If he focused his vision out the window, he could just make out a tree in a certain neighbor’s yard. Hunter Kemper’s yard. The ropey-muscled 32-year-old lives there with his wife and toddler. (Oddly enough, another rival in the coming Tuscaloosa race, the fourth-ranked racer Matt Reed, used to live down the street with his wife and toddler.) Because of their clashing egos and personalities, Kemper and Potts avoid each other. Their wives, though, both former athletes themselves, bring their kids together for playdates.
But Potts wasn’t looking out the window; in fact, his eyes were about to roll back into his head. At just about the time he looked like he might vomit, he swapped out his bike pod for a GPS foot pod, a small black clip that communicates with his wristwatch, and ran out his front door: 10min @ 150hr, Doane’s prescription dictated. A little over two miles later, he arrived at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, where he spends three to five hours most afternoons.
In this 27-building former military complex, filled with advanced versions of every training tool imaginable, it’s impossible to forget what’s at stake: Americans on the Olympic podium. The magazine choices are Olympic Beat, Olympian and the Olympic Review. There is constant murmuring about the U.S. triathlon team’s world ranking, which usually hovers somewhere between fifth and eighth—and below eighth, the team gets to send just two, not three, athletes to the Olympics. The number-four American Jarrod Shoemaker won the first spot in an upset last September, and in Tuscaloosa, Potts, Kemper and eight others will compete for the second spot. The pressure can be distracting. It’s no mystery why Potts prefers to bike at home.
Potts jogged into the OTC gym, past a group of weightlifters twice his width and half his height. He jumped on a mammoth $16,000 Woodway treadmill and pounded out 6.5 miles while watching the weightlifters hoist loveseat-size barbells above their heads, drop them onto the rubber-matted floor, and then wander around. After the run, he took a lunch break in the cafeteria, where he looked ashen among the roomful of sun-touched bodies. He headed to the 50-meter pool—which is monitored by ceiling, floor and side cameras that connect to a 13-screen audio-video room where coaches perform stroke analysis—for a 5,500-meter (nearly 3.5-mile) swim. He emerged from the locker room wearing a Speedo FSII suit made of fabric modeled after shark skin; he wears a full-body cut so that his chest monitor stays in place. The FSII suit is not actually the fastest in the world—that would be the LZR Racer—but the LZR doesn’t breathe well, which renders it useless for triathletes, who bike and run in the same suit. His day would end when he plugged his watch into a USB port on his home laptop and e-mailed the day’s numbers to Doane.
While Potts swam, Doane and I stood in the pool’s audio-video room and looked through some of the binders that store data from every day Potts has spent training or racing since 2004. He showed me how, during Potts’s second-place performance at the June 2007 Vancouver World Cup, his heart rate dipped as low as the 120s in the middle of the race and averaged around 161. It was an ideal race: His consistently moderate heart rate left him plenty of energy to draw on in the final 10 minutes. Doane had written “A++” next to the graph. Then I saw a chart from the 2007 Escape from Alcatraz, during which Potts’s pulse spiked to 172 and stayed above 160 for most of the two-hour race. He won, but it hurt. Underneath, Doane had scrawled “DEATH MARCH!” Taken together, the numbers showed that these days, Potts can produce 11 percent more power than he could two years ago with the same amount of effort. Doane wants to squeeze that up to 12 percent by the Tuscaloosa trials.
“Some people look at what we do as nuts,” Doane says. “But I know exactly what we’re doing and why. What we’re doing is quite scientific. There is no guesswork.” So far, feedback training has allowed Potts to trot right on the edge of the overtraining crater, in which his body would break down and potentially take months to recover, without ever falling in. But overdoing it is still a constant concern. “It’s a very tricky and potentially dangerous strategy,” says Tom Crawford, the director of coaching for the U.S. Olympic Committee between 1990 and 2000. “The risk is his body crashing, if he’s on the edge that long.”single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.