Greg Billington recently recorded a 4th place at the U23 World Championships in Beijing, China and the Wake Forest University grad has some other fine results on his resume.
Slowtwitch: You had some great results recently with a 3rd at the Kelowna Continental Cup, 4th at the U23 World Championships and a 6th overall (4th American) at the US Pro Nationals. Which of those results mean the most to you?
Greg Billington: Definitely taking 4th at U23 Worlds in Beijing. I was competing against some of the best up and coming triathletes in the world and being in the hunt for gold was thrilling. It’s also fun, even if entirely inaccurate, to compare the U23 race to the pros to see where I might have stacked up. At Kelowna it was pretty cool to spray Simon ‘Legend of Triathlon’ Whitfield with champagne, though!
ST: Can you take us through the U23 race?
Greg: I hope so! This was a typically derided ITU race where the swim weeded out about half the athletes and the bike was just hard enough to keep the second pack from bridging up. I felt great in the swim and managed to comfortably make the front bike pack. There was a significant climb on each lap of the ride, which resulted in a bunch of breakaway attempts. All but one of these was reeled in, and by the end that three-man break had about a minute on the field.
Jumping off the bike in T2 felt awesome because this was the first World Champs where I’ve actually started the run with the front pack. After sprinting a bit to make up for an immature back of the bike pack finish, I was running with the lead group of six runners. We blew past the breakaway after about 2k and from then on it was a matter of each athlete throwing in surges to see who’d drop off. By the last lap it was just the trio Brits and then me hoping I could break up a podium full of limeys. Unfortunately, with about 1500m left, they threw in a surge I couldn’t match. When it was time for the final sprint, I was too far back to be in contention. I was critiqued a bit after the race for some poor running tactics, but I had just felt too enthused to not take the lead whenever possible! It was undoubtedly a motivating race because 4th place, in the words of Coach Paulo Sousa, sucks.
ST: Going back a bit, I know you ran for Wake Forest but you didn’t have much success, did you?
Greg: Ha! No, I certainly didn’t achieve the goals I’d set for myself, but I did get valuable experience with some previously unheard of injuries like “thigh splints.” Who knew you could have splints in places besides your shins? Despite only running half a track season because of multiple injuries, my last XC season was rewarding with Brad Hunt taking over the reigns as the men’s distance coach. If you’re in search of a growing distance program with a great atmosphere that’s anxious and ready to succeed, definitely check out Wake Forest. Go Deacs!
I really enjoy being a full-time pro because I can now spend enough time doing the little things that I need to do to stay injury free.
ST: You’ve been on USAT’s radar for a while now. You’ve raced at the junior world champs three times and the U23 champs three times. What type of development programs has USAT offered you?
Greg: I am very grateful for the generous support USAT has given me. There’s no way I would be where I am now without its faith in me. The most valuable help I received was a room at the Olympic Training Center during the past few summers. If you want to be a contender, it’s vital to be pushing yourself with the best in the sport.
ST: You mentioned coach Paulo Sousa earlier.
Greg: I’m lucky to be part of Paulo Sousa’s triathlon squad and am excited about the direction that’s taking me. I can train with talented athletes like Kevin Collington, Amanda Felder, and Jen Spieldenner. It’s great to have accomplished Ironman athletes Heather and Trevor Wurtele in the group as well as the durable and determined Janelle Morrison. Uncles A.J. Baucco and Ian Mickelson add a certain umami to the squad, too!
ST: Why did you pick Paulo? What makes him special?
Greg: I first became aware of Paulo’s existence after his proposal to start “The Triathlon Squad.” I liked the fact that he based his coaching almost exclusively on straightforward, hard, and consistent work and that there would be organized camps throughout the year. He also has the reputation of being rather… caustic? So I guess that was a draw as well!
There’s nothing particularly special about his training, except that there’s a lot of it and it’s tough. The fatigue and load build incessantly until you wake up and exclaim ‘my goodness, I seem to be quite tired today. It would be jolly good to just sit around and have a cup of tea!’ Then the next day it’ll be “Let’s do… something harder.”
Working with him has definitely turned out to be everything I wanted!
ST: So now that you’ve graduated college and have turned full-time pro, will you race the WCS circuit in 2012?
Greg: That’s the plan! Unfortunately, that plan is much harder to execute than it was to create. There are a lot of fast Americans who want to race the WCS circuit, especially with Olympic Qualification on the line. Just earning a start will be difficult but I have faith in my coach and am looking forward to some good late season races. I race triathlon so I can represent the US in international competition, so right now I’m trying to do all I can to achieve that honor at the WCS level.
ST: You were the 4th American finisher last week at Pro Nationals. Where would you say you rank in terms of American ITU racers?
Greg: Pro Nationals was a solid continental cup, but a lot of the best US guys were missing and it’s impossible to emulate WCS competition without the international superstars. Manny Huerta was ill, Ben Collins is dealing with an injury, and Matt Chrabot and Mark Fretta were recovering from Yokohama. Throwing those guys and other top Americans into mix would have changed the race substantially. I know that if I continue putting together and improving upon performances like Beijing, I’ll be racing with the best of them. The end game, however, is never to just be a top American; I certainly won’t have reached my goals until I start achieving on the international scene.
ST: And what do you think you’re chances of making the Olympics are?
Greg: I’ve been called a Dark Horse for a spot, but I think that’s only accurate if you’d consider me the photo negative of the Lone Ranger’s steed. That being said, it’s impossible to get the Olympics off my mind and I’m glad that people are starting to associate me with Hyde Park. Right now, however, I’m trying to not put too much pressure on myself. I feel I perform best when I’m right on the cusp of insanity and not absolutely freaking out.
ST: What sponsors are supporting you along on your ambitious journey?
Greg: Being on the USAT Project 2016 Squad has been indispensible in affording me the opportunity to compete internationally. USAT has also provided me with great products like Blue bikes and TYR equipment. AltitudeTech supported me in acquiring their high quality altitude tent, which is a very helpful training tool.
ST: Would you like to start a relationship with other companies?
Greg: Definitely. I’m looking for companies which value loyalty and the prospect of working with an athlete who is just starting his rise as a professional triathlete. I’m anxious for the chance to race for a brand and ensuring it receives positive publicity.
And if a company wants an Eagle Scout with a black belt in martial arts, who can also tap out some jazz piano and dance to a salsa beat, then super! I can finally get some mileage out of those skills!
ST: What is next?
Greg: I’ll hopefully receive starts at the Guatape and Auckland World Cups in November, too.
ST: And what is your goal at those races?
Greg: Paulo Sousa keeps emphasizing that I need to think of each competition as an opportunity to improve my race execution, so I’m excited to do that at the World Cup level. I need to earn a lot of points before the WCS season starts (well, continues) next year and I’m glad to have the chance to show off the training I’ve been doing with Paulo.
ST: Good luck and thanks for the time.
Greg: Thanks for this! Have a stupendous day of training everyone.