Friday, March 28, 2008

Emma Snowsill Checks In

Emma Snowsill is head and shoulders above the other women on the world triathlon circuit, but in 2007, she was still the second best female athlete on the planet. Could a simple thing like air help turn this around?

You would think an athlete with three World titles to her name would be in an envious position in an Olympic year. Emma Snowsill is, and she isn’t. That’s because, while she is usually in front of the rest, in 2007, she was behind Portugal’s Vanessa Fernandes.

Fernandes, 22, burst onto the World Cup triathlon scene after her eighth place in the Athens Olympics. She steadily proceeded getting better and better, when getting better and better meant winning more and more.

You would think this is all hard to swallow for Australia’s super-powered sparrow, but Snowsill, 26, is under no illusion about what she’s up against. “I think Vanessa and her coaches have been really meticulous about the planning of every year for her and where she’s got to go,” she said.

“When you take the time to go back and look, she has really made those steps to get better. Every year she has improved that little bit more and built upon it. And I think the main thing is she hasn’t been injured and she’s been able to manage to get better each year—she is a pretty phenomenal athlete.”

In comparison to years past, 2007 was lacklustre for Snowsill. She placed second at the Ishigaki BG Triathlon World Cup, second at the BG Triathlon World Championships in Hamburg, and second in the Beijing test event. Others might cherish these results but it must have been slightly disappointing for an athlete accustomed to winning.

Meanwhile, Fernandes’ freak-winning road show gathered locomotive-like momentum and she wasn’t going to miss a stop on the tour—from World Cup to World Championship she rolled out unbeatable racing.

Unbeatable if you assume Snowsill was 100 per cent—she wasn’t.

Snowsill has not trumped Fernandes in a World Cup event since the 2007 season opener in Mooloolaba where the hometown girl, along with Erin Densham, relegated her to third. For the rest of the season she raced impressively behind Fernandes but something was just not right.

“For some reason last year I was suffering from asthma,” Snowsill said of her 2007 downturn. “I think that played a big part in my performance. Not so much my racing but my training to get to the races.

“In the back of my mind I just knew I wasn’t right a lot of the time. So I went into the races with what I could. Saying that, I’m happy with what I did, I couldn’t ask for anymore.”

This lack of air meant Snowsill was run down when she should have been running down Fernandes.

The alarm bells started ringing when she could no longer achieve the training performance indicators of years past. “I just wasn’t recovering,” she said “I had a training program I know I was capable of doing and when it wasn’t sticking together I was left thinking, ‘Why? What’s going on?’”

Whether sensing this or not, the Portuguese Panther pounced anyway, winning six World Cups including the Beijing test event, the European and World Championships. All the while Snowsill struggled for air.

“My training was just never clicking,” she said. “I was getting ridiculously overtired and even to the point of getting blood tests at the end of last year because I was getting so run down.”

When no abnormalities showed up, a test for asthma was proposed. “I did all the asthma testing and I was like, wow, realising how much I was running myself down,” she said. “I coughed for hours after the test in Melbourne, people in the street must have thought I was strange.”

Finally finding a diagnosis has been a release for the constricted Snowsill who showed trademark grit throughout her struggle to breathe—never making excuses or publicising her training problems.

“I just sort of felt like I forgot what being healthy felt like. It was doing my head in,” she said. “I was having these sore throats and just little things but I would never really get sick. It’s just a relief for me to understand that there wasn’t anything really wrong.”

Snowsill’s 2007 run of second places were not blowouts to Fernandes. She was 18 seconds behind in Ishigaki, missed the bike pack getting her wetsuit off and eventually ran eight seconds quicker than Fernandes in the World Championships and was 75 seconds behind in the Beijing test event.

Add this information to her improved health and she is in a great place going forward to Beijing, something she is obviously pumped about. “The Olympics are certainly the biggest thing for me this year,” she said.

“I’m excited and looking forward to going there. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and that’s how I’m looking at it. I want to enjoy it.”

So it looks as though—with a little bit of extra oxygen—Snowsill Air is well prepared to jet into the Olympic stratosphere. And she’s in the right frame of mind to take the fight to Fernandes.

“I think it is a good motivation for training,” she said. “It’s great to have to chase someone you know has been kicking your bum.”

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