Interview with Paulo Sousa, coach of two American Olympic Triathletes

Axe

In the wake of WTS Yokohama, I e-sat down with Paulo Sousa, coach of The Triathlon Squad. In Yokohama, Paulo had two athletes qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics – so I think it’s fair to say that you just want me to quit babbling and get down to business. Enjoy.

Interview with Paulo Sousa, coach of The Triathlon Squad including 2016 Olympians Joe Maloy and Greg Billington

Aaron WebsteyFirst off, congratulations on qualifying TWO of your athletes for the Rio 2016 Olympics. I’m sure it’s every coach’s dream to have even one athlete in the mix; to actually qualify two must be a fantastic mix of elation and relief.

Paulo's Orange ShirtThank you, Erin. I’m not sure if it’s every coach’s dream, but I’m pretty happy to see Joe Maloy and Greg Billington qualify for Rio. It’s been a great year for the athletes I coach and hopefully the good results will keep coming.

Aaron WebsteyLet’s go back to the WTS race in Yokohama, where Joe’s and Greg’s spots were finally solidified. Which emotion would you say was stronger – joy or relief? 

Paulo's Orange ShirtJoy-relief-excruciating pain… the day had a bit of everything. Before the men’s race, I had Summer Cook racing, and she had a long shot to make the Olympic team. When at 5k of the run she was running in 3rd, which would give her automatic qualification, it was very exciting. About 1 hour later I had the boys Greg, Joe and Eric Lagerstrom going for their own qualification and in the end Joe and Greg assured their qualification while Eric didn’t qualify. While I was happy for Greg and Joe, I was also very sad to see Eric not reaching his goal.

Aaron WebsteyWere you expecting both to qualify, or was one a bit more of a surprise than the other (a leading question, I know)? How disappointed would you have been if one or both had failed to qualify? Do you even have normal human emotions?

Paulo's Orange ShirtI don’t think in terms of expectations. I work very hard everyday to be successful and my athletes work 100x harder than me. When it happens, I’m not surprised. When we fail, we know it’s part of what we do because success is not guaranteed. If none of my athletes had qualified for Rio it would have meant that I wasn’t very good at this coaching thing and for sure it would provoke some serious reflection.

I’m not sure what you mean about emotions -. Hate, sadness, depression… those are all human emotions.

Aaron WebsteyGoing back a little further – on your short-but-sweet podcast, you mentioned that you’ve polished a few turds in your years as a coach. How long ago did you start coaching Joe and Greg, and if you could go back and give each a chance (out of 10, of course) of making the Rio team, what would it be? In essence, what was the talent-to-turd ratio for each of these guys when you started with them?

Joe Maloy and Greg Billington and Paulo

[Delly Carr / ITU :: 2015 Rio de Janeiro ITU World Olympic Qualification Event]

Paulo's Orange ShirtWhen I mentioned polishing some turds, for sure I wasn’t referring to Greg or Joe (In fact we both know exactly which athlete I was referring to – French-Canadian … last name rhymes with moron…). 

Anyway… they’re both very different athletes, but none of them are turds, since at the level that they perform, there are no turds. Both are very talented athletes, each with a unique set of characteristics. It’s hard to go back and remember what I thought when I first met them and started to coach them. The biggest thing about doing your job is that every day you show up and do your job. I do my job and the athletes do their job. The future is what we make every day. Words like “potential” or “talent” have no meaning to me, or better, they only have meaning after the fact, when we actually achieve something that is noteworthy.

Aaron WebsteyYou spend most of the year at your home base in Poway, CA. In your professional opinion, what are the advantages to sticking close to home instead of holding training camps in various locations? If you had a $10million budget (e.g. if everyone who read this interview donated $1million here), would you travel more with the squad, or are you happy with how things work now?

Paulo's Orange ShirtI think we have an advantage to have a permanent base in Southern California. We have very good training conditions year-round, but above all being in the same place allows the athletes to have some stability in their lives, not always having to live out of a suitcase is a huge advantage. Going from place to place during the season wears out a lot of athletes, and makes life hard for them.

With $10mi/year, I’d probably pay myself $9mil/year because that’s how the 1% rolls. Seriously… ff we had a budget, for sure I’d travel more with the Squad, particularly to races but also some extended camps overseas. But I probably still opt for a model where we spend a lot of time in the US (given that most of my ITU athletes are US).

Aaron WebsteyGoing back even further – you joked about this on the forum, but I’m actually interested in how you came to be the cranky, trolling, pissed-off-for-greatness, exercscience authority that you are today. To make this easy to wrap your antisocial head around, I’ve created a series of questions that require only short, simple answers.

1. Where were you born?
Lisbon, Portugal.

2. Where did you spend most of your childhood?
In Portugal, mostly in Lisbon. I also spent two years in Macau, which is close to Hong Kong in South China.

3. Where did you go to university/college, and what was your major?
I went to Instituto Superior Tecnico (https://tecnico.ulisboa.pt/en/) which is Portugal’s biggest engineering school. My major was Mechanical Engineering (Thermo fluid dynamics).

4. What is/are your graduate degree(s) in?
I have a masters and a PhD also in Mechanical Engineering.

5. Did you ever race triathlon, and if so were you faster than Joel (don’t play dumb, I’m sure you guys have discussed this)?
Joel was faster than me. I was just a pathetic age-grouper, Joel was a pathetic national team junior. I did run 2:59 for the marathon, which makes me a “runner” in North America (eat it Oprah!).

6. What is the #1 thing that you miss about European culture, if anything?
Ooof… I end up not missing Europe a lot because I don’t think about it too much. The thing I miss more is quality of life. Europeans just enjoy life so much more. Like Vincent Vega says “it’s the little things.”

Aaron WebsteyYou are known for being a non-hand-holding coach.  Will you travel to Rio for the Olympics (presumably, yes, but I’ve learned not to presume anything with you), and if so, how involved will you be with Joe and Greg? I.e., do you think you’ll see them daily, every couple days, once or twice? 

Paulo's Orange ShirtI still don’t have plans for Rio, but I’m planning to go for sure. I’ll try it to be much more like the times I go to races, just stick around and support the athletes in any way they need. Most of the times it’s just hang out a bit, talk a bit about the race and essentially chill. I understand that might be hard because it’s the effing Olympics, but I’ll try anyway.

Aaron WebsteySpeaking of Rio, do you think Joel will return from the Olympics with a Portuguese accent?

Paulo's Orange ShirtAnother Joel question and this interview is over, buddy!

Aaron WebsteyAs someone who was a Canadian triathlon fan in 2000, I know the impact that the Olympics can have on a country or training centre/squad (especially if things go really well). Do you think having 2 athletes in Rio will have a significant effect on your squad?  I.e. in terms of athletes it will attract, financial support/sponsors, etc. Would you welcome more notoriety for the squad, or do you think it would just be a distraction and result in less water carried and wood chopped?

Paulo's Orange ShirtI really have no idea. Before the Olympics I’m planning to carry water, chop wood. After the Olympics, carry water, chop wood. I know that there will be athletes that want to be part of the dynamic we have. Some others won’t. I don’t really see this year as the opportunity for a giant leap forward (going heavy on the Chinese philosophy…), but more part of what we have been doing up until now and what we’ll be doing moving forward.

Aaron WebsteyFinally, who has had the most entertaining twitter account so far in 2016:

1. Dark Mark
2. Tommy Zaferes
3. Ben Hobbs
4. Uli’s Super Sad Depresso-matic Parade Of Dopers Which Makes One Want To Shoot Onesself

 Paulo's Orange Shirt1. Dark Mark – I have a lot of respect for Dark Mark, he’s got the comedic ability of Carrot Top, but without the steroids (something I appreciate immensely).
2. Tommy Zaferes – Pure comedic genius. Also big fan of his wife.
3. Ben Hobbs – Who?
4. Uli – A little bit of serious here. I’m a big fan of Uli. I’ve known Uli through the Internet since 1996 and hopefully I never meet him in person. I appreciate him being outspoken (about everything), because US culture is so boring with “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I love what he’s done with starting GFNY and I hope he starts GF Yonkers or GF Yorkshire soon.

Aaron WebsteyA very sincere thank you for your time, Paulo. I know you’re busy, and I know you have a strong dislike for unfunny, former-quasi-pro Canadians, so I especially appreciate you talking with me.  As a final service to myself and my half-dozens of fans, please let tell us where we can find and support your Triathlon Squad and follow your progress leading into Rio.

Paulo's Orange ShirtThank you, Erin. Is there anything else we should know?

Aaron WebsteyOnly that you can donate to the Triathlon Squad at http://thetriathlonsquad.com/site/donate/ .

About the Author

Aaron 'King of All Technology' Webstey is a former ITU triathlete and current dadbod owner. If your social media posts have been 'liked' by @AaronWebstey, you might be a triathlete.
  • Aaron Webstey

    What a great interview. And a sexy interviewer.