Today is Wednesday. And last night I slept really well. Sunday and Monday night were not so nice... The 2011 Pan Am Games were a really good opportunity for me to qualify for London 2012. After 2 weeks at altitude in Colorado Springs and 5 days in Guadalajara, I was as ready as one could possibly be. I felt good. Through crappy weather the first few days in Mexico, we managed to creatively reorganize our training with the help of our COC Games staff. On Saturday the women competed, and Canada qualified its first pentathlete for London - Mel.
This was really exciting and she hasn't stopped smiling since Saturday. I remember that feeling when I qualified for Beijing; it's like nothing can bring you down. Amazing feeling. John, our coach, texted me after her competition and said "One down, one to go." I thought that was awesome. These events are so tense and one gets ultra-sensitive to everything. Despite the nerves I felt good.I knew I would have to put everything on the table, physically, mentally, and emotionally. There were 25 men, so a fairly small field, and I essentially needed to finish in the top 3 to ensure a spot (that could change depending on details, but as a general rule). We competed at the Hipica Club which is a nice riding facility outside Guadalajara by 10 minutes. The Eventing riders were training there through the week and it was neat to see horses from all over, including Canada's team. The facility had a temporary swimming pool and fencing strips set up under a covered arena. This was adjacent to the riding and combined event area, so a really nice setup for spectators.
The fence was the first event, as it usually is. I was so fortunate to have my family cheering, my girlfriend, and friends from Mexico who drove up 4 hours from Puerto Vallarta. I haven't seen the results yet, but the fence went really well. I think I lost 7 bouts, so that would mean I won 17. I felt strong on the pistes and I wasn't going to let anyone think that I may not be a threat. Funny enough, the bouts I lost were to Venezuela, Uruguay, Panama, Chile, Dominican, and the USA. The first two of those athletes should never have hit me, but they are somewhat awkward fencers and I struggled with them cause they don't follow predictable movement. The Chilean is just fast, but not super strong. I fell asleep against the Americans for some reason - was not in the zone. The Dominican fencer is quite strong which is impressive given he is from a small island. Beyond these bouts, I was totally in the zone winning 70%. The swim was in a crappy short course temporary pool. It's funny cause the organizers swear it's a good pool, even saying at one point it's a FINA standard pool. That provided a laugh. The water was super cold. However, this didn't really matter because we all had to race in the same thing and scores are relative. I swam 2:10 which is 5 seconds off my time, which I think is roughly where everyone else saw themselves. Not ideal, but no harm done. This put me in 2nd going into the ride. Riding has been going really well for me over the last few months as my girlfriend has helped me a ton. Providing a new perspective for me in the saddle has been really beneficial. I drew a good horse and rode for 1150 points or so out of 1200 (2 rails and a couple time faults). Unfortunately the riding event in pentathlon has degraded significantly over the years I've been involved. The UIPM (our international federation) is bent on providing the best presentation of the sport, which results in hiding, as best as possible, the lack of riding ability that many pentathletes have. Instead of pushing for a higher level on the athletes, the UIPM has slowly reduced the difficulty of courses so that scores artificially reflect better riding. Coming from riding, this is tough to watch, but not something to dwell on too much. Most riders rode between 1150 and 1200 points, which doesn't determine a strong from week athlete and doesn't alter the standings. It is almost a formality sometimes. There are a few athletes who may ride for 600 points and are totally removed from contention, but for the most part, the influence of the ride was muted Sunday. This put me in second going into the final run/shoot. As nervous as I was, I felt strong and although I was aware that if I held this position, I'd qualify, it was a distant thought. As far as I can figure, I was in the zone. I am still running it through my mind though. Through warm up, twice I felt the target didn't register shots and I asked my coaches for help. Warmup is a rushed time, so we did what we could and moved on. Unfortunately, the UIPM used old targets for the laser shooting that give no feedback. They simply register a green light when you hit. Even worse than previous versions, these ones didn't flash a red light if you missed. The organizers sold this to us as "the new version," but it appears that it was actually a technical glitch. And unfortunately it was one less piece of feedback while shooting. There are new target systems in place now that show your target giving you feedback in warmup, but they were not used. So, I put the hickups in warmup out of my mind and carried on through an otherwise decent warmup. This was the moment - I had set myself up very well ahead of all but one athlete as I was second position. If I shot as I'd shot in workout and at World Championships last month, I would likely have a spot for London. I ran into my position from the start and despite being in the (mental) zone for all three series of the shoot, the green lights would not illuminate, and I slowly fell back to 8th position. Through the entire shoot, I didn't panic and despite the nerves I didn't shake. I felt smooth and controlled and it's mostly a blur now. When I passed the finish line, I couldn't believe that I'd just shot so poorly and gave up a great opportunity following an other-wise super day. I went straight to my shooting position to talk with coach John.
My plan for the 3 weeks leading into the meet was to take responsibility for my actions. This meant to not pass blame on in training or competition when things didn't go as I wanted - I controlled my destiny and I am responsible for its fruition. Because of this, I am cautious to use the cop out that other athletes have where the target is blamed for poor shooting (although the targets have been cited all season for problems to which the UIPM turns a blind eye). I am in a tough spot because the targets we shot on provide no feedback so I will never know if I a) shot poorly b) potentially shot well, but was not sighted in correctly or c) the equipment failed. I want closure on this, and unfortunately I think I will only find it by accepting what I can't control and moving forward. There is no point in dwelling, but at the same time, it's pretty hard to let this go.
After John and I spoke, I walked back to our team area and spoke to my family, and everyone else who was there to support me. Despite the days following the competition being harder to cope with than the moment right after the shoot, I keep going back to what I told my family and friends - I have no regrets about Sunday. I had to blindly put every morsel of mental and physical capacity on the line, without hesitation. And I did that, delivering on it. If I am going to be the athlete I aspire to be, I can't let this bother me. I am proud of how I approached the day. There are no medals for this and it definitely doesn't get me to the Olympics, but it's (hopefully) what will remain in my mind when I reflect on this day.
These are stressful times. Athletes across every sport are forming a plan to secure a spot in London. Swimmer's, gymnasts, and pentathletes like me. Now it's time to rest and in 2012, my focus will be on earning as many ranking points along the way to get my spot. I've always made things interesting in life, sometimes taking the scenic route. Perhaps those past moments are the ones where I learned the deeper lessons about sport and life. With some luck, there is a positive lesson that lies in the year ahead. Thank you for checking in. Josh.