Paris 2024: Persistence pays in Linn’s unlikely journey to Olympic debut

9 Jul 2024

Sophie Linn will bring her “let’s just make it happen” attitude to an exciting new look Australian triathlon team for this year’s Paris Olympic Games. 

The US-based South Australian is one of three Olympic debutants alongside Natalie Van Coevorden and Luke Willian, the trio joining Tokyo Olympian Matt Hauser on the Australian team for triathlon’s sixth Games appearance.

July 30 will see Willian and Hauser kick-start the three-day triathlon program, followed by Linn and Van Coevorden in the women’s race the next day, July 31, before the second staging of the Mixed Team Relay on August 5.

The Relay will see the quartet reunite after they combined in 2022 to win a stunning silver medal in the World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series in Hamburg behind Olympic champions Great Britain.

A former swimmer and track runner, Linn excelled over 1500m and 3000m and represented Australia at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games, earning college track scholarships in the United States, before triathlon became the penny that finally dropped.

All pieces of an extraordinary puzzle that have eventually fallen into place for this tenacious little terrier who has pursued her path to Paris.

Linn’s story is one of persistence and her ability to juggle life as a triathlete with a full-time job, making the most of fate when it rears its head.

She is a rare breed of athlete who also fits training and racing around her work as a product designer with SRAM, one of the world’s leading bicycle component manufacturers.

“It has been very challenging switching jobs earlier this year,” Linn said.

“I felt there was just so much going on outside triathlon. It has been a real balancing act that’s for sure and being a triathlete, it’s juggling upon juggling.

“But making this Olympic team is incredibly special.

“Triathlon hasn’t been in the Olympics for very long, it’s only a small cohort of people you are joining and representing your country on any stage is an honour and a privilege.

“And to do it on the Olympic stage is the pinnacle of all of that and especially in Paris. There seems something iconic about that city and the Olympics.”

Adding another curveball, Linn also has a Melbourne-based coach, Danielle Stefano, who collaborates with her remotely.

The multi-talented, multi-tasker has thrived and survived in a high-performance environment, balancing life between Boulder, Colorado, and fleeting visits to Melbourne, Girona, and her family home in Adelaide.

“I have to train whenever it suits me the best and as great as it would be to be with Danielle and the squad in Melbourne or Girona, having ultimate flexibility and control over my schedule I feel is beneficial,” Linn said.

“It has not been an issue at all; we talk every day and I also have other girls who train with other coaches here in Boulder and we all collaborate on sessions with feedback from people who you are racing against.

“Danielle is great, and we do what we can with the constraints we have to work with. She is always there to help figure out how I can excel at both triathlon and work which is awesome.”

Linn, who has been in the US since embarking on a track scholarship at the University of Mississippi and then the University of Michigan, fell into triathlon towards the end of her eligibility, encouraged by her roommate, former junior triathlon star Avery Evenson.

She went from strength to strength in local triathlons before making the Australian Under 23 team – finishing ninth in 2018 World Championships on the Gold Coast.

But it wasn’t until a chance meeting in 2019 with Stefano that Linn’s Olympic journey would take on a renewed path towards the Paris Games.

Unbeknown to each other Linn and Stefano had both actually walked into Adelaide’s SA Aquatic and Leisure Centre through different doors for the Australian Olympic Swim Trials for London back in 2012 – not knowing each other.

Linn, a then 17-year-old from the local Norwood Swim Club, admitting she was there “making up the numbers” – with no realistic chance of qualifying for the Olympic team.

She divided her swimming talents with running that saw her win silver at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games in the 1500m and who would certainly be the only competitor to contest both the 2012 Olympic Trials in two sports, a week apart.

Stefano, then working in sports science as a physiologist with the Victorian Institute of Sport in swimming, track and field, and triathlon monitoring the performances of Victoria’s Olympic hopefuls.

“After the Swim Trials in 2012 I went off to the Track and Field Trials which just happened to be the same week, to run the 1500m on the track at Lakeside in Melbourne,” Linn recalled.

“It was a hectic week that’s for sure. I went to those Swim Trials to participate, it wasn’t like it was realistic to ever make the Olympic team.

“I swam the 400IM, the 200m breast and I came last in the 200 fly, after I qualified by 0.02.

“And then I ran the 1500m on the track and I was one place from making it to the Australian final (won by Kalia McKnight, who would go on to run at the London Games).

“I look back on it now and think that was kind of nuts. I was surprised that someone didn’t tell me to do triathlon back then.”

Neither Linn nor Stefano knowing that one day and three Olympic cycles later their paths would in fact cross again on the other side of the world in an early morning at Girona airport.

A meeting that would finally lead them on an Olympic pathway in the sport of triathlon after a recommendation from Australia’s London 2012 triathlon bronze medallist Erin Densham to Stefano to keep an eye on the rising star.

Stefano was based for the European season where she first crossed paths with Linn. Little did they know that this chance meeting was the beginning of an Olympic fairy-tale.

“I actually picked Sophie up from the airport at about 3:30am one morning in Girona and we chatted for a good hour or so in the car and then six months later Sophie rang me and asked if I’d be interested in coaching her and we haven’t looked back since,” Stefano recalled.

Stefano set Linn for the 2022 Commonwealth Games trial on the Gold Coast which she won, before finishing fifth to Bermuda’s Olympic champion Flora Duffy and then joining Van Coevorden, Hauser and Jake Birtwhistle to win bronze in the Mixed Team Relay.

The Linn-Stefano combo was off and running and Linn has kept running ever since, even recovering from a broken foot suffered in the World Triathlon Championships Series Hamburg last year to make it to the start line for the 2023 World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain.

Knowing she faced a race against time to convince the Australian selection committee she deserved her place on the Olympic team– that coming in Napier, New Zealand when Linn secured her first-ever World Triathlon Cup victory marking an unforgettable opener to the season for the 29-year-old.

Topping off a memorable weekend for Australia when she joined Brandon Copeland, Emma Jeffcoat and Callum McClusky to take out the Mixed Team Relay – and a timely reminder that “the working girl” from Boulder had arrived.

Linn doubted she would ever make it to the Olympic Games. But her persistence is about to pay off big time in Paris.

“I remember watching the Olympics when I was young, seeing Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe in the pool in 2004.” Linn said.

“Getting up in the middle of the night, sitting in my parents’ bedroom. I loved watching the Olympics.

“But I didn’t ever think: ‘I really want to be there.’  It probably wasn’t in my realm of possibilities.”

Time, fate, and an inner drive all coming together to prove sometimes the ultimate success stories just take time.

“I am absolutely stoked for Sophie who has a great story,” Stefano said.

“I’m just over the moon for her. Someone who has worked hard. This Olympic spot is something she is really deserving of.

“A great athlete and a great person and don’t you just love seeing those people achieve.

“She only managed to start racing in 2022 and made the Commonwealth Games team and becoming Arena Games World Champion and now heading for her first Olympics in Paris. It’s been a really exciting ride.”

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