition and could impact her race.
“I heard it’s really hot,” she said when asked the most challenging part of the race. “I think just everything about it will be difficult, but something that will make it better will be all the people that come out and cheer.”
Supporters along the course have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Olympic champion, but they will have to arrive early as Jorgensen will be off and running with the elite women at 6:50 a.m.