Take 5: Maggie Hogan, Team USA kayaker and 2016 Olympic hopeful
May 17, 2016
Maggie Hogan knows a thing or two about longevity.
At 37 years old, the Philadelphia native and Team USA kayaker is preparing for her third trip to the Summer Olympics, and, with any luck, her first trip to the podium. She's been an alternate and training partner since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just a few short years after the collegiate swimmer discovered she had a talent for sprint kayak at 26 years old. That's the tail end of a career for most Olympians — gymnasts, track sprinters, even the majority of swimmers — but it was just the beginning for Hogan.
"There is a huge range of ages," Hogan says about international kayaking, known at the Olympics as canoe slalom and canoe sprint. "This is a sport that has longevity to it."
This summer, Hogan hopes longevity becomes bona fide immortality on the water in Rio de Janeiro. She has the chops to compete with the best, including four World Cup podiums since 2012 and in the K2 1000-meter discipline and a bronze at the International Cane Federation Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships in the K1 500m sprint. Earlier this May, she took first overall in the same discipline — her Olympic discipline — at the U.S. Olympic Trials and National Championships.
Hogan's career — not to mention reputation — has gone through the roof in the past few years, and there's no doubt a dedicated training program with former South African Olympian Michele Eray is the secret ingredient. The two have worked religiously with Motionize, a motion-capture system built to analyze and fine-tune every element of a paddle stroke, to find the edge she needs for the final trophy in her case: the elusive Olympic gold.
"I've never had to chance to race in the Olympics and that would be the cherry on top of my career," Hogan says. "Hopefully I have the chance to do it."
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It all begins this weekend, when Hogan goes head-to-head with other Olympic hopefuls at the Pan American Continental Qualifiers on Lake Lanier in Gainesville, Georgia, site of the 1996 Olympics. It's the first big stepping stone en route to Rio just a few months down the road, with hundreds of paddlers from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central America vying for an invite to the Games.
During a brief training break, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Hogan and Eray to learn more about the American's Olympic bid, the benefits of high-tech gadgets for high-end athletes and why age is — and always has been — just a number in the world of competitive kayaking.
Summit Daily News: Rio is only a few short months away. How are you feeling about your Olympic chances now that summer is nearly here?
Maggie Hogan: Feeling pretty good. We're prepping for our big Olympic qualifier and are in the middle of the selections right now. We race this Friday, so we're getting ready for all of that.
SDN: How does your training and racing regimen in an Olympic season compare to a typical season?
MH: It's a complicated process to qualify in our sport. We have two qualifications, beginning with the World Championships in Milan. Michele and I thought about the whole process and thought the best shot for me is the K1 500m. In order to make that team, you have to race to be the best in the United States. We did that two weeks ago at Lake Lanier in Georgia, the site of the '96 Olympics. We had to win at the U.S. national team trials, which I did for the K1 500m, and that gives me the chance to race the continental qualifier, which is the second-round Olympics qualifier. Winner from that goes to Rio. The selection process is long.
SDN: And training?
MH: We train year-round, getting out three to four times per day depending on the day and time of year. There really is a big training mode for this sport. (Paddling) 500 meters is about like an 800-meter run, so you get into an aerobic and anaerobic spot. You have to tackle it in many different ways.
SDN: Have you been to the course in Brazil yet, or has most of your training been stateside?
MH: Well, it's interesting, because in the United States we are not supported at all financially. Everything that Michele and I have done has been out of our pockets. It's much too experience to go anywhere but stay locally, stay and prepare here. Michele used to work for the national governing body of the sport (International Canoe Federation) as the women's sport director, but now she is coaching me through her company, called MultiCoach Fitness. I'm the first new athlete in this program and we're hoping it all goes as planned.
SDN: Talk about the MultiCoach program. How is Michele's approach different than kayak training you've done in the past?
MH: We use a lot of science. We've been using Motionize, using a lot of feedback that's data capture on a computer.
Michele Eray: We make a lot of changes to a program based on the feedback from Motionize. Before, she was training for a generic program, a program built for a group. Now, this is very specialized and we've seen the results. She won the Trials, she's coming off a big win at Nationals and we're expecting another win this weekend. This sport is all about the technique. Technique is everything, and the system can pick up the little things you won't see with the naked eye.
SDN: How do you make sense of all the data with so many resources at your disposal these days? It seems like a lot of digital noise. What's the trick to making sure computer analysis translates to real results on the water?
ME: Motionize is interesting because I've gone with them as they developed the platform. They have so much data that it's almost mind boggling, but they have pared it down to the most useful material. We're not just looking at technique — we're monitoring heart rate and recovery and all of it. The important thing is to monitor the systems you know will be important for a race. If you try going with everything, it will be too noisy, like you were saying. The trick is to keep it as simple as possible.
SDN: Maggie, do you like having access to all those tools? Or can it feel distracting at times?
MH: When you're a junior paddler — when you're climbing the ranks — you don't have to worry about these very detailed questions about technique. But, when you're trying to improve by two percent, get better by just enough, now you're in striking distance of the medal. When you've climbed the ranks and reach the top, you want to get to that next level and you need the real-time data feedback. The top teams with lots of funding are able to make the most of this data, with physiologists and data crunchers.
SDN: What teams are those?
ME: The traditional powerhouses: Germany, Poland, Spain, those places with government-funded programs and lots of support. Then you have New Zealand and Australia, which don't have the same enthusiasm as a national sport, but they're using a lot more technology and everything to help their athletes get as good as possible. They just don't have the thousands of athletes like the Eastern European countries so it's important to train smart.
MH: It's like swimming in the United States. We didn't use much data at all. It's because there are hundreds of thousands of swimmers in the U.S. and one of those swimmers will make it to the highest level. Those smaller teams with fewer athletes don't have the numbers to do that.
SDN: Will technology be a part of your training program right up until race day in Rio?
MH: When you're on the start line as an athlete, there is no one else with you. There's no science, there's no coach, and you have to learn what the speed feels like with no watch or no other support. This technology is very important for training at a higher level, but the day of the race you won't have that, so you have to still learn how to compete without it.
ME: The point of training is to become faster, so if you have a device that can help you, you take that feedback and turn it into something useful. Only you can do that. The feedback you get from a coach or another athlete or a device, something like Motionize, will help create a faster and more effective stroke, but that's not the end of it. You still need to be able to race.
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