Hunter Kemper won his first triathlon at age 10 but never figured his early passion would lead to worldwide glory. Kemper, a two-time Olympian in the triathlon, is the first American male to be ranked No.
1 in the world in the sport. For that, he was honored Wednesday as the winner of the Jim Thorpe All-Around Award, presented by the U.S. Sports Academy in a ceremony at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. “I’m overwhelmed,” Kemper said. “It humbles me a great deal to be associated with an amazing athlete like Jim Thorpe and other past winners.” The award was presented by Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich, founder and president of the U.S. Sports Academy. Previous winners include Bob Mathias, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Dan O’Brien, Danny Ainge and Deion Sanders. An Olympic triathlon includes a 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40km bike ride and a 10km run. The 29-year-old from Orlando, Fla., has lived and trained in Colorado Springs since 1998. He and wife Val, a former volleyball player he met at the Olympic Training Center, recently bought a house. “Triathletes don’t make a ton of money,” Kemper said. He made more money in 2005 because he raced more, a total of 15 triathlons, and eight were World Cup events. He won two World Cups, was third three times and fourth twice. Early in his career, Kemper won five consecutive national championships in the Iron Kids Series, from age 10 to 14. “My swimming buddies got me involved,” he said. “I walked on in track at Wake Forest to get better as a runner. I thought I’d turn pro and try to make some money” in the triathlon. The triathlon was added to the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, and Kemper placed 17th. He was ninth at Athens in 2004. “If I get better eight places every time, I win gold,” he said. “I think that’s a real legitimate goal.” Kemper won a World Cup race at Beijing on the 2008 Olympic triathlon course. That win came a week after he finished 41st at the world championships. Kemper will race less this year and try to peak for the big events. But he’d like to remain No. 1. “I’m going to say I can be a World Cup champion for the whole year,” he said, “and still win the big individual races.”