Greg Billington hasn’t stopped moving since he left Spokane at the age of 3.
He’s been swimming, biking and running since – all the way to Rio de Janeiro, where Billington will spend some of the biggest days of his life after qualifying for the Olympic triathlon competition.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet,” the 27-year-old Billington said recently after making the American team that will compete on Copacabana Beach on Aug. 18.
“Right now it’s fun to think that all the work I’ve done has paid off,” Billington said.
The work began as play when he was a youth. Born in Spokane – where he annually visits grandparents and other relatives – he moved three years later with parents Garrett and Karen Billington to an Air Force base in England.
He was a triathlete by the age of 8. A few years later, Billington rode a bicycle 900 miles from Land’s End – England’s most southwestern point – to the northern tip of Scotland.
“Ever since I was winning at the age of 8, I’ve had the Olympics as my dream,” Billington said.
A track and cross country star in high school, Billington was winning major triathlon titles in his early 20s. He moved into the elite ranks – winning back-to-back USA Under-23 titles – even as he completed a double major in economics and exercise science at Wake Forest in 2011.
A fourth-place finish in a World Cup event in 2013 was offset by injuries the following year. However, he posted top-20 finishes in several World Cup races in 2015, including one in Rio.
This year, Billington raced to 10th-place finishes in New Zealand and Australia. He was so far ahead of the other Americans in the USA Triathlon Objective Rankings System, he qualified for Rio despite not finishing at the final qualifying meet last month in Yokohama, Japan.
Joe Maloy of Wildwood Crest, New Jersey, and Ben Kanute of Genena, Illinois, complete the three-man American team. All are first-time Olympians.
These days, Billington’s days are spent in rigorous training for the Olympic triathlon, which includes a 0.93-mile swim, 27-mile bicycle segment and a 6.2-mile run.
Speed and endurance work – at elevation and at sea level – is necessary for all three disciplines.
The work will continue after Billington and his teammates arrive in Brazil, as the triathlon is scheduled for late in the final week of the Games. That will give him more time to ponder the challenge.
The swim course on Copacabana Beach is “super choppy,” said Billington – who should know from last year’s event in Rio. The bike leg is five laps of 8 kilometers each, with a steep descent on each leg.
“They had a lot of crashes last year,” Billington said.
The run course parallels the beach. Billington has visualized the finish – with himself on the podium afterward.
“Obviously, you want to get a medal,” Billington said.
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