Catching up with OLYMPIAN Katie Zaferes

It took a little longer than many of us would have liked, but 10 days after the final Olympic qualification race in Yokohama, a USA Triathlon committee (appointed by another USA Triathlon committee) has decided to send Katie Zaferes to Rio. Katie was given the good news by USAT’s High Performance Director Andy Schmitz last night, which was followed by a press release this morning. We caught up with her less than 24 hours after she found out she was going to the Olympics.

How much communication have you had with USAT over the past two weeks and what has that communication been?

Andy Schmitz has been really good at keeping me in the know. I talked to him right after the race [last] Saturday and he had told me that it could take a week or so. I’ve talked to him probably three times over the past week. He told me he could update me every day but I didn’t really need to be updated if there wasn’t anything to be updated on.

Were you worried they might end up choosing a domestique for Gwen or were you confident they’d end up choosing you?

I was pretty confident in myself. Under the criteria for a domestique I didn’t think we had anyone eligible for that position—including myself—and I thought I was probably the most capable of doing it. I was relatively confident, but at the same time you never really know. Of course there was some worry and doubt in my mind. I mean, you have Gwen Jorgensen—and I don’t know if she wanted a domestique or not—but she’s obviously a gold medal contender, so you know there’s a possibility that one would be wanted.

If USAT had approached you and said, “Katie, we want you on the team but you have to be a domestique for Gwen,” what would your response have been?

I probably would’ve had to think about it a bit. I’m confident that I’m also a medal contender. But at the end of the day, if we had exhausted all other options and that was the only way for me to go to the Olympics, it’s not something I would turn down. It’s still going to the Olympics and representing the United States. If I said no to a chance to go to the Olympics, I’d regret that for the rest of my life.

What’s your “racing” relationship like with Gwen and Sarah? Say a pack gets away on the bike—could you see the three of you working together to reel it in or will it be every woman for herself?

I used to say that Sarah and I were more similar athletes than Gwen and myself, but Gwen has proven herself over the past year to be a very strong swimmer and cyclist. It wouldn’t be unlikely to find ourselves all together in a group. In that case, because we all have the same end game, we could be working together within the pack. But once you get on the run it’s every woman for herself. I could see us being together and working toward a common interest, but we all want to be on that podium—we all want to be on the top of that podium. I guess because we all have similar racing strategies I could see us working together.

There’s been quite an outpouring of opinions on social media because of USAT’s delay in naming you to the team. What was your reaction to all the tweets and posts over the past two weeks?

Obviously it was nice seeing people support me. I think people were a little aggressive toward USA Triathlon, but I also think there are some things that they’ll change in the future based off of how the decision-making process went. I was talking to Andy and he said it was difficult because all the people who needed to be involved with the selection committee happened to have conflicting schedules for the whole week. They wanted to make sure everyone was educated on what was going on before making a decision, which I appreciate in the end. I didn’t want them choosing me to be a domestique because someone didn’t know me as an athlete. I guess I had a mixed reaction is what I’m trying to say. Sure there are things that need to be improved, but I knew from the start that it would take until at least [last] Friday until I had an answer. There are plenty of other federations that have a similar process. Australia just announced their team; Canada hasn’t announced their team yet; New Zealand hasn’t. It’s not like it’s an unlikely scenario, but I think it just wasn’t communicated very clearly, which led to a lot of people coming to their own conclusions about what was going on.

Between the water pollution, Zika virus and rampant violent crime, do you have any concerns about your safety at the Olympics and will you cut your trip a little shorter than you might if the Games were, say, anywhere else but Rio?

I’ll probably wear plenty of mosquito repellent—but no, having been there last August without any issues gives me peace of mind. I’ll take a few extra precautions, like I won’t get into the water for my pre-race swim, which is something I normally do. Having raced there last year, I feel confident that things will run smoothly. I’m probably less concerned going back this time than I was when I went last August.

What kind of a result will it take for you to leave Rio satisfied?

Podium.

I like it. Have you thought about race strategy at all and is there an ideal race scenario of how you’d like to see the race unfold?

I think it’s kind of dangerous for me to hope for a particular scenario, so I try to be flexible and feel confident in any kind of race situation. Of course, my dream would be a breakaway that I’m a part of, but if that doesn’t happen, I feel confident in being able to use my run to my advantage. Hopefully it’ll be a bit warmer and make it a more difficult race on the run. So there’s not set plan, but if a breakaway happens and I get to be a part of it that would be fantastic for me.

I believe Joe [Maloy] and Ben [Kanute] are the only members of the Team USA triathlon squad who are single. Who do you think will do better with the ladies in the Olympic village?

Sorry Ben, but Joe for sure.

You husband is known for writing really bad jokes on Twitter. He did have one regarding USAT’s prolonged decision that was hilarious. Was that his best joke to date?

I guess it’s his most memorable. Does that make it his best? I’m not sure. But it certainly got a lot of interest on Twitter.

Does he run his jokes by you first or does he just go for it?

He’s learned not to because the ones that I like are the ones nobody else likes. The ones that I don’t like are the ones that get the most interest. If he runs it by me, I’ll usually say “no” and then he’ll post it anyway.

From now on you’ll always have the word “Olympian” before your name. What does that mean to you?

It means so much. This might sound different, but I’m not someone who grew up always dreaming of going to the Olympics. It’s been a newer goal for me. I never took for granted that I was going to by an Olympian one day. Now that I actually get to do it and represent the United States…it means so much. My best memories and my most proud moments are those when Gwen, Sarah and I have stood on the podium together and we’ve gotten to hear our national anthem played—not just for one of us but for all three of us. If that could happen in Rio it’d be pretty amazing.

About the Author

Brad Culp
Brad Culp is unfortunately a 10-year veteran of the triathlon industry. He has spent time as editor-in-chief of LAVA and Triathlete, as well as a brief stint as the media manager of the traveling circus that is the ITU. He now writes for the most respected names in triathlon media, and also Trstriathlon.com. He once assaulted a cab driver in Panama for refusing to turn off Coldplay.