Rio 2016: Sarah Groff True chases triathlon gold

A fixture of the Upper Valley sports scene travels to the 2016 games in pursuit of Olympic medals this weekend in the women’s individual triathlon this Saturday at 10 a.m. You can watch the event here on NBC. 

On July 10, Sarah Groff True was on the edge of her seat. The triathlete from Hanover, N.H. qualified nearly a year ago for a spot on the Olympic team. On that day, her husband, runner Ben True, was competing in the finals of the Olympic Trials in Oregon in the 5,000-meter event. If he finished in the top three, he’d be going to Rio with her as a racer, competing on the same day in a different discipline–the first husband/wife duo to do so.

Ben True, the three-time U.S. 15K champion, finished in fifth— a half second behind the third place finisher.

“It’s still pretty raw,” Sarah True said in a phone interview a few days later. “The positive and negative of being an athlete married to another athlete is you know what it’s like, you know how it’s going to change someone else’s life. To see Ben be half a second short from something he’s worked for for a decade… I don’t know exactly how he feels, but I can imagine having been in a similar position.”

Instead of competing, Ben will be there cheering her on. Sarah’s family will also be there, including her sister Lauren Groff, the National Book Award-nominated author of Fates and Furies, the book President Obama picked as his favorite in 2015.

Since being introduced by her agent, Sarah and Dartmouth grad Ben True have been a fixture in the Upper Valley sports world. It’s a place Sarah describes as “a little hotbed for endurance sports. The community is very active—there’s a sports culture here and we have such a beautiful place to train. Ben and I could live anywhere in the world, but we choose to live there. Fall, spring and summer it’s the best place to train in the world.”

After graduating from Middlebury in 2004, Sarah began racing triathlons. In 2007 she was the ITU Aquathlon World Champion. By 2011 she was the USA Triathlon Olympic/ITU Athlete of the Year and qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London. Sarah surprised even herself by finishing fourth in London. But it was a bittersweet finish: she was just 10 seconds behind the bronze medalist.

“I proved to myself then that I could be a medal contender,” she says. “This time, I want to race as if I was a medal contender.” Since 2012, Sarah has changed coaches, married Ben True and gained confidence. In 2014, she earned her first World Triathlon Series win at the ITU World Triathlon Stockholm, a race she won again in 2015. She ended last season ranked third in the world, securing her spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

“This time around, my training isn’t much different,” she says of the Rio Olympics. “But so much of it is visualization—it’s all mental. It’s the intent with which you train. I don’t just imagine the finish line. Now, I imagine myself in the medal mix.”