How has Gómez Noya been able to spend eight years (!) straight on the world podium? We speak to coaches and colleagues of the four-time world champion about the foundations of his long, consistent and successful career, and the qualities that have made him a legend.
By Alberto Trillo | Photos: Delly Carr | ITU | ROKA
At six in the morning the day after being crowned world champion for the fourth time, Javi was diving into an Edmonton pool. It was time for the first session of the day. Time to feed the champion’s unrestrained ambition with rigour, discipline and an almost robotic air about him, strange in a person so affable and sensitive, known for his human qualities. It was a last-minute session so that he wouldn’t waste a day when he would be flying towards a new objective: to be the world Half Ironman champion just a week later. But this dip in the pool was by no means unusual: “Normally we train at ridiculous times before flying or reaching destinations and getting off a plane,” says Carlos David Prieto, his current coach.
This focus that Gómez Noya has on his work is constant from the start of the season in December. “I don’t think there’s anyone on the circuit that has the same ability to focus on his work at 100% for 11 months of the year,” Prieto says. There’s no respite – not even success allows it. He is unstinting in his efforts and spares no sacrifice.
For a few years now his pre-season training camp has taken place on the Canary Islands, on Fuerteventura, in December. He spurns the easy option, to stay at home, in favour of optimum performance. He evades the setbacks caused by the bad weather in his Galicia, and looks for places where he can go as unnoticed as possible by the public, the press, the fans... His aim is to concentrate on doing his job and devoting all his energy to his performance, an approach known as “train, eat and sleep”.
The pre-season camp is followed by long stint after long stint in various parts of the world that the champion is familiar with, places he knows will suit his training needs. Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Noosa (Australia) are two of his favourite locations. Then comes the Galician summer, at his home in Pontevedra, another magnificent place in which to prepare for the second half of the season. “He knows his body and its needs very well; he always looks after himself and knows what he needs,” says Prieto, for whom “his day-to-day work is much more impressive than specific results.”
In this day-to-day work, in very different environments, and with constant changes in time zone, Javier “is very adaptable to any situation and successfully overcomes it. That’s what makes him extraordinary,” says Uxío Abuín, his training partner from this year.
“He’s definitely the king of jet lag on a demanding circuit like the WTS. He’s one of the best at adapting and working in conditions of extreme fatigue,” Prieto admits, before highlighting his ability to work “at 100% every day of the year and adapt the workload to different timetables and training locations”. A good example is his running during airport stopovers, when Prieto runs with him.
According to Omar González, Gómez Noya’s former coach (2008-2012), the most remarkable thing about Javi is “without doubt his ability to give everything every day under any circumstances”. Javier was even able to win in Auckland 2014 the day after breaking up with his partner. Because of his mental strength, his emotional state did not undermine his performance, sources close to him say.
His adaptability is not limited to his daily routine and setbacks. Gómez Noya has refined his training system and worked to correct his weaknesses, such as his sprint. He has also introduced elements into his preparation that help him optimise the time he invests and keep injuries at bay.
“I have the impression that there are more talented athletes than Javier, but knowing what many of the best are like and how they train, I am in no doubt that Javier is the most efficient in training and among the best looking after his body and his head, to make every session, every day, every season efficient... and that makes him special”, says José Rioseco, the coach who worked with Javi from when he was a boy and took him to his first world championship.
“Of each 100 training sessions, Javier’s are almost all perfect, as planned, as you imagine would be ideal; he’s the best athlete for a coach,” he admits. “It’s a privilege for a coach to be able to help him. He made me grow as a coach in a very significant way,” says Rioseco.
On top of his personal qualities, Gómez Noya has always managed to surround himself with a structure that accompanies and supports him, creating an optimum environment in long training camps and giving the champion encouragement every day. “He’s a unique person. It’s incredible that at his level he tries to help us and shares his training with us,” says Pablo Dapena, his loyal deputy.
“Keeping up with his pace of training is virtually impossible. We try to adapt to him as much as we can, but if we tried to do everything with him, we’d end up shattered,” says Uxío Abuín. Both he and Dapena agree that it is a “privilege” to be able to train by his side.
However, “in the end, unintentionally, Javi ends up destroying everyone psychologically. No one’s able to keep up with his pace of training day after day and complete a perfect chain of sessions. It’s something within the reach of very few,” says Prieto.
Even so, learning from the number one ultimately pays dividends. This year the Mexican Crisanto Grajales and the Spaniard Vicente Hernández joined the group. Both are enjoying their best season in the WTS and are now regulars in the top 10. Dapena made his debut in the WTS and Abuín has already won in a difficult European Cup like Madrid.
This teamwork also extends to his sponsors, with which he works with great professionalism. Just watch how he dons his cap or puts on his watch as soon as he crosses in the finishing line.
The three coaches in his career as an athlete agree on another of his qualities. “Javi has many virtues but I’d emphasize his perseverance,” says Omar González.
Persistence has been a key to his success from the beginning: “When he started swimming he wasn’t bad but he wasn’t outstanding; however, he showed great perseverance and was highly competitive, fighting against himself. His daily perseverance, which was “fed” by the information that he was given every day, was key,” Rioseco explains.
This unwavering determination has got him through some difficult times, like when his federation withdrew his licence due to his heart condition, setbacks that have only made him stronger. All in all, “without his dedication and perseverance he wouldn’t do what he has done and what he does,” as Prieto says.
Ambition fuels his motivation to maintain those levels of concentration and his thirst for competition over such a long career. Combining distances (world Half Ironman champion) and formats (XTERRA world champion) has enabled this born competitor to keep alive his passion for victory.
Rio 2016 will determine the future path of an incredible triathlete, incomparable when it comes to perseverance and consistency, and in which all that is missing is Olympic Gold. And then what?
“Javi will keep going for as long as he’s motivated. Physically I can see him continuing for a long time,” says Omar González. “I’m sure he’ll excel over the long distance, as he has in the middle distance. The question is whether that will motivate him to keep going for many years,” Omar adds.
For the time being, all indications are that this year Javi will be on the world podium for the ninth year running. He could also become the only triathlete in history to win five world championships. In a sport like triathlon, with such a fine balance in the elite, and in which so many factors come into play, this consistency is fascinating. As Iván Raña, the 2002 ITU world champion, explains it: “Javi is the ultimate evolution in humankind.”