Categories: Motivation Training

The early years of triathlete Javier Gómez Noya

August 9, 2017

Javier Gómez Noya is one of the most successful triathletes to swim/bike/run this earth. Antonio del Pino tells his story in this three-part interview with the legend.

THEN AND NOW

You’re a guy with more than just talent. You quickly passed the elite of the moment and you haven’t stopped growing. Illusions, dreams, people, discoveries or even childhood naivety… Do you miss something or someone from your early years? Have you lost something from your athletic roots that you want to get back?

I train everyday like when I was a kid, super motivated and ready to give it my all.

Yeah well, like everyone I guess. When you are a kid you barely have any responsibilities, your only goal is to have fun with your friends… Triathlon was a big game but now it’s all very professional. I think it’s very healthy to miss the innocence and surprises of one’s childhood because that means it was good. Now I have to live like a grownup, and the truth is that it’s got nothing to do with the money – I train everyday like when I was a kid, super motivated and ready to give it my all. I haven’t lost that part, and I think that all of us athletes go back to our childhood when we are training and competing… That’s why we like it so much.

Your dad, your mom, your brother, childhood friends – looking in from the outside, it seems that you have a deep respect and love for your nearest and dearest. Is their role in your life as an athlete the same now as it was 15 years ago?

It’s totally different and very similar at the same time. I mean, obviously when I was a kid my parents and my family were very involved in my everyday life, taking me to training very early every day and respecting my decisions, supporting me during difficult times.

Now I go training on my own, but they still support me and I need that. My family and friends ask me how my training is going, about everything, I talk to them about my concerns, we talk about everyday things or whether this or that hurts, about my stuff… Everyone needs a family or a close circle.

About the technical resources you used for training in your early days: can we assume that you had less resources then than you do now? How much does it help having high performance devices, such as a Polar V800, to get the best out of yourself as it keeps getting more difficult?

It helps so much, of course it does, but I think that to get 100% out of someone there has to be a learning process first, and they must know themselves before turning to the most advanced technology that helps them go even further.

Javier Gómez Noya with Polar Flow

When I was young I ran with a watch in a measured circuit, and that was where I learned to know what I was capable of, to get the best out of myself with infinite nuances. Now I have the best technical resources that give me precise information that makes the difference, but there are days when you have to know how to train without them so that when you really need them, you get the most out of them. The technology amazing nowadays.

TRAINING TO BECOME A WINNER

Triathlon is a solitary sport, and at an elite level the only thing you can do is be as focused as possible on doing that extra training which makes a world of difference and always try to improve your recovery. When you’re training for an important event, is it best to be close to your family and friends or far away from all the distractions?

At the end of the day, a top athlete knows how to take advantage of being at home and turn those possible distractions into an opportunity to keep motivation very high.

It depends on the competition and the time of year. In Galicia it’s cold and it pours with rain in winter so – needless to say – it’s not very easy to prepare for the first competitions of the year on a professional level. However, those special places where you trained to be an athlete are only at home: your pool, your hills, your tracks, your ports, those places that you are familiar with and where you know how to do your best, better than anywhere else in the world.

At the end of the day, a top athlete knows how to take advantage of being at home and turn those possible distractions into an opportunity to keep motivation very high.

A lot has been written about your early days as a swimmer and their impact on your triathlon career. That background of physical training and the fact that your athletic career began in the water help you shine in triathlon. Beyond that, do you think that all your swimming training at a young age adds a greater psychological ability to handle discomfort, to know how to concentrate and to value discipline in other sports as well? Does swimming make a big difference in the future of a triathlete?

Definitely, because I learned how to train, to take care of myself and to be disciplined in a swimming pool. Swimming is a sport where you can train harder at earlier ages, which would be crazy in the case of cycling or running, and, as an athlete, you create a unique inner training philosophy.

Javier Gómez Noya pool

In addition to swimming, I’ve been running since I was a boy, and I played a bit of everything, including football. Playing adds a lot of resources for tomorrow’s athletes, and if they turn pro, it helps them improve if they have a lot of varied experience.

I’m not talking about specific people, but rather the number of people who are involved in your preparation. What’s it like now compared to when you got started with triathlon? Do you have more trainers, technicians and performance specialists that help you keep improving, or are you still working with a small group of people on an everyday basis?

I still work with a small group of people every day because I think trust and friendship are essential for improvement.

It may seem that there is an army behind an elite athlete, but at least in my case it’s not like that. I still work with a small group of people every day because I think trust and friendship are essential for improvement. I have a trainer, a manager and a physiotherapist, who are my friends. We’re all friends, we have the same dream, we all know who we are and where we came from. This means much more than spending all day with strangers who, however good they are at their job, don’t know you and what works best for you. For me, the best team are the ones who are by my side.

When did you begin to believe that you could actually be a Triathlon World Champion?

Well, the truth is that I didn’t think about it too much, and there’s a logical explanation. For me, it was enough that they let me compete and always gave me my license back after a race. Now, answering questions like this one, I can see that the positive part is that it stopped me from thinking too much about the future because I just wanted them to let me compete the following weekend!

The truth is that I wasn’t the best swimmer, but when we ran a race or went out on our bikes I could see that I had more ability in this combination compared to the people who always beat me just swimming. Maybe that was when I started to see a possibility of standing out in a triathlon because if I could get ahead in the water, I was solid on a bike and I stood out on runs, why not give it a go?

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

Your sporting career has some similarities with other great athletes, as you’ve had to overcome certain difficulties. Do you think that these difficulties made you want it more – instead of stopping you, it just motivated you?

At the time it did; of course it makes you mad and it’s really difficult when you go through an unfair situation. However, when things calmed down again, it helped me see things from another perspective because doing nothing throughout 2005 and then being able to compete in 2006 in Doha made the race the best prize. I wasn’t at all nervous, I was just excited and happy to be able to compete at the top level of my sport. I still feel the same today, so I guess it has made me a better person.

You’ve always come across as a gentleman when you compete, even when you’ve been blatantly and consciously provoked or harassed. There’s a lot of adrenaline and effort involved in top level competition. Have you ever been close to losing it?

Being the best is much more about being prepared than being the fastest.

Of course at times someone does something that drives you mad, but high-performance training teaches – or should teach – you to handle your emotions; you get mad but you have to deal with it. I’m a calm person, but decision making is key, and being the best is much more about being prepared than being the fastest.

There was a time during your career when you did get angry, at least a little bit. I’m talking about something that we read, so if there’s something that isn’t all that true, now is your time to clear it up. You were injured and were being accused of provoking it with mental pressure, and it seems as though you didn’t like that too much. Do you believe in sports psychology, or do you think it’s not for you?

Yes, that’s right. Of course I believe in sports psychology. It’s very useful and it has changed some people for the better. However, what happened back then is that I had a broken foot, the pain was unbearable, they did tests and as they couldn’t find anything, they began to think that I was causing the pain mentally.

LEARNING FROM THE PAST

The past is in the past, but the story and your experiences could help others who are new to all this to avoid these situations. Now that you already have a long professional sports career and more perspective, do you think there are things you could have done better?

Well, the most typical thing is to say that what you did was always the best, but with what I know now, I would definitely have done some things differently, especially on the odd occasion that I have gone over the top with my training.

I arrived in Beijing injured and that was my fault, for adding more weight, more sets, always a bit more when I should have kept a cold head and known that the extra strain was not helping me at all and was just adding to the risk of injuring myself, which is what I did. That’s very clear to me now and I’m much more careful with my body. It’s an attitude that has helped avoid many injuries and win more races.

What’s your favorite victory? What about the one you want the most?

I still have a gold medal from the games in my head, and of course I hope to win in Kona one day.

Maybe the sprint with Johnny Brownlee… it had it all. And the most desired… I still have a gold medal from the games in my head, and of course I hope to win in Kona one day.

You turn on your Polar and you can only leave one sports profile on for the rest of your life. Which one would it be, swimming, cycling or running?

Times have changed! I’d stick with the profile of the best sport, triathlon, because my Polar watches have that option.

Come back next week for part two of our series. Do you want to get notified of new stories in the Polar Blog? Sign up below and never miss a story.

In the spotlight

Javier Gómez Noya

Javier Gómez Noya

Javier Gómez Noya is a Spanish triathlete and 5-time ITU Triathlon World Champion and Olympic silver medalist in London 2012.