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After frustrating Olympic debut, former CU Buffs star Morgan Pearson reflects on relay medal

Former Buff anchors silver medal race in mixed relay

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 31: (L-R) Silver medalists Katie Zaferes, Kevin McDowell, Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson of Team United States pose with their medals on the podium during the medal ceremony following the Mixed Relay Triathlon on day eight of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Odaiba Marine Park on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN – JULY 31: (L-R) Silver medalists Katie Zaferes, Kevin McDowell, Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson of Team United States pose with their medals on the podium during the medal ceremony following the Mixed Relay Triathlon on day eight of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Odaiba Marine Park on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Not all of it went according to plan. In fact, a far too expansive part of the experience was downright frustrating for Morgan Pearson.

Yet the former Colorado distance runner nonetheless managed to cram both ends of the spectrum into his first appearance at the Olympic Games. On one hand, Pearson endured one of his most uncharacteristically sluggish performances since he became a professional triathlete after running his final race for the Buffaloes in 2016.

Just days later, though, Pearson helped make a little U.S. Olympic history, and he will be returning from Tokyo with a silver medal.

While Pearson finished a distant 42nd in the men’s triathlon, he turned in a standout anchor leg in the first mixed relay event at the Olympics, helping the U.S. to secure silver. As Pearson explained it, having a medal in hand still was a preferable result to finishing, for example, fourth in two different races.

“The individual race wasn’t what I wanted,” Pearson said. “For better or worse, that’s just how the Olympics are. And if you’re fourth, you’re not getting a medal. It’s disappointing to come away knowing I didn’t get a medal in the individual. But I’ll say this — if I had a good day in the individual and I finished fourth or fifth, I think that would’ve been harder to deal with emotionally.”

A five-time track All-American at CU, Pearson suffered through a whatever-can-go-wrong set of frustrations in his Olympic debut. Pearson emerged from the swim portion of the men’s triathlon in 25th-place, and he faded to 46th at the second transition. To make matters worse, Pearson was forced to submit to a 15-second penalty before embarking on the run due to an equipment infraction at the first transition.

By the time Pearson settled into a groove on the run, he was aware the writing was on the wall. Pearson likely could have rallied his way into the top 40, but with a spot on the US’s first Mixed Relay team still ahead, Pearson understood there was a benefit to keeping a little fuel in his tank.

“I just had nothing. Every pedal stroke was so hard for me. I just felt so bad the entire bike ride,” Pearson said. “And then I could never get relaxed, never get my heart rate down. It was an emotional week, but after I got to that low point in the individual it was easy to refocus. I told myself if I leave the Olympics with a medal, I’m going to be pretty happy.”

The mixed relay was a new event at this Olympics in which four competitors — two men and two women — each are tasked with completing a 300-meter swim, a 6.8-kilometer bike ride, and a two-kilometer run. Pearson filled the anchor spot for the U.S. team alongside women’s bronze medalist Katie Zaferes, Taylor Knibb, and Kevin McDowell, who finished sixth in the men’s triathlon.

Pearson became the 20th CU graduate to win an Olympic medal since 1948.

“I’ll probably will bring (the medal) back to Colorado soon,” said Pearson, who still trains in Boulder. “I’ve had a lot of people who’ve been a great support system to me. I think they’d really appreciate it if I showed it to them. Not really to show it off, but to let the people who’ve helped me that they’re a part of it.”